Should you be buying your custom cycling kit in Europe rather than China?

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.

How to place an order with Carvalho Custom for cycling & triathlon clothing

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.

Welcome back to some old clients & some that never left….

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.

Custom cycling kit design to stop traffic

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.

https://www.instagram.com/h.o.t.o.n/

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.

Low cost cycling jerseys for high volume orders for events and charity rides

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.

Cycling jerseys for a charity ride – in this case the Duchenne Dash from London to Paris

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 .

Shusannah Pillinger – racing to become the first British woman to finish the 3000 mile non-stop Race Across America.

Custom cycling jerseys – made with carbon fibre fabric

There is a bewildering range of fabrics available for custom cycling jerseys and it is down to us to choose the best one for our clients. To get high quality sublimation printing (the process by which designs are dyed into the fabric so that they will never peel or degrade) requires the use of a synthetic fabric, as natural materials will not take sublimation printing well. That does not narrow things down much however, so here are the criteria that we look at when selecting our cycling jersey fabric:
*heat & moisture regulation
*air permeability & water vapour permeability
*wicking capacity
*speed of drying
*dimensional stability (also when wet)
*durability
*breathability
*elasticity
*lightweight
*ease of care (washing and tumble drying)
*softness of touch
*sharpness of colours with sublimation printing

When we receive samples from our fabric suppliers we test them first in the lab to see how they rate against these criteria (which will mean more than 90% are rejected), then we make up cycling jersey samples to be tested first by staff and then by professional riders. To get to this stage in our testing will take around 3 months. If we are then convinced that this new fabric is the very best available on the market then we will supply it to one of our tester club teams and get their feedback, before we release it to the general market.

All of our cycling jerseys actually use multiple fabrics (a mixture of mesh for superior aeration, lycra panels to give a contoured fit in the appropriate places, silicone coated grippers for the arms and the principal fabric itself). Here we will only consider the principal fabric which in our case is a carbon fibre blended into a high specification microfibre thread with a perforated weave.

Cyclists will of course be used to frames being made with carbon, but there are numerous benefits from incorporating carbon thread into the microfibre thread – it helps to give the jersey outstanding heat and vapour/moisture management, it makes it extremely strong/durable but still lightweight. Added to this the weave gives four way stretch to the fabric which helps to give a contoured fit and reduce any flapping in the wind and it is perforated to maximise breathability with a silk soft finish that will never get sticky and cling to your skin.

We are confident that our custom cycling jersey fabric is the very best available on the planet and you can rest assured that we use the same rigour when testing the multitude of other fabrics that we use in our range like for our bib shorts, custom tri-suits and so on.

The truth is that these kind of very high-end fabrics are extremely expensive (using high end fabrics as opposed to a more basic version nearly doubles our cost of production), but we manage to keep our prices manageable because we save money in the rest of our business, which means we can provide high-end kit at reasonable prices. We don’t use national distributors (only selling direct from Portugal), we don’t sponsor big teams, travel to trade shows, advertise in glossy cycling magazines and all the other kinds of branding which have been taking over the cycling industry in recent years. Rather we run a more old-fashioned bread and butter type of business, where our focuses are just quality of product and customer service. So if you are looking for a glitzy brand that you can see on the telly we are probably not for you – if it is just high quality at fair prices, then please give us a call!

Also please contact us if you would like to see samples from our range and test them for yourself!

We are still open!

We just wanted to assure our clients and prospective clients that we are still open for business at Carvalho Custom. Where possible our staff are working from home, but our fabrication of custom cycling & triathlon clothing is still going on. We have reworked our factory so that there is appropriate distancing between staff and staggered breaks so that there is plenty of room in our canteen and so on.

custom-triathlon-clothing

Please get in touch if you would like to get started on the design or order of your club cycling kit or club triathlon clothing.

Understanding sublimation printing for custom cycling & triathlon clothing

Pretty much all custom cycling & triathlon clothing will be made with sublimation printing and we get a number of questions about it from our clients so here is an explanation of how it works and the possibilities that it gives you for your design ideas.

The basics of sublimation printing is that the design is printed on a special sublimation printer with specific inks to fit the panels that will be sewn together to make up your design. These sheets of paper are then laid over the white fabric that the garment will be made from and heat is applied. This heat will cause the ink on the paper to transform into a gas and simultaneously open up the pores of the fabric, which will effectively dye the upper layers of the fabric with the design. The white fabric can then be laser cut into panels and sewn together to make the garment.

sublimation-printing-custom-cycling-clothing

The great advantage of this process is that the print does not sit on top of the fabric as it did with previous printing technologies, so it will not be subject to cracking or peeling; the other main advantage is that printing can be done with endless numbers of colours and intricacies of design as the sublimation paper can be printed like a desktop print prints a design off your computer.

It is in short a fabulous technology, but there are a few things you need to be aware of – the first is that although very intricate designs are possible, having detailed design elements cross the seams of garments is not a great idea, because when the panels are sewn together, it is very difficult to be millimetre accurate in getting one panels to line up with the next one. The fabrics we use are all stretchy, so as they are pulled through a sewing machine it is impossible to always be 100% accurate, so you can get small misalignments over seams. Generally this is not a problem, but for example small lettering over seams can be problematic. Our advice with designs is always to try and work with the panel construction of our cycling & triathlon garments, rather than work against it.

A second issue with sublimation printing is the kind of fabrics that can be used – you will only get the best quality print with 100% polyester (i.e. synthetic) fabrics. You can print on polyester blend fabrics, but you will not get such sharp colours. The real issue for us is that to make our full range of cycling & triathlon kit we have to use a wide range of fabrics, with several different kinds of lycra for different garments and for example 3 different fabrics used on a single cycling jersey. The problem that this brings for us is that different fabrics can print slightly differently, with some printing brighter than others for example. We have to ensure for example that the red a client chooses for their design, will be the same shade for the tri suit, as for the cycling jersey and for the hoodie. Also when we update a fabric and a client reorders, we have to make sure that the colour prints exactly the same shade. This means we have to constantly test and adjust the exact colours we print on the sublimation paper to make sure it comes out right on the garment.

The reason we charge a design fee for new designs is that the work of setting up the production of a garment is rather time consuming, because not only do we have to take a design idea shown in a 2D version to be converted on to individual panels that will match up correctly, we also have to do the work to make sure that the colours come out exactly as specified. For those clients who are particularly concerned about getting the colours exactly right, we print out the design on the fabric of the garment in question and post it to clients for them to approve (even printing a range of different shades of a colour for a client to choose from when required).

sublimation-printing-custom-trisuit

We invest a lot of money in buying the very best in sublimation printing technology and heat presses, so that we can print fast but with no smudging or blurring. We also have to assess all new fabrics to make sure that they will take sublimation printing well – some fabrics make appear to initially print well, but when they are stretched they will tend to whiten as the underlying colour of the fabric shows through the outer layers that have been sublimation printed.

We have been using sublimation printing for over 20 years and we do it all in-house so we have a profound understanding of the process – please see our design tips for custom cycling & triathlon clothing here, but if you have any questions or need help developing your design, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

How to make a comfortable pair of cycling shorts

There is an enormous amount of puff written by custom cycling clothing suppliers about the amazing properties of their shorts and how they can uniquely improve the comfort of the rider, but the truth is there is a limit to how much cycling shorts can contribute to relieving a sort backside. Here we will look at what cycling shorts can do to resolve discomfort and what they can’t do.

The obvious place to start is with the chamois (another name for the pad) – there is a fair bit of misinformation and inflated claims by cycling clothing manufacturers about their chamoises, often around the different densities of foam, the anatomical shape of the padding and the flexing of the pad. The real key areas of importance for a chamois however are the durability of the padding, the quality of the seams and the bulkiness of the pad. Whilst the distribution of the padding over different areas of the chamois are important, it is actually less complicated than you may have been lead to believe, in that the chamois’s main job is to provide cushioning for the seat bones – in other areas of the chamois, its function should be to provide a soft, low-friction interface for the area between your legs with some minimal padding.

The quality of the foam used for a great chamois as opposed to a low quality one is without doubt the most important feature, but it will only be truly revealed after it has been ridden on for a while. That is because good quality foam will not lose its cushioning capability nearly so fast than low quality foam (although please note that even top quality foam will always deteriorate over time). This means that a great chamois will take time to reveal its true properties, but the two other areas you can check out in a new chamois are the seams and the bulkiness – as one of the chamoises key purposes is to minimise friction, having prominent seams is a major negative point, so the high end chamoises will have bonded seams that are entirely smooth with no wrinkles or uneven edges. Cutting down the bulk of the chamois (everywhere except for the necessary cushioning for the seat bones) is also very important as any bulkiness will tend to bunch up and form a friction point.

custom-cycling-clothing
The Carvalho Custom chamois

Our point here is that making a great chamois requires it to fulfil rather simple objectives, but to achieve this simplicity is rather difficult and expensive. To give you an idea, the wholesale price for a high end chamois will be around €6, but you can buy cheap ones for under €1! Our chamois pictured above is we think among the very best available on the market, because it provides the key features mentioned above in a minimalist way.

A pair of cycling shorts can contribute two more things to backside comfort – first the panelling construction of the shorts and shoulder straps have to work to make sure the chamois is held firmly in place when in the riding position (so when you are bend over the handlebars rather than standing upright) so that the chamois is always in the right position and second to use fabrics in the shorts that are soft, will not bunch up and are breathable.

In this post, we are not going to discuss saddle design, other than to say there is no universal answer and it is very much down to personal choice. It is worthwhile to discuss another critical factor that contributes to backside comfort, which is your pedaling technique. Having a good pedal stroke is something that will naturally evolve as you ride more, not least because of the strengthening of appropriate ligaments and muscles that will allow you to maintain correct technique for prolonged periods. You can also actively work on improving your pedal stroke with sources like http://www.zendurancecycling.com/cycling-technique-for-cycling-performance.html .

The key thing to understand in terms of the relationship between backside comfort and pedal technique is that as a road cyclist doing reasonable distances, your pedal technique should be such that you are taking most of your body weight on your legs, rather than on your backside. That is to say that you are alternating your weight from one leg to the other to push down on the pedals, rather than taking the majority of the weight on the saddle and just using leg muscles to produce down-force on the pedals. With forces being equal and opposite, taking your weight in your legs will gently push your backside up from the saddle and so reduce the load that it is bearing. You should be doing this even when you are soft pedaling. Your relationship between your backside and your saddle should be more like how you lean against a leaning rail that you sometimes find at train stations (or even on trains). Essentially your feet take most of the weight.

Lean on your saddle, don’t sit on it!

When you get this pedaling technique right, you will always have tension in one or other of your quads (in fact even when you freewheel) – you should never just be slumped on your saddle. Having strong core muscles is an important part to getting this technique right, as your abdominal muscles should be working to pull weight from the front of the saddle and redistribute it down through your backside to your legs, which is something that will happen naturally as your pedaling technique demands that you redistribute your weight away from your saddle to your legs. Taking this weight off your backside can dramatically improve your comfort in the saddle, perhaps more so than any other factor.

If that all sounds rather complicated and perhaps you are new to cycling, not to worry, it is something that should come naturally as you ride more and your brain works out how to get more power to the legs. In other words taking weight off your saddle and redistributing it to your legs is not something you naturally do to make yourself more comfortable, it is something you will naturally do as your brain works out how to make your pedal stroke more efficient. The fact that it will make your backside incredibly more comfortable on a bike is a happy side effect!

Here at Carvalho Custom we do what we can to make all of our custom cycling & triathlon clothing the very best in can be, but we avoid making over-the-top and frankly dishonest claims about how much are kit can do. We just strive to offer the very best to our customers and let our kit speak for us.

How to look after your custom cycling or triathlon kit

Selecting the fabrics that we are going to use for the custom cycling & triathlon kit that we supply is one of the more difficult tasks. Every year fabric manufacturers produce new fabrics with all sorts of promises about breathability, UV protection, elasticity, anti-microbial properties, aero-dynamics and durability and it is out job to sort out the hype from the reality. This involves a lot of testing either in our lab or on the road, but one of the hardest things to test for is durability, because although you can simulate long term usage to some extent, the only true test is to actually use a garment over a prolonged period.

Our approach is to only change fabrics when it is absolutely clear that there has been a genuine advance in fabric technology, rather than launch new fabrics every year just to ride the latest wave of hype. This is really for two reasons – first it helps to keep our costs down to offer our clients only a limited range of fabrics and buy them in large quantities (after all, we have made our main (and somewhat simple) selling point that we sell “pro quality kit at reasonable prices”) and second because we have tested all our fabrics to exhaustion out on the road and we know that what we are using is the very best in class and that it lasts.

care for cycling clothing
Just don’t fall off – he just ruined a beautiful set of cycling kit we supplied!

We sometimes get asked by clients what care they need to give their custom cycling or triathlon kit to keep it in the best condition for the longest possible time and generally speaking the answer is not much. We use sublimation printing which means that a design is printed on to paper and then the dye is transferred on to the garment to colour the actual fabric. That is to say that the colours are not sitting on top of the fabric, but are actually absorbed and by using very high quality dyes it means that they will essentially never fade (other than bleaching in the sun after very long periods of use in sunny conditions). We also choose fabrics specifically for their longevity so that they do not get tatty or fall apart. Having said that there are a few things you can do to look after your kit better:

  1. Never wash kit mixed with velcro – this is because velcro will pull threads from microfibre fabric in particular, which may expose uncoloured (white) threads that will show up against the printed fabric.
  2. Don’t use fabric softener – as this can interfere with the the wicking and breathability of technical fabrics.
  3. If you use triathlon clothing in a swimming pool, do not leave it too long before you wash it. Our triathlon fabrics are all chlorine resistant, but chlorine is a very aggressive chemical and will eventually damage the fabric.

And that’s it. You really DON’T need to follow the long list of things that many custom cycling clothing suppliers suggest, for example: washing cold, drip drying (rather than tumble drying), washing seperate from other clothing, turning inside out before washing, using mild detergents. Just treat it like you would normal sports kit and you will get years of use without any noticeable deterioration. Just don’t fall off your bike….

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