Velobici: Made in England
Premium cycle wear manufacturers Vélobici may have a continental name, but they are 100% made in England. We talk to head man Chris Puttnam about their Midlands roots.
To declare a product Made in England in the second decade of the third millennium is a proud boast, and a world removed from more diluted variations that limit the involvement of craftsmen on these shores merely to design or assembly.
Chris Puttnam is committed to the concept: aware of the increased cost to his business, but having grown up in Leicestershire as the son of a factory owner when the Midlands county was a powerhouse in knitwear, the pathway for his business Vélobici was, perhaps, to some degree fixed. It’s difficult to imagine someone who ‘over-locked’ knitwear garments in his childhood subscribing to the notion that China is now the only source for woven garments.
Not that Puttnam has rooted his decisions in sentiment. Now in his fifth year as a manufacturer of cycle clothing, he admits that Vélobici’s modus operandi has not been an easy option. But he is certain that the fabrics used in both parts of a small but expanding range that he characterises as ‘off-bike wear’ and ‘roadwear’ are the best that can be sourced.
“We were told that we wouldn’t be able to find the stuff that we required in this country,” he says. “From the zips, to the reflectors, to the fabric, to the make up of the garment, we produce it all.”
Production extends to the development of fabrics with companies in the Midlands: those who are responding to manufacturing’s Far Eastern exodus by focussing on quality. Puttnam is especially proud of a laminated, rainproof garment developed with fabric designers in Nottingham.
Vélobici’s first shop opened in October 2012: a small boutique in Stoneygate, filled not only with the clothing, as might be expected, but also with Puttnam’s impressive collection of vintage bicycles. The combined allure of knitwear and steel, of Columbus and merino, is drawing a new audience to Vélobici, Puttnam claims.
“We don’t suit everybody,” he admits. “Some guys prefer functional clothing, and there’s a market for that, but we’re a little bit different. Manufacturing in the UK costs a lot more money.
"It used to be the old cyclists who weren’t interested in our stuff - club cyclists who’d been riding all their lives and who would ride in anything. For newer cyclists, it was more of a fashion statement. Now we’re finding that the older cyclists are getting into it.”
They are not the only ones. Vélobici’s commitment to British manufacture is winning friends in far flung places. Shops in locations as far removed from Leicestershire as might be imagined, geographically and culturally, are digging Puttnam’s designs. Future Cycles in the Czech Republic, for example, 22Peloton in Seoul, South Korea. One more? Yas Cycles, a shop set to open this December in Abu Dhabi’s exclusive Yas Marina, is the latest.
Cycling culture plays a significant role, of course. Travel abroad and find yourself in conversation with a cyclist, a frequent experience for this writer, and the vagaries of culture and sometimes even language often fade away. There are bicycles to be admired, riders to be applauded, nods of approval to be exchanged. And, of course, Vélobici is not without its supporters at home: Harrogate’s Prologue and long-term stockist, Condor Cycles, chief among them.
Puttnam can number Rouleur among Vélobici’s supporters, too. The Rouleur X Vélobici Combativity Pullover, designed to celebrate Alex Dowsett’s overall victory in the 2014 Tour of Britain’s combativity class, is the latest addition to the Rouleur shop. The British connection felt right. And so, too, does the pullover.