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.
We are lucky enough to be based in northern Portugal, where we make custom cycling & triathlon clothing in a small factory with around 25 staff. All of our fabrics come from Portugal, Spain and Italy and we sell almost exclusively into northern Europe. Whilst there are several manufacturers based in Southern Europe like us some smaller, some larger, but we are all mainly not competing against each other but against a small number of extremely large Chinese factories. The question we would like to address here, is why the hell should you buy European?
The gigantic elephant in the room is Champion System, which employs over 700 people in its Shenzhen factory and is the market leader for custom cycling clothing in many of the major markets in north America, Europe and Australasia. But as well as Champion System there are other large factories that are making the kit for European owned brands, so the Chinese tentacles actually stretch much deeper into the sector than may appear.
The Chinese hit the European market extremely hard starting in around 2007, when they flooded the cycling market with cheap and cheerful kit, upsetting many of the complacent European brands that typically dominated their domestic market with little foreign competition. Champion System really came to dominate around 2010 however when it stepped up the quality to rival that available in Europe and invested heavily in marketing and set up offices in 22 countries to represent their brand.
Under this Chinese onslaught it became a battle for survival for European manufacturers. Many northern European brands had to close down their domestic manufacturing and either shut down all together or began sourcing their kit also from China or from southern Europe. Meanwhile southern European manufacturers also had to sharpen up their act or also face closure.
These last 10 years have been difficult for Carvalho Custom also, but there is no doubt that we are slowly bouncing back now as prices coming out of China for medium to premium quality kit have risen dramatically whilst our prices have risen only slowly to make us competitively priced once more. Furthermore there is a backlash in the cycling community against buying from China and a rediscovered reverence for European brands. This is not just because of the higher prices now coming out of China or the reduced carbon footprint in not having to ship clothing half way round the world, but also perhaps a realisation that the China is run by a despicable dictatorship with scant regard for human rights or environmental stewardship and that given a choice we should buy our cycling clothing and all manner of other goods from somewhere else.
Perhaps it is the well televised suppression of democracy and human rights in Hong Kong, the bellicosity towards Taiwan, the not so well televised oppression of the Uighur muslims and the international outrage over their handling of Covid-19 that have all served as a wake-up call to consumers that this might not be a country they should be doing business with.
For the sake of all European cycling & triathlon clothing suppliers, we have to hope that whilst the 2010s were the decade of the Chinese, the 2020s will belong to Europe.
In this post we will just explain the different ways that you can communicate with us your final order numbers for custom cycling & triathlon clothing – there are of course more elements to getting to the stage of actually confirming the order numbers (like receiving samples, understanding minimum order requirements and so on), but you can find out about these here.
The main tool we use for order is our excel order form, which is actually just an intelligent version of a normal excel spreadsheet. So this spreadsheet allows you to choose the items you want to order and the quantities and then when you press the “calculate total price” button it will automatically give a final price including any discounts or surcharges where applicable and transport, so you know the final price you will pay. If you make any changes, then you just need to press the same button again to recalculate. (It is worth remembering here that our minimum order requirements are that you must order 10 of any main item and then no minimums are required for any other items and our discount system starts at 5% for €1500+ order value up to 10% discount for orders of €5000+).
Our spreadsheet also has another nice function, which is the “add multiple orders” button. This allows you to consolidate all the orders you get from club members into one order form. To use it, choose the items in the order form that club members are going to order, then click the “add multiple orders button” and you will see a mini order form for each club member. You can then fill out these mini order forms and they will automatically be added together to make a total club order.
Some of our clients just don’t want the hassle of working with excel sheets so they just send an email listing their order and that is fine too! We will just confirm the order back to you.
The final option is to allow individual club members to order and pay individually via a club shop – in this case we will set up a specific shop for your club with a password and your club members can shop and pay individually , either choosing to have their personal kit delivered to their home or the entire club order can be sent in one box for it to be distributed by whoever drew the short straw at the club to handle the kit…..
We have tried to make a slightly complicated process as simple and transparent as possible – if you have any questions about our ordering system or any other aspect of our business, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Over the last few months everything has been turned upside down by the new universal enemy Covid19 – we initially thought that all our clients would hunker down and stop ordering until it became clear when they would be allowed out on their bikes again, but it has been interesting to see that orders kept on flowing. Perhaps because cyclists and triathletes are a hardy bunch and have been determined to keep their sport alive through all the restrictions and difficulties.
There is also a hope for all the European manufacturers like us that some clients will question buying their custom cycling & triathlon clothing from Chinese suppliers, not least because of the sometimes sinister way the Chinese Communist Party have behaved over the virus which serves as a reminder that it might not be a bad idea to source from closer to home. The major Chinese supplier of custom cycling & triathlon kit is of course the gargantuan Champion System, who are market leaders in most of the major custom cycling and triathlon clothing markets (US, UK, Ireland and Australia for example) and have a factory in Shenzhen with over 600 employees (we have 25!). Originally we were never able to match their prices when they were priced extremely aggressively a few years back, but now that they have increased their prices we are now competitive with them. We are very much focused on keeping our peripheral costs down without sacrificing the most important thing, the quality of the kit and our highly personalised customer service. We can keep our costs down by selling direct from Portugal with no national distributors, no pro teams to sponsor and no flashy advertising as we are happy to grow by word-of-mouth recommendations and let the quality of our kit speak for itself.
There are many northern European custom cycling & triathlon clothing brands that are sourcing from China, but there are of course a number of strong European suppliers available, particularly in Spain and Italy (and of course us here in Portugal!). From our perspective it would be great to see European cycling & triathlon clubs looking to source their club clothing from European suppliers just like it is great to see cyclists and triathletes supporting their local bike shops rather than buying from the online giants.
We get all sorts of requests for designs for custom cycling kit and we try not to judge. If you want to ride around in a brown cycling jersey like AG2R La Mondial then that is fine; or perhaps you want to channel Marco Pantani in his migraine inducing Mercatone Uno kit – we won’t charge you any extra for that (although we might not include it on our facebook page).
Just occasionally though we have a client who wants to make a statement with their custom cycling kit – they have a particular personality and they want their kit to speak to the world about them. Well that is Håvard Tryti from Norway. Channelling Mario Cipollini in his zebra phase, he came up with a fantastic design that is already stopping traffic on the streets of Oslo – his own bio describes him as a “Euro style cycling freak” and we are happy with that – here he is in all his glory in a Carvalho Custom skinsuit.
Your dream cycling kit might not be quite as flamboyant as Håvard’s, but here at Carvalho Custom we can make your design ideas come true – we will work from a pencil sketch, a photo of some pro kit or even just a description. Here is some more advice on designing custom cycling kit.
For those of a certain generation who can remember the Saeco train dragging Cipo to the front of the peloton, here he is in full zebra mode.
Generally the custom cycling jerseys we supply use various of the very best fabrics available on the market, with a carefully tailored fit to give the very best possible for comfort and aerodynamics for the rider. We frequently get requests for high volumes for charity rides and other events and for these kind of orders we offer a less premium cycling jersey – we still use a hard-wearing microfibre, but it is not as lightweight, breathable, moisture wicking or stretchy as our high end fabrics and nor is the panel design so complex. This does mean however that it is a lot cheaper!
We only make our low cost custom cycling jersey for a minimum of 100 units and you can rest assured that we are not selling cheap tat – these jerseys are more than adequate for wearing for a long ride and they are very durable so they will not fall to pieces after a couple of spins in the tumble dryer. These low cost cycling jerseys we sell for just €18.60 each (compared to €36.90 for our premium custom cycling jerseys). We also offer unlimited graphics and logos and there is no design fee (normally €150). We also have available custom sports bottles for similar events at prices from under €1 per unit (delivered to northern Europe), depending on quantities.
For orders substantially larger than 100 we can also offer further discounts, which have to be negotiated separately. It is also worth pointing out that for standard orders we have a discount system, where orders over €1500 receive a discount of 5%, over €2500 get 7% and over €5000 get 10% although this does not apply to our low cost jersey offer.
Furthermore when we have riders from the cycling clubs that we supply taking part in charity rides, we are happy to discuss supplying kit to them as a means of supporting the charity and as a means of thanking our clubs for their continued custom. For example we supplied kit for free to Shusannah Pillinger when she became the first female British rider to complete the Race Across America .