When it comes to buying custom printed cycling kits for your club or team, riders have more options than ever. From old-school companies like Vermarc to newer players like Sommerville Sports, variables abound regarding type of clothing, turnaround times, pricing and minimum order requirements. Determining the custom company that's right for you depends on your team's priorities. This guide will help you determine the best fit.
“It is important to figure out what your needs are,” said Doug Williams of Curve. “Do you just want custom graphics on whatever piece made wherever? Do you want a really custom approach with options for your needs in climate, fit, amount and type of use, price and turnaround time? A free event jersey for 500 people does not need to be the same level as that which a team member will train and race in all season — or more. Don't be afraid to ask specific questions.”
Pactimo co-founder Karl Heidgen echoed this philosophy of choosing a custom company based on your team's priorities. "There are many viable options when it comes to clothing suppliers," Heidgen said. "Make a list of the three most important things to your team — delivery time, reliability, customer service, quality of clothing, print quality, price, selection — and then stick to finding the best solution based on those needs."
Here are the variables you must address:
- size of order
- quality of the fabrics and construction
- artwork design
- ordering process
- correct sizing for all of your teammates
- turnaround time
Once you have settled on a supplier, make sure every last detail is spelled out in an email or in a contract. "Get it in writing!" Heidgen said. "Pricing, delivery date, everything that has variable expectations. Leave nothing to be interpreted. Finally, get your team organized. Your order is only as fast as the least organized member of your team."
Delivery typically takes between four and 12 weeks from the time the order is approved, so get started now by reading the tips below.
SIZE OF ORDER
As the chart below illustrates, companies vary in how many pieces you must order to get a custom kit going. The more you buy, the cheaper each piece is. Typically, once you have placed the first order, reorders require much smaller minimums (even a single piece), since the artwork is already produced.
“A small team can easily spend as little as $500 for a handful of jerseys or $5,000 for a full range of jerseys, bibs, skinsuits and outerwear,” said Sommerville Sports cofounder Jed Kornbluh. “We see orders that hit a very wide range; some team members will buy a single item, like a cap or a running shirt, while others will spend thousands on a closet full of kit.”
A high-mileage masters racing team has different demands than a club looking to make custom jerseys for a one-time charity ride. Some companies, like Capo, specialize in quality garments but require a 35-piece order. For a larger club, this is likely no problem. Other companies, such as Pactimo and Mt Borah, can get you going for an order of only five or six pieces.
How big is your team? That can determine which companies you can and can't work with
“If you come to us looking for a two-week turnaround, with your names on the jerseys, for a club of five people, that’s not in our wheelhouse,” said Capo cofounder Gary Vasconi. “But if you’re a bigger team with higher-quality needs looking for a complete clothing solution, that is absolutely our specialty. I’m never badmouthing any of our competition; we all have a place in the market. It really depends on the needs of the customer.”
Some companies do minimums by a type of item, such as a bib short. Others, like Champion System, do it based on total number of pieces. “Our CS-10 program has a minimum of only 10 total main pieces,” said Champion System’s Kelly Reed. “There is no per-item minimum; this means any combination of 10 total main items, for example three jerseys, two cycling shorts, two bib shorts, a trail jersey and two jackets.”
Some companies, like Curve and Champion System, can do as few as a single item, but you will pay a premium.
|Company||Minimum order||Jersey||Bib short|
|Alchemist||13* (same item)||$86||$120|
|Capo||35 (multiple items)||$64||$78|
|Castelli||10 (same item)||$75||$100|
|Champion System||10* (multiple items)||$48||$64|
|Curve||10* (same item)||$50||$60|
|Hincapie||10 (same item)||$85||$110|
|Louis Garneau||12 (same item)||$66||$70|
|Mt Borah||6 (same item)||$83||$85|
|Pactimo||5 (same item)||$62||$69|
|Panache||50 (multiple items)||$76||$84|
|Pearl Izumi||50 (multiple items)||$52||$73|
|Primal Wear||15 (same item)||$70||$110|
|Sommerville Sports||5 (same item)||$80||$80|
|Verge||12 (multiple items)||$65||$70|
|Vermarc||11 (same item)||N/A**||N/A**|
All these companies offer multiple levels of clothing; prices listed are for their most inexpensive offerings. 'Same item' means all one type of clothing, such as a short-sleeve jersey or a jacket. Multiple items mean you can compile different types of clothing to hit the minimum number. *Orders of a single piece are available for an upcharge. **Vermarc USA does publicly disclose prices, but will discuss it on the phone
QUALITY OF THE FABRICS AND CONSTRUCTION
All companies will tell you that they use high-quality materials and construction techniques. But how can you know what’s great and what’s not?
“The difference between average kit and great kit is fabric and chamois pad,” said Panache founder Don Powell. “Great fabric means great color, compression that will last multiple years, and technology in the process that does not blur. Great chamois pad means comfort, pliability and breathability.”
We would also add that a great chamois pad means proper placement, too. Also be sure to check the feel of the seams; are they stiff or pliable?
Vermarc USA’s Brian Worthy recommends putting some miles in a company’s product before purchasing custom.
“The best way is to buy a bib short or jersey and go out and ride it,” Worthy said. “When you have seven companies send you samples, you can look at them and even try them on, but do you test it? Usually the sample kit is not for riding. My recommendation is to make a purchase – negotiate with the company for a price. For us, if a customer is serious and wants to do business, we give them pro deal.”
For those who don’t pursue this option, asking around for recommendations is always a good practice. Ask people on group rides for their thoughts on last year’s team gear, and their experience with custom companies. At BikeRadar (both for BR gear and for other teams’ wear), we have appreciated custom clothing from Capo, Giordana, Vermarc and Panache.
Louis Garneau can equip your team with the same materials as those used by Europcar
“Look closely at the chamois offer,” said Louis Garneau's Heidi Myers. “Think about how much time you will spend on the saddle.”
Most custom clothing is manufactured in China, Eastern Europe or Western Europe, but a few custom operations do exist in other regions such as North and South America.
A few of the larger companies will tell you Italian production is the best way to go, while companies like Champion System or Pactimo that build in China defend the quality of their product. Pactimo, for example, owns its own factory in China, "so every person who touches the clothing, from start to finish, is a Pactimo employee, not a contractor working for someone else," Heidgen said.
At Curve, company founder Henrik Nejezchleb makes his pricepoint gear in Eastern Europe, with his high-end custom clothing produced by MOA in Italy outside Verona.
“I’ve been in dozens of factories, in Czech, Slovakia, Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary. The fact of the matter is, when you go to Eastern European companies – or to Asia – you are going there because the labor rates are less expensive. That’s it," Nejezchleb said. "Even though they are skilled laborers, they cannot add anything to your overall product. We go to Bulgaria for our lower-pricepoint pieces. When I am there, there are loads of people from Western Europe who are there doing quality control. In my opinion, when you get into certain other kinds of factories where the corporate culture is different, they add value – even on the production line – because they have the experience and the passion and they are integrated into the entire experience of not only the piece but the process."
Bottom line: Do whatever you can to get a good feel for the product before you buy.
"Art is the most time-consuming part of a custom project,” said Patrick Tess, Castelli’s custom team salses manager. “Make sure you have high-resolution art files to submit the company you choose to work with so you can get through their art process efficiently."
All companies will help you design your kit, but policies vary on cost. Some companies include it, others charge hourly. Make sure to ask for the specifics of how the process will work, said Verge vice president Kurt Sheerer. “Once you pick a US-based vendor, are you surprised when you have to work with an artist in a 17-hour-different time zone? At Verge we have an in-house art team that is always ready to work with customers during normal US business hours.”
Once you provide the logos and general concept, company artists will create the design
As with other steps in the process, ask plenty of questions about what to expect.
“Don't be afraid to ask questions and ask for help when needed," said Alchemist founder Jeff Wu. "The good companies in the business welcome your questions and input. You should not only get the product you want, but your experience along the way should be enjoyable. Designing a jersey or kit should be fun."
An increasing number of companies offer online ordering systems, which can simplify some steps of the ordering process, but can also disconnect you from the people involved. Ask how the company operates, and whether (and when) live customer service reps are available.
“We set up an online store with your team's types of clothing and the team's unique design so team members know what they are ordering,” Powell said of the Panache process. “Called 'My Team Store,' this is the same platform as our own panachecyclewear.com store, including Quick Order shopping and a fast shopping cart. The My Team Store is private and only accessible to team members via a unique URL. Individual team members place and pay for their orders, thus no Excel spreadsheets, no tracking of orders and changes by the team manager. Once the My Team Store closes — at the discretion of the team manger — we go to production, and four to six weeks later we direct-ship the individual orders to each team member. With this system, re-orders are simply a click away."
Hincapie's Team Center allows for online ordering of custom gear, so no one team member is stuck organizing everything
Similarly, Champion System’s set-up allows individual team members to order, pay and have their clothing shipped to their home. “Throughout the ordering process our customers are continually updated on the progress of their orders via email updates,” said Champion System’s Kelly Reed. “It’s so advanced it’s actually simple. Their dedicated customer service agent monitors the order from the moment the customer creates an account until their custom garments arrive at their door.”
CORRECT SIZING FOR EVERYONE ON YOUR TEAM
With custom clothing, the company is only making what you order, so get the sizing right. There is no sending it back for another size later.
“Always request a fit kit,” said Primal Wear’s Tim Baker. “A fit-kit party is a great teambuilding exercise that can be held at local bike shop or sponsor’s facility. Most companies will offer the kits by simply reserving a credit card. Primal provides fit kits for all of our cycling apparel offerings. We have different cuts, including Helix, Race Cut, Sport Cut and Loose Fit. It is important to know which style is appropriate for your team or club.”
Primal doesn’t charge to ship fit kits; some other companies do, so ask first, but certainly have everyone try on every type of clothing they intend to order. Sometimes jackets fit differently than jerseys, for example, so just because you're a medium in one thing doesn't mean you're a medium across the board.
Ladies — make sure you are happy with the chamois options, as well as the jerseys and the short and/or bib shorts. Some companies have minimum-order requirements about including women's clothing as part of the order; others do not. As with everything else, investigate and get the agreement in writing.
Even within a given company, there are typically varying levels of quality and corresponding price. The chart above only lists prices for starting-level jersey and bib short prices for a few custom companies. Better stuff usually costs more. And buying more brings the individual price down.
Beyond that, be careful to ascertain what other costs there may be. Does the company charge to ship you a fit kit? Do they charge for artwork set-up? Are there price breaks built into the contract should they deliver late?
This is an example of an artwork approval form. The designs can be refined as you go — until the order is approved
“Make sure that if you are promised a deadline, it’s on the contract. We see too many stories of orders produced in longer time than advertised,” said Louis Garneau's Myers.
When companies quote their turnaround times, they are referring to the period between your final approval of the order and the delivery of the order. Setting up the design and getting all your teammates to decide on what they want is not figured into this. “Industry times are from three weeks to four months,” said Panache's Powell. “A lot of companies, not Panache, source via Italy. That pipeline gets very crammed in the high season and thus deliveries can be three or four months.”
With that in mind, the earlier you order, the sooner you’ll be riding in your new custom gear.
What custom companies have served you well? Or do you have any cautionary tales? Please leave a comment below.