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.