The past couple of years has seen an explosion in the number of 'boutique' kit brands. The people behind these new clothing lines cite the inability to find the sort of clothing they wanted to wear as their inspiration for deciding to make blindingly bright and busy lycra.
These boutique brands are going beyond just placing an order with one of the many custom kit manufacturers and then selling on those items through an online store. In fact, many of these brands actually design their kit from scratch.
The thing is, although the people behind these brands have plenty of enthusiasm, the same can't always be said for their experience in textiles manufacturing or tailoring. This, combined with little-or-no budget for development, often meant the quality of their initial efforts varied quite widely.
Things like the use of generic chamois, cuts that weren't especially close in key places or a general lack of durability would highlight the gap between their kit and that made by the well-established manufacturers. The big-name brands might not have been able to match the boutique start-ups in terms of style but they could outclass them on the quality front.
But not for very long. As the clothing market has become more competitive so have the kits — in terms of design and construction. In just the past two or three years some of these small start-ups are now giving their big-brand counterparts a run for their money.
Heck, one of them, Maap, is already the clothing sponsor for a UCI-Continental squad (State of the Matter-Maap Racing) while Elv^8, another Aussie brand, is already making aero kits with wind-tunnel data for its garments' performance. Many of the boutique brands are using high-quality materials and factories, and in some cases the very same fabrics and manufacturing techniques as the big brands.
All of this has not gone unnoticed and bigger brands — such as Castelli, Capo and Pearl Izumi — have all upped their game when it comes to aesthetics. But there's no denying the smaller brands are hot on their heels in every way.
With the boutique brands' improvements in quality, many of the big brands are responding by changing their approach. Where it seemed their priority was to see how bright they could make their clothing, they're beginning to tone down their aesthetics and make slightly more plain stuff too — you know, the kind of stuff your dad would wear.
In Australia, boutique kits are all the rage and an ever-growing part of the cycling community is opting for the sort of clothing they produce. For me personally, it's hard to look past some of the boutique brands as their jerseys and shorts are really attractive, but for garments such as jackets and arm warmers I still tend to lean towards the bigger brands.
What do you think? When you’re in the market for some fresh threads are you eyeing up kit from tried-and-tested big-name brands or are you seeking out some flare from the boutiques, such as Attaquer, Ornot, Sako7, Tokyo Fixed, Velocio? Or, perhaps, a new as-yet undiscovered brand?