In a nod to its once bustling knitwear industry, to this day Leicestershire’s coat of arms carries a lone ram, prized by those in the county for its wool. Like many other manufacturing sectors, a decline in domestic production of the region’s staple product hit hard in the late 70s to early 80s, with Far-East competition wiping out the trade in the blink of an eye.
Back to the present day and the nation’s businesses seem to be rediscovering the perks of producing goods domestically, with the likes of John Lewis and Asda announcing plans to source and produce garments in the UK at the start of 2012. Those who make the journey to Bespoked Bristol each year to ogle UK-built handmade bicycles and trinkets may be familiar with Velobici – another such, albeit smaller, label placing its faith in production at home.
“Given my families background in textiles right here in the Midlands, it’s important to me to support local firms,” says VeloBici co-founder Chris Puttnam. “There’s a certain buzz around manufacturing here again, partly down to the increasing shipping costs from the other side of the globe. It will take time for a full-blown revival, but the skills remain here in the UK, I can source everything I need from our partners in Hinkley, Nottingham and Leicestershire. Even our silicone grippers used to stop jerseys riding up come from Longeaton.”
Heritage aside, quality control is central to Puttnam’s choice to produce his garments here and he concedes that local firms have become specialists in producing only the finest tailored high-ticket items.
“Our merino wool product has a maximum lead time of six weeks and during the production I can keep tabs on every step of the process, though the quality here is a cut above. Living a short distance from the factories, we can often meet to discuss revisions or ideas – that’s just not possible when sourced from abroad.”
So what differentiates VeloBici as a high-end clothing brand for roadies? The short answer has to be looks. There’s next to no lycra here, in fact of the 40-plus ‘casual’ styled items on which VeloBici focuses, most use super soft merino wool, coolmax material, Meryl fabrics and a smattering of fabrics such as Alpaca wool.
As casual and unoffensive as the garments look, VeloBici isn’t shy of tailoring a garment to the very specific needs of the road cyclist.
“I prefer subtle detailing,” says Puttnam. “And I think that the road market had a gap for less ‘loud and branded’ high-end garments. Our customers to date are certainly into the product as a lot become repeat customers. Those who I’ve personally spoken with say they’re sold on the quality having put in the miles in the saddle and remained comfortable for the duration.”
From mid-June, Velobici will take stock of some more traditional jerseys, again sporting what Puttnam describes as more ‘classic’ styling that won’t look out of place in the pub, or at the supermarket.
“In future our roadwear line will grow, as will our ladies collection, which at present is largely focused around matching accessories. There’s also scope for a products such as waterproof softshells, jeans and shirts, but of course UK-sourcing is paramount. In the ‘70s, around 70 per cent of the jeans sold here were produced in Cardigan, Wales and shirts largely made in Londonderry. It’s obviously harder to find sources nowadays, but we are talking to a remaining few.”
VeloBici is open to hearing from interested road cycling specialist retailers wishing to open a trade account. For enquiries, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 01162 540066.