Is the retro look back in fashion? New Zealand-based Solo certainly thinks so and its ever-growing list of international distributors agree. Paul Mason, founder of the brand tells BikeBiz why cyclists are fed up of modern kit…
Can you give us the background behind the brand?
Solo was born from dissatisfaction with contemporary cycle clothing styles. While I had a deep respect and admiration for modern pro-cyclists, I didn’t admire the ‘moving billboard’ look of modern team kit. What I really loved was the clothing worn by pro-riders in the ‘50s to ‘70s. These were simple and powerful designs, demonstrating that less is more.
After a fruitless search for something desirable I decided to combine 25 years experience in design with my love of cycling and create a cycle clothing range inspired by the great riders, grand tours and cycling culture of that golden era. The clothing had to be functional, well constructed and more importantly, it had to make you feel great.
Tell us where the inspiration for the latest designs has come from:
We’ve just released two new jerseys in the Classique range – each dedicated to different cycling nations. The latest jerseys are the Banque de Liberté jersey (Switzerland) and Halcón (Colombia). We try not to focus purely on the jersey designs of the era, but look at the design from the period as a whole. Because we’re inventing a sponsor or brand from scratch, we want to make sure it looks authentic. We research company logos, typefaces, industrial design and advertising. While we use a computer to put the design together, we don’t design anything that wasn’t possible without a computer. The final design is nearly always simpler than the early concept. It takes self-discipline to stop adding things.
Is there any technology woven into your fabrics?
Most of our man-made fabrics incorporate various technical treatments to aid performance – whether it’s to improve wicking ability or an antibacterial treatment. The Mapp Tech Merino Wool we use for our équipe jerseys is special stuff, combining a technical outer with a Merino Wool inner. We also have some unique materials such as the Possum fur and Merino blend we use for beanies.
Where do you source your materials?
Our clothing is manufactured in various countries. All of our Merino Wool comes from New Zealand, while other fabrics come from several countries – Taiwan, China and Italy.
When did you partner Paligap and why have you chosen them as UK distribution partners?
We started talking to Paligap earlier this year and they’re great guys to deal with. As with other countries, we started by researching the local market for distributors who focused on a select number of brands. Paligap soon became an obvious choice to talk to. They had a complete understanding of our ethos, could easily see where we could fit into and further develop in the UK market. Professional and easy to work with, the synergy was instantly there.
How many countries is Solo sold in and are you seeking distributors abroad?
We currently have distributors in ten countries and sell direct to selected retailers in a couple of other countries. Our preference is to appoint a distributor for each country rather than handle sales ourselves. We’re quite isolated here in New Zealand so it’s not easy to visit our retailers. It’s important to us that we have distributors that not only understand the brand and are able to communicate it, but also have an in-depth knowledge of their local market. We’ve sold our clothing to cyclists in over 50 countries on our site, so we know there’s a big demand.
What products do you currently offer?
Jerseys are the core product – short sleeve Classique jerseys and long sleeve Merino Wool Equipe jerseys. The range also includes gilets, bib shorts, arm and knee warmers, socks, caps, musettes and beanies.
Will you expand the line in future?
There are several new products in the sampling stage. The testing and evaluation stages of the production process are very important to us. Rather than churning out new products every few months, we prefer to take our time and get it right.
You’ve begun to work with high-value fabrics like Merino – is there much business to be done in this area?
Merino Wool, particularly from New Zealand, has established quite a reputation. Solo équipe jerseys, arm and knee warmers, beanies and socks all use New Zealand-exclusive blend. We believe there is an opportunity to develop further products incorporating it, but it is expensive and with huge worldwide demand is becoming more difficult to produce competitively priced garments.
Will the business remain road focused, or branch into heavier duty garments?
At this stage we have no plans to produce MTB gear, or similar. We launched the Derny range of clothing in April this year. We describe Derny as urban cycle wear. Basically, it’s a range of cycle clothing that is ideal for shortish urban commutes, but looks fantastic in the office or bar.