Vulpine: fifteen thoughts on value
Company founder Nick Hussey talks about all the things that go into a quality cycling garment, and the value they add
Nick Hussey is the founder of Vulpine cycling apparel, who launched in March 2012. They are about to launch their women’s range and support Matrix Fitness Racing Academy as well as creating free cycling events, the Vulpine Cycling Fetes, which raise money for cycling charities. Their stuff is quite pricey. www.vulpine.cc
I run a cycling apparel company. Our gear is on the higher price side. I’ll say expensive if it helps. I’m going to try to demonstrate that we provide huge value, not just to you the cyclist, but to cycling itself, which all comes back to help us all.
I’ve spent years researching manufacturing, and putting that research into practice. I got to create a company from scratch. I like quality. And quality costs. According to the little panel of sliding scales that are your personal wants, needs, finances, aims and funny little peccadilloes, we all make a decision to tip the scales in one direction or another towards a cheap or pricey purchase. Here are some of the things we consider at Vulpine. Every day.
1. Fit & comfort
Fitting takes time. Bad fit makes you look, and feel, pants. Fit is tied directly to quality and consistency of construction and use of materials. Scrimp on these and you lose. Comfort is a blend of many things. The fit, whether you sweat to much, are hot, cold or clammy, the zip chafes, the labels itch... there's a lot to consider
Fabric makes a garment. Its what we as a company spend most of our money on (apart from taxes). Great fabrics cost £12 a yard and more. Epic Cotton, which I decided we’d use extensively after testing many fabrics, takes months simply to produce, before it even reaches our factory. It is made from cotton woven from fibres that are individually extruded through silicon at a microscopic level. So it looks and feels like Cotton, but is waterproof. And breathable. It is tested many times before being released to us. And all that perfection costs.
Lots of talk about merino wool on forums and in reviews. Its awesome stuff. I had the opportunity to build clothing from the ground up, with whatever I wanted. And I chose merino where possible for skin-contact tops. We use the best. The thinnest finest possible fibres, woven to a very high quality, that won’t bobble, or smell, or stretch, or shrink. Cheap merino isn’t the same as expensive merino.
Great fabrics hang well. And get you admiring winks. Even half way up Alpe d’huez. Maybe.
Performance is many things: Resistance to odour, breathability, aerodynamics, even looks. But lets say its the racey stuff. Cheap gear loses you time, and stops you winning. And gives you bottom boils. Laurent Fignon lost the Tour that way. So cheap gear loses you the biggest race in cycling. Fact. Sort of.
Nothing moves forward if you’re making cheap gear. And if there is anything new put in, it has to go through proper research and development, and that's really costly. If you want us to do the testing – not you – it costs us many samples and prototypes, experiments, buying lengths of techy fabrics, trying new methods, riding lots, going to meetings with boffins and wind tunnels (we don’t use wind tunnels).
Nobody makes cheap gear and develops a spanking new fabric. They buy stock fabric and add a cool tech name to it. Then it sounds like it’s had loads of white-coated boffins slaving for years in a vault over a turbo trainer. Actually, its just nice bloke in a t-shirt and jeans hunched over a PC with an underused English Lit degree. Xenoz Odour Control System. RSX Tiltmatrix Aeroporous Shield. Boron Flight Control with Plastination Mark IV HydroControl.
Washing can wreck a garment. Glues can dissolve, bobbles appear, stitching comes loose, treatments wash off, etc. Great fabrics benefit from washing and will last the course of their life without re-treatment.
Cheap fabrics are a nightmare to iron and remove creases from. And can even degrade. Ironing is a hateful task. Make it easier.
Cheap things fall apart. We all know that. Buy one jacket for £50 and it lasts 6 months. Another for £200 that lasts 5 years. That makes the pricey jacket better value in my book.
Fabric is key, but what about the zips, labels, buttons, fasteners, linings, thread? Zips should last years, not weeks. Buttons shouldn’t pop off. Labels should be soft and malleable. If the bottom line is very tight, trims get churned out as cheap as physically possible. Those extra little bits make you smile and go mmmmmm. Like V-stitched buttons or magnet closures (blatant plug).
Making things really really cheaply will always mean something (world) or somebody (workers) has to suffer. Cheap synthetic materials create waste. And emerging third World economies may not govern all their factory standards, age limits and wages very well. Or at all. Like I say, somebody has to suffer somewhere.
Which leads to a common misconception. The Far East is not universally cheap. Its certainly not why I make Vulpine clothing there. Vulpine is only made in the factories that give me the high quality, low return rates and solid assurances that I (and indeed our customers) need. For better or worse, the best facilities most manufacturers find are in China and the Far East. These countries are not backwaters. Hugely impressive technology is in use in these factories. And wages are far better, because great factories need to attract great staff.
8. Customer service
Companies have to employ enough good people who really care to make sure you’re treated well. And nobody cares that much on minimum wage. If a manufacturer is working on very tight margins, service is out the window. And what value do you and I place on getting a polite, helpful reply that gets you where you want to be? What if you need to send your garment back? What if there's a problem? You’re not going to get an easy ride with poor customer service and low prices.
Great garments are made with love. We really love cycling and what we do here at Vulpine. You’re buying something that huge passion was poured into. You might care. You might not. We think it shows.
A continuation of blend of so many of the above. Style does not come cheaply. It doesn’t have to be stupidly expensive either. We’re not going to be making £3000 handbags. But we do really think about every detail and we have experience to share.
What? Why pay for a brand? Because brands take huge care to create. They represent values. The brand you wear makes a statement about you. Cheap or expensive, it's your choice. Brands don’t just appear one day, they are nurtured. Suits you sir. Or madam.
12. We're small, and British
Cheap garments are made in mind-bogglingly huge numbers to get economies of scale. Being different means lower runs, greater care and higher prices. Especially for new businesses. We get the thin end of the wedge, as we have little power to wield and have no economies of scale. We haven’t passed on those difficulties to our pricing, because it’ll put you off. So we take the hit.
Often, not always, there is a small premium to pay for buying from a fledgling British company. Its not easy to create things here.
13. Women’s ranges
A counter-intuitive one this. It is very expensive to create each new line, so it’d be easier for a large company with major resources. But large companies are driven by results. Their attitude is often that women’s clothing is a dangerous experiment. People in corporate hierarchies hate risk. Small entrepreneurial companies are more exposed to failure by taking risks, but will take them anyway because we often care more about cycling as a whole, rather than just the quarterly results.
14. Supporting cycling
Companies that have some room to breathe can give something back. Sponsorship, charity, mentoring and other nice things.
15. Nice coffee
Nice people need fuel. Sorry. Bit selfish that one. Mmm, coffee.
We also have to pay wages, rent, National Insurance, Import Duty, Corporation Tax, shipping, storage, rent, utilities, computers & tech, website coding, server, etc etc...It doesn’t FEEL like we’re poor value for money!
Hopefully I’ve given an interesting and fair window into our, and many other great manufacturers’ products and thinking.
So now, please, pretty please, can road.cc stop marking us down on value?