Industry Insider: Nick Hussey on the launch of HOY Vulpine

Vulpine is a young brand - less than three years old having launched in March 2012 - but one which has established itself among the cream of British cycle clothing manufacturers and the firm is soon to begin its next chapter with the launch of HOY Vulpine.

The range will be officially launched in February 2015 with Sir Chris Hoy and Vulpine founder Nick Hussey at the helm but initial details will be revealed today. HOY Vulpine continues the six-time Olympic champion’s transition from track cyclist and national hero to businessman and cycling advocate, while for Vulpine the venture will see a firm which has built its name on clothing which bridges the barrier between function and fashion collaborate on a range primarily geared towards performance road riding.

For Hussey it’s the final piece in the jigsaw for a cyclist who began life trying to break the UK club scene clique before eventually starting Vulpine with three core values: “quality, creativity and inclusivity of all cycling and all cyclists” – all of which struck a chord with Hoy in his initial meeting with Hussey.

RoadCyclingUK caught up with Hussey to get the inside track on the rise of the firm and to find out how HOY Vulpine came to fruition.

From Trent Valley CRC…

Nottinghamshire-based Hussey started racing on the road in the late 1980s for Trent Valley CRC because he “fell in love with the Tour de France” – and the culture of the underground club scene of what was at the time a minority sport dominated by men helped sow the first seeds for Vulpine.

“When I started with road racing it was a completely closed, hardcore environment,” he says. “It was completely male – there were no women in it whatsoever and it was a tight community. It was really hard for me to break through but once I’d done about eight club runs and got everything right – I was wearing the right gear and riding the right bike – I was allowed in to the clique.

“I thought that was bollocks really because if you’re going to grow a pastime or sport then you need to be welcoming, and there was little that was welcoming about cycling apart from the fact that it was brilliant.”

Hussey continued to race into the 1990s as a university student in Liverpool but “knackered” his back due to an previously undiagnosed condition exacerbated by cycling. Having lost six discs from his back and two inches in height, Hussey got back on the bike after an extensive period of self-rehab. “Now I can ride again, which is brilliant,” he says with an unmistakably genuine passion for the simple pleasure of cycling. It was Hussey’s time off the bike, and subsequent return to two wheels, that continued to fuel his desire for inclusivity in the sport.

“When I got back on the bike I tried lots of different types of cycling but any ride was a good ride,” he says. “I treasured every ride because I loved cycling but I couldn’t do it. So I started to think about cycling in a different way.”

Vulpine is born

Having spent a number of years running a major nightclub in Manchester – during which time he had a gun held to his head – Hussey started a “very stressful” career as a film executive in London and it was during this time that the idea for Vulpine began to crystallise.

“I was riding to work in full race gear and I was stinking, everyone was laughing at me, I had to shower when I got to work and I had to carry more gear, which I thought was stupid,” he says. “Or I was wearing fashion gear and riding in casually, but still stinking, sweating and feeling horrible all day. I thought, come on, there must be a middle ground where you can use performance fabrics and cut them for normal life and that was the premise behind Vulpine.”

Hussey left his job at the end of 2009 but, after more than two years in the making, it wasn’t until March 2012 that Vulpine launched with five garments. Jools Walker joined as the first member of staff in November 2012, Hussey took on five more employees at the end of 2013 and another four at the beginning of this year. The range now includes in the region of 45 garments, for both men and women. In the time since 2012, Vulpine has established itself as itself as one of Britain’s pre-eminent ‘casual cycling’ brands, though there isn’t a convenient box in which to place the company.

“It’s quite hard to define what we are,” says Hussey. “A lot of people call us a casual cycling brand, or urban cycling, but a surprising number of our customers buy our clothing for leisure riding or even sportives.”

What is clear, however, is that Hussey is obsessed by quality, attention to detail and, crucially, producing clothing which doesn’t discriminate between cyclist and non-cyclist.

“Even though I’m a road cyclist at heart, I wanted to have values behind Vulpine which were about quality, creativity and inclusion of all cycling and all cyclists,” he says. What runs through the heart of Vulpine is the company strap line: ‘Ride & Destination’ – a marriage of technical fabrics, fit and construction, with British tailoring and design, in clothing which can be worn for both the ride and destination.

Vulpine’s customer base is varied, from ‘serious’ cyclists who are entrenched in the sport’s culture, and to whom Vulpine is an extension of that culture, to people ‘who just don’t engage with the whole club cycling thing, who don’t like lycra and who just want to ride to the pub with their mates, and sit in the pub and not feel like a twit’. Even so, Hussey says Vulpine’s ‘average’ customer has been in cycling for a long time, is very experienced and has ‘a lot of bikes… three to seven bikes’, and so there is an obvious gap in the Vulpine range.

“My aim for Vulpine is to make clothing for all kinds of cycling – but what we don’t do is bib shorts,” says Hussey. “When we make something the test is: can we walk into a rough pub in Manchester? I know Manchester well and there are some pretty rough pubs. If you walk into that pub and feel paranoid wearing our gear then we shouldn’t be making it. You can’t do that with bib shorts. If you clip-clop into a pub wearing bib shorts then people are going to look at you and say ‘Who the hell are you?’ If you wear our Harrington jacket then that’s not going to happen.

“But then we had a problem, because if you want to ride 100 miles then you’re not going to do it in trousers, you need bib shorts, they exist for a reason, but it’s not what Vulpine does.”

Customer and collaborator

Then Hussey received a phone call in November 2013 from Sir Chris Hoy’s manager, who wanted to meet to discuss the possibility of a collaborative brand. “I was like, ‘Ok… that’s quite good… blimey’,” Hussey says.

Vulpine joined an eight-way pitch which included some major international brands and some British brands. “We were probably the smallest,” says Hussey, “so I thought there’s no way we’re getting this, but as with everything I put my heart and soul into it and Chris said the reason we got it was not only because of the quality of our designs, but also our values align with his.”

“He’s very inclusive and he’s very honest about what he’s doing. He doesn’t want to engage with corporate bullshit or anything like that. We got on really well. I didn’t want to work with a personality just to have that name on the gear – I don’t really buy that – but I wanted to work with someone who was an amazing person, who I really respected, and he’s going to become more and more like a shining beacon for a cycling advocacy.”

Fast forward a year and HOY Vulpine is gearing up for a February launch, with a “mid-price performance” range which will be stocked nationwide in Evans Cycles, who worked with Hoy in the creation of his range of bikes.

“HOY Vulpine will be a separate brand from Vulpine,” says Hussey. “It’ll borrow stuff from Chris’ ethos and it’ll borrow stuff from Vulpine.” The initial offering will include a pair of bib shorts priced at approximately £80. It’s an ‘accessible and attainable’ range, Hussey says, but one which remains focused on quality.

Vulpine are looking to re-dress the balance on Black Friday (pic: Vulpine)

“The Cytech pad we’re using in the shorts is used in shorts which are twice the price,” he says. “[The price is] something you’d think about and if you’re new to cycling you might think it’s a lot, but if you’ve worn a pair of crappy bib shorts for £30 then you’ll know that you need to step up and bib shorts are an important thing.

“We were told we could reach a far bigger market if we made it for a slightly lower price but I wasn’t prepared to make a product where the focus wasn’t on quality. I’ll make products for any cyclist but if the quality isn’t there then I’m not interested. We’re not going to make shorts to rival Lidl.”

Complete designs won’t be unveiled until February but “it’s like Vulpine – classics with a twist”, says Hussey. Hoy has worked closely with the Vulpine team to put together the initial range and a recent design meeting took place at a pub near Hoy’s home in the north west, followed by a ride on the local lanes. “The twist here is that everything has been calmed down,” Hussey says. “A lot of road gear tends to be very logo heavy, lots of over-design, mad colours, so we’re going to bring it down, calm it down and ‘Vulpinise’ performance gear.”

As one example, Hussey says there’s very little navy blue used in performance road clothing, but it’ll feature in the HOY Vulpine range. The performance collection will be focused on just that. “We’re not trying to do a Frankenstein casual/performance hybrid,” says Hussey, “and there are absolutely classic things that have to be involved with that, certain rules you should obey.” But HOY Vulpine will also extend to an affordable casual range and, in 2016, kids clothing, underlining Hussey and Hoy’s joint ambition for inclusivity.

The HOY Vulpine casual collection, Hussey says, will sit at a lower price point to what is typically associated with Vulpine. “It’s like Vulpine but more affordable,” he says. “We know Vulpine is seen as very expensive in the cycling world – £200 for a jacket in the cycling world is very expensive. There’s a lot of design, features and performance in that jacket which is why it costs that much. If you walk down the high street and you see a £200 fashion jacket then it’s just going to be a piece of cotton and a zip. Cyclists can be very value-based and we tend to make a lot of judgements about something when we buy it. I’m used to that.

“But we know that we’re not necessarily going to sell £140 trousers in Evans so we’ve made a casual range as well. The HOY Bikes range includes hybrids and road bikes, fixies and kids bikes, and I want to help all cycling so I want to make nice stuff for that.”

Hoy and Hussey go into HOY Vulpine as business partners and with a commitment to what is a long-term project – “it’s not just going to be something which will pop-up for six months then disappear” – and it’s a brand which will further place Vulpine in the cycling consciousness.

That Britain’s most decorated Olympian chose to partner with Vulpine is a testament to the reputation the brand has built in such a short space of time.

Website: Vulpine

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