This boom in brands means much more choice for consumers. While some cyclists still flock to the cheap imitations, others vote with their wallets and their social media accounts; choosing premium products not just for performance, but for their visual appeal, their roots in the broader community and, with increasing importance, their ethics.
With a tagline of “Let’s look at this differently,” Velocio is doing more than shifting expectations in what cycling kit can look and feel like. They’re shifting expectations for manufacturing processes, as well as stories and imagery from within the sport.
“We come back to this concept with every idea we have," co-founder Kristy Scrymgeour told Cycling Central, shortly before the release of their autumn/winter range for the northern hemisphere.
"Whether it be about the product and continually looking for new ways to make our pieces better; or in our marketing message, sustainability choices or collaborations."
We took a closer look at some of the stand out men's and women's summer items relevant to our Australian audience.
It seems strange, in 2016, to write an article about a brand that uses female athletes as models, or selects materials, factories and partner companies based on their environmental impact and award wages for workers. But Velocio’s firm attitude to these core values is attracting attention in the broader community, alongside products that are gaining a reputation for performance, comfort and innovative designs.
A precise cut and well-selected materials make the collection look and feel like a second skin, but the finer details differentiate it from the crowd. This includes chamois placement, density where it’s needed rather than where it’s not, generous and easy to reach pockets, leg grippers that apply just enough pressure to do their job without leaving marks on the skin, and an approach to construction that keeps the garments in place without rubbing, creating hot spots or adding bulk.
The styles are modern but subtle, with a range allowing for self-expression without feeling over the top. The long ride functionality of the range feels like it’s been created in response to long conversations around the café about little niggles cyclists think are just part of wearing Lycra.
While an increasing number of shops are stocking Velocio, like a lot of smaller businesses in cycling, the online presence of the company and the types of riders it resonates with is important too. This starts with simple return policies and accurate and honest sizing information, and extends to sharing quality images and stories from a range of athletes through social media and their own website.
This instills confidence in consumers when they can’t try things on for size but, as more companies are forced to become their own media houses, it builds an attachment to the values and motivations that sit alongside the products they sell.
Perusing a US cycling magazine, we were interested to see ex-pro Ted King wearing the men's Signature Bib Short and Ultralight Jersey when he won the Dirty Kanza 200 mile gravel race. Surely a nod towards the all-day fit and comfort of Velocio clothing, along with some I-was-pro-but-now-I-choose-my-kit endorsement.
“We make a point of concentrating on what we want to do and where we want to take our brand rather than paying too much attention to what other brands are focusing on,” said Scrymgoeur, who is perhaps best known for her work with women’s pro road teams such as HTC Highroad, Specialized Lululemon and Velocio-SRAM.
“We try to tell a different story about our brand. We see a lot of people creating a look based on what's been out there or a brand voice that imitates. We've carved out a place by being true to ourselves as cyclists and members of a community we care about.”
Another unusual part of the Velocio story is the emphasis of their launch range was more on the women’s apparel than the men’s. As the brand, and its following has grown, they now have an equal amount of both.
“We put more focus on the women’s range in our first year because women were (often) treated like an afterthought. We could see not only a growing market but also a lack of availability of good quality and nicely fitting women’s apparel," said Scrymgoeur.
“It was as much of a business opportunity as it was a social movement but I'm proud they both work together.”
The women’s range initially gained traction with ladies who wanted a premium level fit and unique look, without being covered in logos or made to feel like a lesser part of the sport. Premium kit means a premium price point, but people are returning for repeat purchases due to comfort and durability. Features such as soft, well-cut materials go a long way, as do leg grippers than don’t give the sausage-effect at the thighs, the constant refinement of staple designs, and the company’s support of, and insight into, women’s cycling more broadly.
“The men’s range is going very well and that's due to the same reasons: the product is first and we focus on making something that fits really well,” said Scrymgoeur. “And there are a lot of men who are tired of the singular culture in cycling: the sharp jawed race culture, the podium girl culture, the old and forgotten culture that's really a costume."
“I'm proud of the fact that our biggest male adopters are guys who ride a ton, care about their riding and want to see a progressive attitude within cycling.”
As the marketing paradigm shifts, and more brands continue to tell their story, think left of field and reach a bigger audience than traditionally possible, it will certainly be interesting to see how the sport as a whole progresses next.