Women’s cycle clothing with Rapha, Flare, ION & Café du Cycliste

Rapidly gaining share of the market, women’s cycle clothing is a sector to watch. Duncan Moore speaks with Rapha, Flare, ION & Café du Cycliste for their take on the field.

Back in issue 002/2019 of Cycling Industry News I wrote an insight into how the face of retailing had changed in relation to female-specific cycling kit. Now it’s time to follow up on that with a look at what some of the manufacturers are doing in the field of women’s kit and why.

The importance of this market sector should not be overlooked and, for an example of why, look no further than Rapha where the women’s part of the business represents about 13 per cent of its business. However, the company’s goal for the next five years is to grow this to be above 20 per cent. For others, the numbers are even more significant.

Remi Clermont, Café du Cycliste’s co-founder and creative director who explains that “in 2018, 30 per cent of our customers were women, it’s a very significant number for us, even more, because this percentage has been growing considerably in the past two years for Café du Cycliste.

“We are convinced that this market won’t stop growing and that’s very good news. The Women’s pro-cycling scene is now more visible, combined with the better-known benefits of a cycling lifestyle, and we can see more women taking part in the cycling adventure. We do everything we can at Café du Cycliste to grow the women’s market even faster to be able to offer, very soon, as wide a range of products to women as we currently offer to men,” Clermont told CI.N.

For UK-based brand Flare Clothing Co., the growth has not been measured in numbers but the interest as Marsha El-Hage from the brand notes that “the women’s cycling market has been growing over the past 10 years with a noticeable increase in women trying their hands not only at cycling but many different sports.”

The changing market place for women is nicely summarised by Clermont, Café du who says: “A few years back the women cycling clothing offer was very limited and was, most of the time, reduced to purple or pink items with some butterfly or flower prints. Fortunately, things are changing even if some clichés are slow to disappear. Female riders have exactly the same needs as men riders, they want to look good in their cycling kit and to have comfortable and ultra-performant apparel.”

David Nagel, head of bike wear at ION, is of the opinion that for female users, “aesthetics and feel are more relevant than features and technology.” While a similar is put forward by El-Hage who suggests “that fashion and sport can be blended with the right designs, colour, comfort and fit. What we hope to achieve this season with Flare Clothing is to give ladies an affordable choice and a fresh look in cycling clothes.”

Just how to combine these various elements into a workable cohesive design is the real secret to cracking the women’s clothing market and for Rapha’s Design Manager, Maria Olsson that means “being part of a company where cycling truly is the heart of the business. Everyone who works on the product here rides and has an extensive understanding for the customers’ needs and the problems we are trying to solve, male or female.

“For the women’s market specifically, I can already see it growing and developing into something truly exciting and I believe it will continue to do so. There is nowhere to hide anymore as far as taking women’s cycling seriously, the brands who don’t will not survive in the future marketplace.”

That idea that clothing ranges should be developed equally regardless of the rider’s gender is the direction in which ION is heading as Nagel notes: “ION keeps developing the women’s products with the same effort as for the male range. The role of women’s products is generally growing as the traditional role models are becoming more and more obsolete. In the future, the focus will be on a more women’s specific functions and fit. It is an important element of brand positioning to satisfy the needs of a larger target group.”

The idea that gender should not be an issue when developing new ranges is one that is spreading through the industry. “At Café du Cycliste,” says Clermont, “we do not use a different approach about the men and women markets. In term of style, our approach is very similar for both, we follow our style direction, which is very specific to our brand and is pretty gender neutral and most of our products are available, with a different fit, for both men and women.

“The main difference is in the fit. We develop our women range and test it with female riders to make sure it is comfortable on the bike and women-specific in the ergonomics or for elements such as the inserts in the bibshorts. So the fit is essential but once they are on bikes women and men are the same. We don’t see any reason to use different fabrics or have a different approach to our product development. Our female and male products are technically identical in terms of fabrics, performance and usage.”

To illustrate this point Clermont gives the example of Café du Cycliste’s Ginette bib-shorts which he describes as the brand’s most women-tailored product. These shorts use the same fabric as the Anabelle men bib-shorts in the men’s range but they are completely redesigned to fit women’s specific needs complete with a women-specific insert, elastic on the waist for better support on the hips and one-piece straps for more comfort as normal ones are not ideal for the female form. This design also has the added benefit of allowing the wearer to ride with an open jersey on hot days without having to worry about wearing a base layer underneath.

Women’s specific bib shorts are also a highlight in the current Rapha range with the latest versions of the Souplesse Detachable Bib Shorts, Women’s Cargo Bib Shorts and Women’s Core Cargo Shorts featuring a completely reconstructed chamois in two sizes, depending on the size of shorts and style of riding.

The new insert was three years in development and talking about the development of the new chamois, Olsson explains: “We’ve drawn on feedback from 38 wear testers, from professional racers to commuters, who together have ridden more than 15,000km. Initial design and subsequent development of the chamois pad was led by the female riders at Rapha HQ. Early prototypes then underwent exhaustive mapping tests to ensure optimal distribution of pressure.”

The development route being taken by Flare is more widespread as El-Hage says that “Flare’s aim is to become a leading women’s sports specific brand that assembles a community which supports women of all ages and abilities. The future is clear that women are multi-dimensional and at Flare we intend to be the brand that addresses that multi-dimensional lifestyle.” She then goes on to explain that this season the company aim is to give women an affordable choice and a fresh look in cycling clothes. “We feel strongly that fashion and sport can be blended with the right designs, colour, comfort and fit.”

Giving an example of this she talks about the Flare women’s cycling jersey. “We felt the price of cycling clothes is rising every year and we wanted to offer a quality jersey for a mid-range price point providing ladies of all shapes and sizes an affordable fashionable fit.

“The inspiration behind the designs considered the current spring trends and fashion colours for 2019. We also took into account the design cut of the pattern to create a more flattering shape for all the products.”

The final word on the future of women’s cycle kit goes to Rapha’s Olsson who says: “Women are a force of nature and will accept nothing but the equal right to get kit that makes them feel and look amazing. We are definitely here to make sure there is no question about the importance of women’s cycling kit, no matter what form of cycling you prefer to do.”

Read part one of Moore’s article series on women’s cycle clothing, here.

Hayley Everett

Multimedia Reporter

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