So you got landed with the job of coming up with a design for your cycling or triathlon kit for your club and you have no idea where to start? We are here to help with as much of the heavy lifting as possible – the best place to start is with our custom cycling kit design tips , which talks about some of the technical things you need to consider as well as some basic design advice.
The best advice we have to give to help you come up with a design is: don’t start with a blank sheet of paper! It is not ‘cheating’ to take your inspiration from another design and then adapt it to your needs. So find some pro cycling kit you like the look of, or maybe a tri-suit you saw in a race or even a favourite old t-shirt, then all you need to do is to send us the image with some comments about how you would like it altered to make your design. So for example we can swap all the colours around, add in or take away some design elements and then add in lettering or logos as appropriate. We will then produce a first draft for you to look at and we will continue reiterating the design until you are happy with it. Sometimes a client might decide that the direction we started the design in did not work out, in which case we can always come up with a new idea until you are happy.
We make hundreds of club cycling and triathlon designs every year and sometimes we start off with the vaguest of instructions, but using our experience we are always able to come up with something unique and compelling, so if design is not your thing, then you can leave most of the work for us. A full custom design costs €150, which includes the full cycling and triathlon range and once you have approved the design for one piece of clothing (typically either cycling jersey + shorts or tri-suit) we will then extend the design to all the other garments that you wish to order. Furthermore, if you are concerned about getting your club colours exactly right, then we will post you the design printed on fabric so that you can approve the actual colours.
Some clients of course already have a very firm idea of what there design should look like, in which case we will walk the client through the particularities of how our garment are put together to find away to translate a design from a theoretical concept to some real cycling or triathlon clothing. Below you can see the process from design concept to custom cycling kit.
See https://www.instagram.com/h.o.t.o.n/ for some more classic photos!
We are based in Portugal so we obviously have skin in the game, but I would like to underline how as cyclists or triathletes you can do your bit to support European manufacturers and say no to Chinese produced custom cycling and triathlon kit! It is not just the fact that the biggest supplier of custom cycling & triathlon clothing is Chinese (they are called Champion System and dominate in northern America, Australasia and many northern European markets), but there are many apparently European brands that are actually sourcing from China. If you go to the right European supplier, you can get comparable prices to those currently coming out of China and you can save on the damage done to the environment from flying the kit from China to Europe, avoiding effectively supporting the increasingly despicable Chinese regime and do your bit to support the European economy.
Twenty years ago there were signs that China was increasing freedom and human rights within its national borders and having a fairer approach to international trade; there was even some hope that there might be a move towards democracy as the economy was liberalised. The last 10 years have put those hopes to bed as the regime has doubled down on repression (look no further than Hong Kong), played a profoundly unfair and dishonest game in international trade (exploiting loopholes in trade agreements and using state support to undermine foreign competitors) and scaled up its human rights abuses (of which the Uighur muslims is just one example). In short the Chinese regime is nasty, dishonest and exploitative and we as European suppliers of custom cycling & triathlon kit have to compete with them, so we would like to remind out potential customers that there are any number of good reasons to buy from Europe.
Northern European manufacturers of custom cycling and triathlon kit have largely had to abandon producing their kit in their home countries, because the labour intensive work that goes into making clothing is just not viable any more in high wage economies – some of these brands have gone under as a result, some have begun manufacturing in southern or eastern Europe, but some have gone to China and in so doing offer their tacit support to the regime there.
We are happy to fight a fair fight for market share with European suppliers and we have a profound respect for some of our competitors who are making great quality kit, with good service and reasonable prices. We are proud to abide by all the employment and environmental laws that exist in Portugal and the rest of Europe to protect our workers and the planet, but we think it would be fair of our non-European competitors were obliged to do the same thing. There really is no reason that you as a customer cannot buy European and end your implicit support for the Chinese behemoth so you can get out and wear your kit with a clean conscience.
Generally our custom bib shorts are made of two different lycras – dyed lycra for the inside leg panels and printed lycra for the rest. Here is the explanation of why.
When making custom cycling clothing (as well as custom triathlon clothing), pretty much all the panels are made with printed fabric (apart from these inside leg panels). This printed fabric starts off as white and we use sublimation printing to take a design that is printed on special sublimation printing paper and transfer it to the white fabric. This is done by laying the printed sublimation paper on a panel where heat and pressure is applied – the colour is then released from the paper and transferred to the fabric where it dyes the top layer of the fabric, but does not penetrate all the way through the fabric. (As a side note, old fashioned style printing (screen printing) actually transfers colour that sits on top of the fabric, so it can eventually be scraped off with a lot of wear and washing, which is why you might see cracks in the design of an old t-shirt. Sublimation printing will never wear off, because it is dyeing the fabric).
Whilst sublimation printing is normally a fantastic solution to make custom cycling clothing, there are two problems with using it for the inside panels of shorts: the first is that where the shorts come in contact with the saddle, they will experience a lot of friction and eventually this will lead to some threads being teased out of position (known as pilling). This is a real problem with printed lycra, because the threads that are pulled to the surface will be white so will appear as white specks on the design that is printed there, which makes the shorts look a bit scruffy. The second problem is that this lycra is white (underneath the print of the design) and when you are in the riding position it will get stretched: this can cause the colours to lighten and (especially when wet and with light single colour print) can lead to some problems with transparency, which is never a good look on a bike and can really spoil the view for riders behind you…..
So the best thing to do is to use black dyed lycra for these inside panels as you can see in the pictures above of a speedsuit. It does mean some compromises to the design, but it is the recommended option. There is a further benefit of using black lycra which is that we use a special engineered black lycra for these inside leg panels, which is ultra-breathable so helps to stop sweat build up, which is a great thing in lots of ways for anyone who spends a long time on a bike. One thing you must be aware of though is that if your printed panels are black and the inside leg panels are dyed black, you will notice that the printed panels look slightly grey when next to the black, particularly when you are riding and they get stretched a little. This is because of the white lycra showing through a bit on the printed panels.
If you really want to have printed lycra on the inside leg panels because the design demands it, then we are happy to make them for you, but a couple of things you should consider – try to avoid light colours, because these give the most transparency issues and if possible try and add some design detail on the panel, because this will help disguise any transparency problems. Put bluntly the thing that will stand out if shorts have any transparency is the cleft between the butt cheeks (also controversially known as ‘coin slot’); if there are various graphic elements on the design, then the cleft line will tend to get lost in the other lines on the design. In a monochrome design, there are no graphics to disguise the line that nobody wants to see…..
In a cycling universe a long, long time ago, cycling jerseys were either cotton or wool and custom cycling jerseys had logos sewn on to them. Then came synthetic fabrics and sublimation printing, which meant that a plethora of technical characteristics were opened up. Perhaps you yearn for those simpler days when the choice was just wool or cotton? Well we are going to try and simplify what the technical fabrics used in custom cycling jerseys actually mean.
Perhaps the key innovation for cycling jersey fabric (and indeed all kinds of sports clothing fabric) is microfibre. As the name suggests, microfibre uses tiny fibres (around one denier which is a fifth of the diameter of a human hair) and the fact that the fibres are so small allows them to transport moisture very effectively. This is the so called “wicking” effect (also known as capillary action) and is great for sports clothing, because it transports the sweat from the inside of the garment to the outside of the garment so that it can evaporate, which simultaneously drys and cools the athlete.
The story gets a bit more complicated because microfibres can be made from different materials and blended with different fabrics to alter their properties – so they can be made more lightweight, stretchy, higher wicking etc. This means that different microfibres should be used for different functions, which is why we use a blend of three different microfibres for our racefit jerseys for example – each microfibre is carrying out a slightly different function according to where it is used on the jersey. We use a perforated and super-stretchy fabric on the shoulders so that it will follow the form of the shoulders but breath easily, a super lightweight and slightly less stretchy fabric for the chest and back panels to minimise the weight of the garment and then a lycra mesh super-stretchy microfibre for the underarm panels to pull the garment in across the torso. Using these different grades of elasticity helps to keep the racefit jersey form fitting, but allows it to move with the rider, whilst maximising breathability.
As a custom cycling jersey supplier, choosing the right microfibres for our garments we also have to make sure that they are soft to the touch, durable to abrasions and washing and that they will give vibrant colours with sublimation printing. You will only really see the true value of high end microfibres when you use them in anger however – it is when you are several hours in to a long sweaty ride and the jersey still feels fresh that it really comes into its own, not when you try it on in your bedroom!
Here is a video about our racefit custom cycling jersey:
We have always tried to keep our pricing system as transparent and simple as possible, but because of the small scale nature of producing custom cycling & triathlon clothing it just doesn’t make sense to offer the same price to everyone. The key issue is that to make small numbers of a custom garment is very inefficient because the effort required to print 3 of a custom design is not much less than to print 30. Our production process is of course set up to produce small quantities, but we felt our pricing structure had to reflect as fairly as possible our costs of production, but how to make it as simple as possible?
Here you an see an example of some quite complex kit to produce (not a look that works for everyone admittedly, but it is a lot of work to make it happen….!). Most of our competitors have a system where there is one price for less than 10 of an item and then a lower price for say 10 to 50 and then an even lower one for 50+. This is a fair system in that it gives a reasonable reflection of the costs of manufacturing, but it does make it difficult for a club ordering if they do not know what the final price of an item will be until they know how many people would be ordering it. So we came up with a duel pronged strategy to make prices fair and simple: we have a minimum order policy that you have to order at least 10 of one item and then there are no minimums on any other items. This means that we know that on at least one item we will have some efficiency in production and the cycling or triathlon clubs we supply will know that they can offer our full range to their club members without surcharges for small orders. Then we set up a discount system based on the total order size, rather than on individual item quantities in order to simplify the calculation of the final price. Our discounts based on total order size are as follows:
€1500+ = 5%
€2500+ = 7%
€5000+ = 10%
We also set up an order form which allows you to input your order quantities so that it will automatically show you the discount as well as the shipping cost so that you can easily see the final value you will pay. There is more information here about how to place an order for custom cycling & triathlon clothing . We have been in business now for 17 years and have built the business based on making a complex production process as simple as possible to navigate for our clients, making pricing as transparent as possible and above making pro quality kit at fair prices
After a lot of head-scratching and testing we have finally launched our new custom triathlon speedsuit. The path we have taken is to use a variety of different lycra blends for different panels of the speedsuit. So for example the inside panels of the shorts section has to be breathable but hard-wearing (where it rubs on the saddle), side sections can use mesh to add breathability and the shoulder sections have to be super-stretchy to allow free movement of the arms. Then the entire suit has to be extra-fast drying, lightweight and aerodynamic as well as being extremely comfortable for all three disciplines. And of course it has to look good….
Our speedsuit costs €94.90 (compared to €81.50 for our standard (sleeveless) tri-suit), which is a lot of money, but the overwhelming majority of our clients are asking for the kind of premium features that this speedsuit offers (whilst of course nobody wants to pay the sometimes absurd prices that some brands are charging for premium speedsuits). Here is a video that explains some of the features, but to really get to know our new custom speedsuit, you have to try it on for yourself to get an idea for how it feels on – it really gives you that ease of movement that allows you to perform at your best and the performance benefits that you need to be able to give your very best in a race. Please contact us if you would like to see a sample.
So you took up cycling a few years ago. Gradually you started to avoid discussions about just how much your new wheels cost and why you needed a new winter training bike. You began to question your choice of friends – who needs a friend anyway who is not interested in how your new gear ratios have had a real impact on your cadence? And what about your arse? It has transformed from a saggy cushion to sit on to a sculpted rock, to say nothing of the contoured ridges of muscle starting to poke through your cycling shorts. But what is this ripple of bones jutting out the side of your abdomen – could it be ribs? Then perhaps you too are ready for a Racefit Jersey.
You have done the journey and like Tadej Pogačar, you too get to wear a special jersey now. Yours may not be yellow, but a Racefit jersey is the symbol that you are now officially A Cyclist. We have spent a lot of time on developing our new custom racefit jersey, with some brand new fabrics and technology. Because a racefit jersey is going to be tight on your skin, the lycras and microfibres that are used have to be super breathable and high wicking – if not it will feel clammy and heavy once you begin to sweat. All the fabrics have to be extremely lightweight so you get that feeling that the jersey is barely there and we minimised the number of seams so that despite the skintight fit, you do not get any chaffing. This means that the sleeves are laser cut, so there is no seam at all on the arms.
Understandably most of our customers are looking for the best deal possible on their custom cycling clothing and whilst we do everything we can to keep our prices down, €36.90 for a short-sleeve jersey is not exactly cheap as chips so here we are going to explain what makes custom cycling clothing expensive.
The first thing to understand is sublimation printing – this is how we get the designs on to the fabric. With sublimation printing, your design is printed on a special kind of paper which is then pressed up against the fabric and heat is applied, which dyes the top layer of fabric with the design as it is transferred from the paper. Sublimation printing is so much better than previous kinds of printing where the design effectively sits on top of the fabric (and so can ultimately peel off), because with sublimation printing the fabric is effectively dyed so will hold its design forever. There are two problems with sublimation printing – it cannot be used on 100% natural fabrics (so not on cotton for example) and it is expensive! First off you need a special printer to print the dye on to the sublimation paper, second, the paper itself is expensive and finally the whole process is very time consuming – we need to set up a sublimation design for every panel in the garments, then this paper has to be applied to the correct panel and pressed.
The next thing that makes custom cycling clothing expensive is the fabrics themselves. There is a massive difference in price from using a basic polyester to a cutting edge carbon thread microfibre like we use for our custom cycling jerseys. The raw material can easily cost 3 or 4 times more from basic to premium. In the case of the high-end engineered Lycra that we use for our Racefit jerseys for example the difference is even more stark compared to a more basic product. You can also imagine that the premium breathable waterproof membranes that we use for our jackets are very expensive as adding an extra 10% of breathability to a membrane can double its price for example. Generally the custom cycling clothing market in Europe has moved towards a demand for these new high-performance premium fabrics rather than the cheap and cheerful end of the market (which mostly comes out of China now).
The final thing that makes custom cycling clothing so expensive is branding – 20 years ago, cycling was a minority sport and whilst there were a few premium Italian cycling clothing brands around, the custom sector of the market was dominated by local suppliers who focused more on functionality and service than on branding. Now the custom sector is dominated by massive international brands that have to spend enormous amounts on marketing and sponsorship (look at the custom cycling clothing market leader, the Chinese behemoth Champion System which sponsort the Tour de France winning team UAE Emirates for example). Sponsorship deals and marketing campaigns can be very expensive and ultimately the client has to pay. Cycling as a whole is becoming more brand-led and for a lot of riders it is increasingly important to be seen wearing the right brand.
Here at Carvalho Custom, we focus our spending on the first two points, but not on the third. Cycling clubs that want to be seen wearing fancy brands will no doubt look past Carvalho Custom and that is fine, because we cannot keep everyone happy. We can strip out a lot of cost that some of our competitors have because we don’t spend any money on marketing or sponsorship – we just rely on word-of-mouth to find new clients. Our promise has always been “pro quality kit at reasonable prices”, which might not trip off the tongue like a fancy marketing slogan, but it is what we believe in. So if you are looking for some great quality kit at fair prices but without any of the big brand nonsense, please get in touch!
As a supplier of custom cycling & triathlon clothing you can imagine that we get a lot of requests from teams looking for us to sponsor their clothing (i.e. supply it for free) in return for some exposure – I am sorry to say that our answer is always no and here we explain why.
Our biggest competitor, the gigantic Chinese supplier Champion System, sponsors one of the worlds leading cycling teams (UAE Team Emirates) but we decided long ago that we would not try and compete on this level. We are happy to stay as a small company (we only have 25 people working in our factory, compared to 600+ at Champion System!), but that is fine as world domination was never our goal.
Sponsoring a pro team is an expensive business and ultimately clients have to pay for this in the price of the kit – we run a low cost business, which means we distribute direct from Portugal (no national distributors sticking 30% on top of the costs!), we don’t do media advertising or even trade shows and we don’t sponsor teams. Ultimately this limits our growth potential, but it means that we don’t have to take financial risks which helps to guarantee our longevity.
We stick to focusing on the quality of our kit, keeping our prices reasonable and customer service and leave all the branding and marketing to others. The only exception we make to sponsoring clothing is when we have a club that is already ordering from us and has a promising junior athlete who needs help with their clothing or perhaps is running a special charity event, in which case we will look at it.
We also get a lot of request from existing or new European custom cycling & triathlon clothing brands for us to manufacture their kit for them as a subcontractor, but the answer again is no as we only produce kit with our branding. It seems that a lot of European brands are now trying to pull their manufacturing out of China (in part because prices have increased significantly over the last 5 or 10 years, but also because there is a growing reluctance to support the increasingly Machiavellian Chinese regime and an awareness about the carbon footprint involved with importing from Asia) – the problem is that it is difficult to find European factories that are specialised in producing high end kit with the relatively low volumes necessary for custom production.
Minimum order requirements are a headache for clubs just as they are for suppliers of custom cycling & triathlon clothing. For clubs it can be a real headache to round up enough orders to achieve minimums and as a manufacturer it can be very inefficient to make very small quantities of an item. So here at Carvalho Custom, we tried to go for a balance that allows us to produce efficiently and help keep our prices down, but makes life as easy as possible for our clients.
Our minimum order policy is that you need to order at least 10 of one main item (so not an accessory like mitts) and then there are no minimum requirements for any other items. So for example you could order 10 full zip male jerseys, 4 1/4 zip female jersey, 2 bib shorts and 1 training jacket for example. If you do not order at least 10 of one item, then we charge a 35% surcharge on all items. This means that we can make at least 10 items in an efficient manner, but it means that club members can be free to order whatever they like from our range, which we think is a fair balance. Our excel order form will automatically apply this minimum order requirement when you input your order.
As a producer we are of course more efficient producing larger orders, which is why we offer discounts for order worth more than €1500 (so 5% discount for €1,500+, 7% for €2,500+ and 10% for €10,000+). Our discount system encourages our clients to put together larger and less frequent orders which enables us to pass on the savings that we make.
We do allow an exception to our minimums policy: if you receive an order and within two weeks realise that some of the items do not fit correctly, then we will make replacements with no minimum requirement and no surcharges. This is because we cannot take back kit that does not fit correctly (because it is all custom), but we want to make it as easy as possible for our clients to get replacement kit when required.
Some of our competing custom cycling & triathlon kit suppliers will have a price per item that will decrease depending on the quantity ordered, which makes sense from the manufacturers standpoint, but we think complicates the ordering process for clients, because the individual club members will not know how much they are going to pay until the final order numbers are totted up. Click here for more information on how to order your custom cycling & triathlon clothing.