Let’s start with the Coke. Andy Warhol said: ‘America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest… You know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good.’
Well cycling clothing is increasingly going down the Coca-Cola route and here is why: a lot of my job consists in developing new products for our custom cycling clothing range. And part of the development process is buying all of our competitors’ kit and riding in it (then the good stuff is taken apart to look at in fine detail). Although this works out as quite an expensive process, as a brand you pretty much have to know what your competitors are up to: you can then copy the good bits (except when they are patented of course!) and occasionally bring your own innovations to build on what they have done. Essentially that is what every brand is doing in the cycling clothing (and triathlon clothing) business and we all know that everyone is doing it and that is fair enough.
It can be a sometimes fun, sometimes tiresome part of the job to test all of this kit out, but it does give you a privileged position to be someone who gets to test pretty much everything that is out there in the cycling clothing market. The most obvious thing that you can see is a convergence between brands: it used to be the case that there were high end brands that sold fabulous kit that was just streets ahead of their lower cost competitors. Over the last 2 to 3 years, this has all changed though. Now you have a few brands at the bottom of the pile still churning out frankly mediocre kit (short durability, washed-out colours, non-technical fabrics, poor fit etc) and then you have the mid and premium priced brands that are increasingly becoming indistinguishable.
The reason for this convergence is that high level cycling has essentially gone from a niche to a mass participation sport, so where once niche manufacturers had to source scarce fabrics, chamoises, leg grippers and other fancy kit from small suppliers, now this stuff is being churned out in vast quantities; and whereas before premium brands had to use technically gifted seamstresses to put them together, now there are all manner of clever machines that mean the seamstresses can work a lot faster and with less skill required. So really it means that the difference in quality between the mid-priced and the premium is tiny and increasingly the price differential is just a question of clever branding.
Here at Carvalho Custom we have never aspired to be a super premium brand, we just plug away at producing the best quality kit we can at a fair price and put all our efforts into following innovations and developing our own. We have never paid for any advertising, just using word-of-mouth to develop our brand. Cycling clothing is not Coke and it never will be, but the days of great quality kit only being available to the lucky few have thankfully come to an end.