Vulpine founder Nick Hussey writes for BikeBiz about his firm's approach to designing cycle clothing

Comment: ”shrink it and pink it is patronising and bad business”

Words by Vulpine founder Nick Hussey

I launched Vulpine in 2012 after I chucked in my film career. I wanted to work in cycling, having raced and ridden all kinds of bikes since I was a kid, and saw a gap for really high quality apparel that worked as well off the bike as on it. We’re about to launch a new brand with Sir Chris Hoy and it’s all going smashingly. Lovely.

Tight bright lycra worked on the bike, but looked awful off it, and stank. I had to have a shower and take a change of clothes with me. Or I wore ‘fashion’ gear that had no performance properties, didn’t fit, and I was soaked and smelly by the time I arrived. Surely I could use performance fabrics to make something stylish that I could wear all day? And most importantly, being a bit obsessive about design and detailing, I could create something highly desirable.

When I say a garment has to ‘work’, there are many, not always obvious, criteria. Riding a bike, particularly on the drops of course, requires a very different fit from walking. Sitting on seams is no fun. None of our shorts, trousers or jeans have seams to sit on. Fabrics should be very breathable, so you’re not a sopping mess when you arrive. So we put breathability above waterproofing, which is practical, but again quite unusual. But this stuff also has to look great. Performance off the bike includes it being stylish. Feeling positive and attractive is a basic need that most of us share. And yellow stretchy plastic rarely offers it!

So here we are two and a half years later, and plenty of other people have said the same idea too, or seen that there’s a huge new market out there for it* (I’ll define what ‘it’ is in a second). It seems it’s the big new thing to do, as fashion or established racing cycling brands jump in with their take. Some have executed the concept better than others. I think we have captured the imagination and grown so fast because we offer an authentic solution that actually works. 

*’It’ is casual cycling clothing, or cycling style apparel, or urban cycling gear, or…Does this sector have a proper name? I dislike the use of the word casual, as it implies that the kit doesn’t perform, and the use of urban restricts its usage, as we find our customers wear Vulpine for many different purposes and types of riding…So if someone out there has a great moniker, let us know! I’m going to stick with Casual Performance Style Commuter On Off Bike Wear or CPSCOOBW for short. Snappy, huh?

Another big help for us has been that we’ve focused as much of our attention on women as men. Women are incredibly uninspired by what they see in the wider market right now. We know this because we did a decent sized survey that simply asked “What do you think of women’s cycling clothing? And what do you want?” ‘Shrink It and Pink It’ thinking from manufacturers came up time and again. Make the men’s in an XXS, dye it fuschia and stick some little flowers on. Bosh. It’s patronising, lazy and above all, bad business.

That thinking doesn’t cut it anymore. Women have major spending power, are more confident and experienced, on the whole, than men in making style choices, and thus more demanding. Most women are also pretty hacked off with being ignored or patronised in cycling marketing. I hope that we don’t do that. And, through our sponsorship of Matrix Vulpine elite racing team, we show we mean it.

My feeling is that new CPSCOOBW brands must have a genuine understanding and love of all cycling to succeed. That way customers buy garments that really work, that they’re delighted by, and will return to. And up against the big online discounters, that loyalty and customer delight is essential to survival, let alone growth.

CPSCOOBW is fast shedding its ‘fad’ status as UK cycling culture outgrows all our expectations. New customers without pre-conceptions are flooding the marketplace, expecting more from cycling clothing. And the established cyclist is seeing that new solutions are out there, with huge new choice. It’s a sector I hope we’ll always be at the forefront of. Above all, if it gets more people enjoying their cycling, it great for us all.

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