What is Rapha, and how was the brand idea originally founded?
Rapha was originally founded because Simon Mottram was dissatisfied with the cycling clothing that was available to him on the mass market. Grounded in a love of road cycling and a desire to have beautiful products that worked, Simon founded Rapha in 2004.
Has British culture influenced the brand in any way?
British style is sometimes seen as understated and has a reputation for quality. In this sense Rapha can be seen as influenced by British culture. Rapha has also always looked back to the “golden age” of cycling and used figures like British cyclist Tom Simpson to inspire the brand. You see it in the trademark right arm band, which is stylistic but also draws from the black armbands worn by the peloton after Simpson’s death.
What does Rapha product development look like? How much inspiration comes from pro riders?
We create things that we feel road cyclists need – rather than existing as just a clothing brand, we want to encompass a rider’s entire experience on the bike, thus the extension into shoes, sunglasses, headphones, travel, skincare…Rapha is inspired by the sport and culture of road cycling and we do everything we can to make sure the brand is infused with it. Nothing we make is superfluous. Some of our products have been influenced by Rapha Condor and then Team Sky, and they have certainly helped with our technical development which has now worked its way down into our main range products. The Vizlon (plastic coated) zips on the new Aero Jersey is one example – Sky riders requested this as it works better and has a bigger pull so it’s easier to adjust while on the bike.
How do you work in order to stay ahead of your competition?
We were one of the first cycling companies to use mainstream fashion in our garments – our designers look to fashion trends, colours, shapes, and how the products will actually be used in order to produce new and re-designed pieces for each season. We also know that we must keep moving forward rather than continue to recycle old ideas. The designers have this in the forefront of their minds as they work two or three seasons ahead, using technical fashion inspiration from all over the world.
Which are your proudest products?
One of the most successful Rapha products are our Pro Team bib shorts. They have won awards in the press and are one of our bestselling products because the combination of comfort, durability, breathability and style are unparalleled in the market. They’ve converted many customers to the brand and we are very proud of what they represent – the pinnacle of performance, executed in our trademark understated style.
We know that you’ve got gear for almost any type of weather – but is there actually a perfect kind of weather?
The perfect kind of weather is whatever is going on outside your window when you are ready to ride. Simon would say that the perfect kind of weather is a clear day in the Alps, warm but not hot, breezy but not windy, with a big climb ahead and smooth tarmac underneath.
How do you perceive the cycling culture? What’s changed since you entered the market and where will this evolution take us?
Cycling culture in the last 1990’s and early 2000’s, particularly in Britain, was incredibly niche. Cyclists were outliers; people who rode around by themselves and spent very little on kit. Then in the mid-2000’s, the fixie culture hit London and Rapha happened to be ahead of the trend there. Having launched in 2004, we were on the forefront of city riding becoming cool, and as the millennium progressed and Britain came into a new era of success in the sport with Beijing and then London Olympics, the attitudes changed. Once Wiggins won the tour in 2012, everything was different. Government is investing more, youth schemes are growing, and the scene is completely different to when Rapha started. Hopefully the sport will continue to grow and we will be able to be a massive part of that – our goal is to help make road cycling the most popular sport in the world, and we will never stop working towards that.
Do you have any interesting news about your own future that you might want to spoil?
Rapha are working on a few collaborations, but we can’t really say who it is yet. Right now we are most excited about opening several new Cycle Clubs around the world and our new sponsorship with Team Canyon//SRAM, who are looking ready to take the UCI Women’s peloton by storm. It’s all very exciting. We also have our last year with Team Sky and this should be the best yet as we’ve had three years to build on some great experience.
How important are smaller collaborations, even to a brand as recognized as Rapha? Do you have any dream collaboration you’d like to do?
Small collaborations in the beginning were very important to us as they led to bigger things – for example we did a capsule collection with menswear designer Christopher Raeburn, which led to attention from fashion press, and that sort of PR is invaluable. It showed people that we weren’t just into designing Lycra; we were very good at that but we want to make beautiful clothing and we can stand on our own with respected designers.
Who do you see as your closest competitors?
Some niche brands out of Australia and the United States are doing interesting things, but we are moving forwards and aren’t allowing previous success to make us complacent.
We’ve all noticed the current evolution of the brand. What came to the market as vouchers of the historic beauty, has slowly progressed into what one might say is modernism, reflected in both products and brand expression. How important is your historic roots and how would you like Rapha to be perceived now?
We are still making very classic, well-made cycling jerseys, which is what we have always done. If you look at the Classic Jersey, it’s in its 13th season this year and remains, at its root, one of the most beautiful cycling jerseys ever made. Customers are evolving and the market is changing and we have to be ready for that, though. New technology, new fashions that tend towards racewear inspired by the professional peloton, and new participants of the sport who want something more focused on aerodynamics (and aren’t afraid of the streamlined look!) are demanding these things and we are obliging. It’s all part of our expansion – we are holding the line for our traditional customer base while reaching out to those who are discovering us through a new love of the sport.