The spirit of craftsmanship in cycling finds its most obvious expression in frame building.
But as we have discovered in our examination of bicycle design and wheel building in a series of articles building up to tomorrow’s opening of Bespoked Bristol, the UK’s handmade bike show, craftsmen with an eye for quality and workmanship find a creative outlet in all aspects of the sport.
Leicestershire clothing firm, Velobici, will be among those exhibiting in Bristol. Started in earnest two years ago by Chris Puttnam and Tara Love, with an ambition to produce high quality cycle clothing in their native county, and play their part in the revival of the once mighty industry into which they were born, Velobici has quickly established a reputation for quality with merino wool garments almost too beautiful to wear on the bike.
The fathers of both Puttnam and Love owned knitwear factories during an era in which the industry employed thousands of people in Leicestershire. Puttnam recalls a childhood helping his father by pressing and packing garments.
“When I was a kid, everyone was an knitter or an overlocker. When we were growing up, there were always so many jobs available in the industry. Because it fell away, you don’t get many young people going into the business. Hopefully, that will change. We have the skills to produce high quality, long-lasting garments, yet we were told we needed to go the Far East or Europe to produce high quality road wear. As far as I’m concerned, we have the skills and machinery right here to rival anywhere,” he said.
Velobici are preparing to launch a performance road wear collection of two classically styled full zip, five pocket jerseys, two styles of bib short, arm warmers, and ladies vest top and pants. They have again decided to base production in Leicestershire.
“It’s taken us a little more time to get things sorted, but we’re now well on track,” said Puttnam. “China doesn’t work for us. We’re quite a new company. Yes, we have to pay a higher production cost for our products, but it’s something we can work with. We are a lot more flexible than companies who buy from Asia. Our lead times are a lot shorted. We can introduce new product lines on a regular basis, which is very important to us, as well as keeping a close eye on the quality of all our garments.”
Puttnam compares designing a garment to writing a song or building a house. Inspiration comes at any time, often while he is out riding.
“We get a first design and then play around with it,” he said. “The San Remo, for example, is more of a cycling garment. It’s more sculpted with a rear drop back hem. We’ll come up with ideas, do a few sketches, and Tara will make a CAD drawing. We then discuss it with our manufacturers regarding fabrics, yarn make up and so on.”
The majority of Velobici’s garments are made from merino wool, spun and placed on a yarn in South Africa or Italy. “We then have the first samples that we go to work on, making sure everything is as we want it for when we go into production. Some garments look fantastic on paper but not so good when we make them up; we have quite a few designs that don’t make it into production,” said Puttnam.
The pair have witnessed the closures of the big Leicestershire factories that once employed thousands, and the devastation caused to local communities, but Puttnam is optimistic and talks of a feeling that business may be returning to the area.
“It’s easy for me to say all this, but it will still take a few years to turn around and get the production volumes back to this country. There’s an awful lot of big clothing companies in the UK and Europe looking to bring industry back, probably because of shipping costs, and maybe they’re thinking it’s the right thing to do,” he said.