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Always been a sportswear designer

In 1997 I established Blue Associates further to 5 years working for a large corporate designing performance sportswear and sourcing through Eastern Europe. Prior to this I studied fashion design for 7 years and knew sportswear design was going to be my speciality.

A sportswear designer is part fashion designer, part engineer. The clothing needs to be stylish and follow current trends but because it has a function over and above general fashion, it needs to be engineered to work in harmony with the body and allow the athlete to perform to the best of their ability without compromising their comfort.

Fibres are therefore paramount to achieving comfort, be it stretch, moisture management heat regulation or protection from the elements. If you get the fibres wrong then the athlete starts to feel uncomfortable very fast.

A sportswear designer also needs to build in key features that help the athlete perform. A pocket isn’t just a pocket. It needs to be located in the right position for easy access, perhaps keep the contents of the pocket out of critical areas of movement and be engineered to fit the contents perfectly. It may also be manufactured to reduce weight and bulk and protect the goods from rain or moisture.

Everything needs to be considered. Placement of every feature. What each feature does and the durability of each feature. The weight of every component used and the protection the component may need from the sporting activity the athlete does.

I love this engineering. Its where I start when I design any sportswear. A list of basic requirement that need to be addressed. What gear does the athlete need to carry? What is the terrain? How durable does the garment need to be and what is the required weight? What are the elements the athlete need protection from, wind, rain or sun? What average temperature will the athlete be using the product in and will humidity play a factor? Its only when I understand all of these points can I start to calculate the right fibres and fabrics for the garment and then start to build in all the features required. Style comes last as it always plays second fiddle to performance. Pretty pointless looking the best dressed mountain climber that then freezes to death!..

I started Blue Associates as I noticed that many in house design departments became stale very quickly. Going to the same retailers and trade shows year after year and focussing only on your competitors stifled creativity. I am a creative and therefore wanted to protect this by working with many different sectors all at the same time. By starting Blue Associates, it allowed me the opportunity to work in Marine, Outdoor, Golf, Cycle and Running all at the same time with one category blending into others. I now have a wealth of experience I could bring to the table and approach sportswear design with a fresh perspective, borrowing features, performance, technologies and manufacturing experience gained over the years and using them to continually develop innovative sportswear.

Since 1997, I have worked with over 100 clients from tiny start up brands to huge multi retail outlets and continue to work across a broad spectrum of sporting categories at any one time.clients-BA

I never duplicate, not only because it’s bad business practice but because being a creative I strive to move the game on each time.

So that’s what I do and the team I have developed within the business are also creatives and flourish when they are tested with new and innovative projects.

If you are looking for a sportswear designer and would like to discuss your project from concept through to finished product, then please get in touch.

How to find a reliable and trustworthy sportswear factory?

The Far East is full of sportswear suppliers, some excellent, some fine and a lot terrible. So how do you find a reliable and trustworthy sportswear factory?

If you are in the business of selling branded sportswear, then your product is key to the success of your business. If you produce poor quality or the product doesn’t perform as required or you are late to market, then your business will suffer. It’s therefore paramount you find a reliable and trustworthy sportswear factory that can deliver the right quality, and performance you specified and on time

We work with a network of trusted partners that make some of the best performance sportswear in the world. They invest heavily into the latest manufacturing technologies and their workforce are fully trained so that they can produce innovative sportswear.

Many of these partners will not be present at the trade shows as their capacity is in such demand that they don’t need to tout for more business. Because they are in demand, they are also very selective as to which brands they work with which makes it very hard for brands to find these factories.

Many factories that present themselves at trade shows or on sourcing websites quite often present product they don’t actually produce or copy a brands current production and claim they made this. Unless you visit the factory to inspect their quality and technology you would quite easily be convinced they did actually produce this.

Unless you are recommended a supplier from someone within the industry that has first hand experience of this supplier, then we suggest you tread very carefully and request testimonials and references that you can then follow up with directly with the buyer.

Alternatively, get in touch with us. Our reputation and over 19 years experience designing and producing performance sportswear means we have the perfect source for your product and guarantee that your product will be made in a reliable and trustworthy sportswear factory.

Contact us stuart@blue-associates.co.uk

Sports Clothing Manufacturer

Established in 1997, we have designed, developed and produced performance sportswear for some of the best global sports brands around the world. We are a performance sports clothing manufacturer that focuses on our clients requirements rather than adapt existing designs or low performance, off the shelf sportswear and embroider their logo.

If you are looking for a sports clothing manufacturer to create your bespoke performance sportswear then we can manage the whole process, from design, through development, samples and full production

We also provide brand creation, trim design and development and marketing support to many of our clients, becoming a one stop shop for R&D, branding, development, production and promotion with over 19 years experience

We are a sports clothing manufacturer with an established network of reliable production facilities around the world that specialise in performance cycle, outdoor, ski, marine, athletic, running and golf clothing.

We manufacture everything from base layers, mid layer and outer shells and also produce accessories such as performance socks, hats and gloves. The fabrics we select are from our established network of performance fabric mills and we also have the capability to create bespoke materials based on our clients requirements, specifying yarn, blends, weight, structure and finish so that we can tailor the material exactly to our clients performance requirements.

Our passion for sportswear stems from our background as sportswear designers and developers but also from our passion of sport in general. We are active runners, triathletes and cyclists which helps us truly understand the high demands every athlete requires.

We work with established sportswear brands that require alternative or additional production facilities and also start up brands that require the assistance sourcing their sportswear concepts. Many of our past start up clients now rub shoulders with the established sportswear giants and is testament to making sure that every product we design, and produce for our clients is unique and has a clear benefit and message to their potential consumers.

If you are looking for a performance sports clothing supplier that have excellent design, development and marketing support that you can tap into, then look no further and get in touch.

stuart@blue-associates.co.uk

 

Merino Sportswear Factory

We design, source and manufacture performance sportswear for sports brands. Merino wool has become a must have commodity for high performance sportswear brands and being a vertical production line, our merino sportswear factory is the perfect choice for anyone looking to produce merino sports clothes.

Being a vertical manufacturer we are able to custom blend the merino fabrics from fibre through to weight and structure, enabling us to tailor the performance towards our clients needs. We can select merino for several suppliers based on handle and required performance and then blend other fibres with this to create a higher performing material that wicks moisture faster or dries faster than 100% merino wool.

We also produce 100% merino wool sportswear for some of our clients, but again, being a vertical operation we can adjust the weight and structure of the fabric to suit the needs of the athlete and also mill and finish the fabric to enhance the handle or performance.

We partnered with this merino sportswear factory because it is so flexible and only sources merino from credible and non mulesed sheep and they manage the whole process from fibre through spinning, knitting, dying, finishing and garment production. This vertical operation produces a product that is far more cost effective by cutting out middle men throughout the manufacturing process and also guarantees the production quality as only one source has been responsible for the whole process from fibre to garment.

Merino wool is not a cheap solution to performance sportswear but it does have some major benefits to the athlete and our planet. Sure, synthetics are far cheaper and wick and dry sweat really fast but they also generate heat, making the athlete hotter and hotter. This means the athlete feels fatigued faster and needs to take on more liquid to help with dehydration.

Synthetics are also 100% man made and a huge drain on the planet. They will remain in land fills for centuries and these synthetic fibres attract bacteria, making the fabric stink after several wears.

Merino wool on the other hand is renewable, sustainable, biodegradable and hates bacteria so you can wear merino wool over and over and over again without washing it and it will never smell.

Merino wool is also heat regulating, so it keeps the athlete toasty warm throughout winter but it actually cools the athlete when they become warm or the sun is blaring. Blend the merino wool with the right fibres and you can end up with a fabric that wicks and dries as fast as synthetics, is environmentally friendly and never smells so it lasts much much longer and becomes your favourite garment

Remember however that not all merino wool is the same. You get what you pay for and the better the grade the softer and finer the end material will be. We love merino wool and it forms part of our sports kit at Blue Associates as well as being a recommendation to many of our clients who desire the best performance sportswear.

merino wool designer blue associates

Sportswear Fabrics

Sportswear fabrics are the key ingredient to the performance of any performance sportswear garment.

The mix of fibres and even the construction and shape of the fibre creates the garments overall performance. You can then add to this the weight, construction, structure and finish, all to help the performance of the garment.

Most sportswear brands simply purchase sportswear fabrics from their selection of trusted fabric mills based on general performance requirements but essentially they are based on cost

At Blue Associates we work with a very large network of fabric mills around the world that produce performance materials from $1.50 up to $40 per meter, all offering different levels of performance and quality. When ultimate performance is required and off the shelf simply won’t do, we have the facility to develop bespoke materials to help elevate the performance and tailor this to our clients requirements.

This can go as deep as our clients require and we have created sportswear fabrics that have a very detailed specification that includes-:

  • Fibre construction and shape.
  • Fabric construction and weave.
  • Specific mix of fibres.
  • Specific weight of material.
  • Breathability specifications
  • Waterproof specification
  • Durability and pilling specification

By understanding the athletes performance requirements to maintain their comfort and therefore active performance we can engineer performance sportswear fabrics to their exact needs. We can make fabrics more breathable, durable, softer, more hard wearing, faster wicking, quicker drying or more waterproof all by creating specific specifications.

We then need to test these fabrics, both in a lab against the nearest and best off the shelf sportswear fabrics but also in the field, by athletes that complete a blind test. This is completed by creating garments made with the left half from fabric A and the right side in fabric B. The garments don’t look the prettiest as the fabrics are never in the same colour but it’s the only way to get real feedback from an athlete who has no prior knowledge of what the performance of each material is.

Not only do we evaluate their comments, we can also study the wear performance of each material after a specific amount of hours testing and a prescribed number of washes so we can be 100% confident we create performance sportswear fabrics that completely outperform off the shelf materials most.

If you are looking for performance sportswear fabrics and are a little bemused at the myriad of choice and marketing mumbo jumbo that surrounds many of these then get in touch, We can help point you in the right direction or create bespoke materials that will give your product a real advantage against the competition.

Finding the Best Sportswear factory

Finding the best sportswear factory to produce your performance sportswear is a daunting task.

You could spend hours if not days searching online and reading factory bios about the number of workers, ethical and technical standards they work to and the the machinery they use to produce their products and make your decision based on this in the hope that their bio is accurate and they are honourable.

We get approached on a daily basis from factories touting for business as they know we produce sportswear in factories around the world for our clients and would like a slice of this business. We often spend a little time digging through the interesting ones via their website to find they are not as “Qualified” as they claim.

We also go to several sportswear trade shows and again visit the more “Quality” focussed stands to see what they actually offer and if they could form part of our network. One year we popped onto a stand that had an ashmei soft-shell jacket hanging up on their display and touted that they made this for ashmei. We introduced ourselves but didn’t confess that we owned ashmei and knew that they had not made this jacket. Instead we enquired about the piece and asked them to explain the materials used to create this jacket and the approximate cost of the jacket is they replicated this with some tweaks.

Bear in mind, this is at an international sportswear trade show and the calibre of exhibitor should, in theory be top notch!. The response from the sales guy was quite astonishing. He confirmed that they make for ashmei and the jacket was last years production ! (lie #1). He said the fabrics were from their source and made from synthetic materials ! (lie #2). He quoted a price for the jacket which was actually less expensive than the cost of the material we use on the rear of the jacket!!!

When I pointed out we were from ashmei, he looked puzzled, shrugged it off and admitted he did not manage the production and it was a colleague in China that managed this account. We highlighted that we have never placed any production with their factory and never will and requested they remove the garment from their display and not to tout business on the false presentation that they made for ashmei.

I then looked around their stand at the other blue chip brands they claimed to work for and wondered who, if any they actually did produce for. I doubt any.

We work with a network of sportswear factories that we have established a great relationship, some for over 15 years and have proven themselves with the production of innovative, high quality, performance gear that hit our specifications on every level

Many of the factories we work with don’t physically show at trade shows or need to tout for business as they already have an established network of blue chip performance sport clients who continue to feed them production year after year. In fact some of our factories capacity is so full we need to reserve several months in advance of the required shipment date and one factory we work with wont entertain new clients without a firm commitment of bulk production with a minimum order value prior to receiving designs and specifications.

It’s a bit of a mind field out there and we suggest you carry out some thorough due diligence before you start to work with any new factory. If they claim to work with a brand, ask the factory for the representative of that brands contact details so you can ask for a reference. This should clarify if they actually make for these brands and you may also get an honest appraisal of the factories quality and service.

Alternatively, get in touch with us for some advise.

Looking for a freelance sportswear designer?

We have provided freelance sportswear designer services that also include development, sourcing and sportswear production since 1997.

We established the business to offer established sports brands a service to tap into an external design team to support their existing team and to provide a fresh perspective on their design requirements.

Since our launch we have worked with some of the biggest names in performance sportswear within cycle, outdoor, ski, marine, golf and fitness but over the last 10 years we have also worked with many start up brands that have a great concept but have no experience or knowledge on how to design, specify, source and produce this concept.

Many of the projects we become involved in are about creating something completely revolutionary and completely innovative because their internal design team have become stagnant or are focussed on core product. This has allowed us the freedom to think outside the box and ignore what has gone before, creating product that are complete game-changers, winning both ourselves and our clients awards and best in test gear reviews.

We have developed a seamless service from design through to production and our team are involved along the whole process as without the knowledge of how the product is produced, a designer cannot create designs that push the boundaries of innovation and can only replicate what’s on the market already

Having a deep understanding and knowledge of the manufacturing process allows us to be far more creative when we are in the design phases of the project. We are thinking about how to manipulate the manufacturing process to our benefit with regard to performance and features so that we end up with something innovative.

We also hate passing our designs over to an in-house production team to manage the production as this really dilutes the concept as it gets passed from developer through to production and then through to the factory. If we remain in control of the production we can make sure the end product resembles the original concept and design as we created this and understand every element of it.

So when you are looking for a freelance sportswear designer, check out if they simply design sportswear or if they have this knowledge of production that we believe is critical to creating a product that really works. After all, the design stage is simply a tool to explain the concept through to finished product. It’s the finiahed product that the brand needs to sell and is judged on so understanding how to translate the concept through to production is CRITICAL.

Why we offer the best sportswear design.

Designers need inspiration. They need to be stimulated and inspired to be able to create something innovative and fresh. If a designer is surrounded by the “familiar”then everything they produce starts to become “familiar”. We don’t surround ourselves by the “familiar” and it’s why we produce the best sportswear design and truely innovative product for our clients.

In-house designers become just this. They are surrounded by a business and therefore an industry, product, technology and people who all speak the same. They are all “familiar”. They attend the same trade shows, visit the same retail outlets, see the same fabric suppliers and use the same factories. Before long, the industry becomes stagnant and, dare I say “familiar”

For some brands, this “familiar” is where they are comfortable. After all, its very safe to follow the crowd and produce ordinary, Brands are guaranteed a certain degree of success by following this route and the effort involved to produce average is just that, average. They don’t aspire to create the best sportswear design and product.

Because we are a sportswear deign consultancy, we work with loads of different brands in different categories of sport around the world. This allows us remain fresh as we need to be looking at the sportswear industry as a whole, reviewing all the new technologies, factories, fabric mills, trade shows, brands and products.

We then pass this knowledge onto our clients by suggesting alternatives to the “familiar”, be it alternative fibres, fabrics, technology, manufacturing construction and process, sourcing or features. Because we work across so many different sportswear categories we also approach style differently, looking at general fashion trends rather than focussing directly at their competitors.

Sure we need to take in account what our clients competitors are up to but we also understand that product already on the market is at least 12-18 months behind what we are about to create. We also understand that their competitors will be looking to improve their current product and therefore looking for new technology or ways to innovate.

Most brands are established by someone who sees a gap in the market for a product that offers something new, something that has never been done before. Before long this brand has a sales & marketing team that enables this product to reach the global market which then start to dictate product, feeding back into the business what is hot and which competitor is doing well and why. Designers are fed this information and a brief is created for them to chase the latest hot sellers rather than focus on what the brand stands for.

Before long, said brands loose market traction and become “Me 2” brands, producing average product that follow the innovators, with a sales team that are now dictating the future of the business.

Sales are key to the success of every business but when a brand is selling product that they produce then sales MUST follow product. A sales team are there to sell the brands products. That’s how the business was founded, on product. Nobody every starts a product based business by recruiting a sales team and then thinking about the product.

Product in our minds is always “KING”. If you have an outstanding product, one that far outperforms your competitors, be it in quality, features, style, performance or price then you have the foundations to become a brand that not only makes a difference but a brand that have the tools to become #1 within that sector.

 

 

 

 

Sportswear sourcing – Why source the best source you can

We have been sourcing sportswear from our network of trusted partners since 1997. We only source from factories we have worked with OR come very highly recommended and offer something our existing partners cannot supply.

The majority of our sportswear sourcing is from the Far East with a large focus on China. Most of our clients and consumers conclude that we source here because the price is more competitive, however this is no longer true. The labour costs and working benefits and conditions have changed dramatically over the last 20 years and it’s no longer one of the “Low Cost” countries with Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh all having substantially lower labour costs than China.

We source from China for completely different reasons to cost, they have the best service and quality. Chana’s days of cheap and poor quality are well and truly over.

Our partners all run apprentice schemes taking school levers and training them to become master machinists, working their way up through the ranks of machinists, all depicted by different coloured tabards depending on skill base until they become the top dogs. Being a top dog is rewarded by a larger salary and higher skilled fabrications that are based on quality rather than efficiency.

Sure, there are still many factories in China that don’t run this scheme and work their staff longer hours for lower pay, but we believe you get what you pay for in life. If the price is too cheap then someone, somewhere is getting a hard deal. You can always source cheaper but something has to give, be it staff conditions, pay or quality.

Our partners are some of the best sportswear factories in the world and as such produce for only the highest quality sports brands that all audit and inspect the factory before they commit to placing production with them

Many of these factories run state of the art technology based manufacturing with a “Closed Door” policy within the sample room, not allowing 3rd party eyes or customers access to this room for fear of ideas being copied and technology process being stolen. In fact, one of our factories wont accept ANY visitors to the facility where they actually construct the garments it’s so cutting edge.

These factories are full of laser cutters, ultrasonic welders and bonding machines that cost $000, 000’s and therefore the facilities match this state of the art theme, many of which require customers to wear overshoes to maintain cleanliness and the staff also have to replace their footwear before they enter the production rooms.

The factory floor always tidy, uncluttered and immaculate and run with the same precision as the technical sportswear that they produce. The same cannot be said about low cost manufacturers we have witnessed or even home grown factories.

A couple of years ago we worked with a client in the USA who wanted to produce some very high performance sportswear. We started the process in one of our partners in China because they had the machinery and expertise required and the 1st samples looked fantastic. However, the brand insisted we resource production using their source in the USA as “Home Grown” was important to them. They’re marketing department were focussed on claiming their sportswear sourcing was all American rather than focussing on how important the quality was.

They website claimed they were one of the best USA performance sportswear factories that provided some of the laser and bonding features that we designed into the garments, however when we visited the factory it was like stepping back in time.

The factory was a shambles. The factory floor was a mess with piles of part completed work stacked up and no clear flow to the production line. The majority of the machinists were from Mexico and the decor and facility hadn’t been updated since the 70’s.

The cost of the production was almost 60%+ higher than our source in China and the quality of the stitching was night and day to our source with poor quality stitching and no in-house lab testing on the bonded components to make sure there would be no issue after the garments left the facility.

Sure, the lead time was slightly lower because they saved 4 weeks shipping the goods from China and they could state it was made in the USA but the components, fabric, machinists were all NON American and the price and quality was all substandard. The only American part of this production was the bricks and mortar and the owner!

After a review of the samples the client agreed to revert back to the experts and we continued the production in China.

We also source sportswear in Vietnam, South Korea and Portugal, again in facilities that specialise in some of the highest technical sportswear production in the world.

The bottom line her is “You get what you pay for and if you want the best, go to the best”

Looking for a GREAT sportswear designer?

What’s important when you look for a performance sportswear designer?

We believe the most important aspect to any designer, is their production knowledge. You need to look past the pretty CAD drawings and understand what they know about sportswear production. If a sportswear designer has little or no knowledge of how sportswear is manufactured and is not actively involved in the production, then how can they really understand the design phase.

Sure, Pretty CAD’s look great and may get the look of the garment across, but without in-depth knowledge of each stage of production, then all they are creating is a CAD that directs the look.

We have been designing and producing high performance sportswear since 1997 and it’s the production phase that allows us to really understand each process of manufacture and what is and isn’t possible.

Understanding how the factories machines work also allows us the opportunity to push new concepts and ideas that haven’t been created before.

We also believe a sportswear designer needs to understand fibres as these create the performance aspect of every sports garment. Fibres are like the ingredients of a delicious cake. Get them right and the garment will perform and offer the athlete a real benefit. Get them wrong and the garment is little use to the athlete.

This knowledge of fibres and their performance characteristics is vital as it determines which fabrics are selected for each design. We see so many brands launch product that they claim to offer fantastic performance but the fabrics they have chosen actually work against the requirements of the sport. The brand then hoodwinks consumers by smothering them with techno marketing blurb to blind them with poorly researched stats or phrases that sound promising but offer very little.

If you look at some of the worlds greatest designers and product creators, they fully understand how the whole product works. Look at Gordan Murray, Adrian Newey, Steve Jobs or James Dyson, all pioneers in the design and production of superior product and all with in-depth knowledge of how to produce their product. They fully understand each component, its performance and how it relates to every other component and its only when you understand this can you tweak and push boundaries that will ultimately end up with something unique and superior.

Our approach is identical to these great designers, being that we visit the factories and understand how the process works and their abilities. We understand fibres and how they perform and often develop our own bespoke materials when off the shelf fabrics are not good enough and we stay involved from concept until finished production so we can sign off the development at every stage and make sure the concept is never diluted.

 

Sportswear design – That’s what we do.

Sportswear design is much more complex than fashion design.

Fashion is all about style, fit, touch and colour. Sportswear design is about all of the above but most importantly it’s about function.

Fashion is about covering the body to give you protection from the elements and from the local constabulary from locking you up from indecent exposure. Sportswear is also about covering the body and protecting you from the elements but its also about providing a level of performance you need to enjoy the aerobic activity you are doing.

Sportswear design is therefore approached is a very different way to fashion design. We look at the needs of the athlete and work out how we can help manage their comfort in the conditions they are performing or the activity they choose to participate in.

We then select fibres that will provide the best performance and create bespoke fabrics where an off the shelf fabric is not suitable. This bespoke fabric we call the core ingredients to the product as if these are wrong, the athlete will no longer feel comfortable and will stop enjoying their sport. Get it right and the athlete is not aware of the garment and allows them to focus purely on their sport.

We then move onto the features of the garment. We create a list of required features each garment requires based on the athletes needs and start to build these into the design. These features need to work first and look great second. If they don’t work, then they are useless and create issues for the athlete.

Only after these features have been designed do we progress to the style. This is where we become “fashion designers” and create the piece based on the target consumer and the brands identity while following any key fashion trends that are relevant.

Finally we add colour, again based on trends but also keeping it relevant to the sports requirements.

Sportswear design takes a further step being that the prototypes then need to be tested to make sure they work correctly and there are no issues. This is something that never happens in fashion as the only requirement within fashion is make sure the garment fits well. With sportswear we need to make sure the athlete is not restricted and the garment provides the required performance to keep the athlete comfortable. It also need to be durable as many athlete’s activities put more strain on their sports garments than their normal fashion wardrobe.

Only when the garment has been approved by the gear tester do we move onto the final stage of the design stage and sign off the specification ready for bulk production.

How do we design sportswear?

No all designers work the same way. This is how we differ and how we design sportswear.

We ALWAYS start with a blank page and evaluate the needs of the wearer. We don’t take on clients that simply want a”ME-2″ or a quick copy of an existing product or brand.

We want to be challenged as this gets our creativity flowing. There is nothing better than working with clients to design sportswear that becomes the the next ultimate product and then watching our client’s competitors scramble to catch up as soon as they launch. We then love to move the game on again, season after season, keeping one step ahead.

When we design, we think about the activity the athlete will do, their environment, climate and conditions the garments will be exposed to. It’s only when you fully understand these parameters can you start to think about material and fibres that are up for the job.

We have a deep understanding of how performance fibres work and their core performance properties and we have the ability to develop bespoke materials when required that deliver unparalleled levels of performance over a typical off the shelf fabric.

We then look at what features are required by the athlete and ONLY include these features. There are too many “duff” sportswear garments out there with useless features that have been built into garments because the brand could afford to add these features or they thought this added additional features without thinking about the performance.

There a great “BIG BRAND” running jacket out there. It’s a waterproof, taped jacket made with a completely reflective, waterproof material. The problem is, the reflective material doesn’t breathe as its made with a thick silver print and glass beads to reflect light. To get over this issue, said “BIG BRAND” laser cut breathe holes all over the jacket that then renders the jacket non waterproof. They have ended up with a running jacket that is far to hot to run in that is targeted towards running in the rain but is covered in holes to help the jacket breath. The industry is full of similar examples on “non joined up thinking” or marketing spin to get past fundamental flaws in their product.

Sportswear is all about performance. If it wasn’t, then we would wear fashion clothes when we exercise but we understand they they are not cut correctly and they make you sweat or don’t protect you from the elements. We focus on this performance before we approach style and features.

It’s a simple approach but one that many in house design departments don’t follow.

We are a small team and as such we manage the whole process from design through to production as a whole project. We don’t fragment this development journey into different departments. One member of staff manages the whole process which guarantees the concept is never diluted or compromised and the end product 100% resembles the original design. Again, it’s a simple approach and one that is never adopted by established brands who work in departments, passing the product from design, through to development, sourcing and then production departments, all having a part to play in the dilution of the original concept.

Designing and Developing The Best Cycle Chamois

Developing the best cycle chamois, and I’m not talking about cleaning cars.

How many different ways can sportswear brands design the key interaction point between the bike and the rider, the saddle and the derr’re? It turns out a lot and each brand and believes that their variation on design, materials, and construction is the best. How do you design and develop a world leading cycle and triathlon chamois from scratch, well here’s our process:

1) Understand the audience. I’m talking cycle vs. triathlon, men vs. women, sprint triathlon vs. ironman, cycle commute vs. 100 mile sportive. The end use of the chamois is critical to the design, material choices and construction. For example, take the difference between male and female anatomy as a starting point, the pressure distribution across the saddle is vastly different. There are numerous peer reviewed research papers looking into this pressure distribution across the variations stated above, collating this into some clearly defined matrices enables us to design and develop with confidence that our decisions make a real difference for the athlete.

2) Create, test, tweak, repeat “ Ultimately, you don’t know if something really works unless you test it. Our process involves creating rough and ready prototypes that we can try for ourselves or give to our ambassadors to test product to the limit on their amazing adventures. Once we process feedback, our designs are tweaked, and we test again. Only when we are 100% satisfied with the outcome, we will release the product to the market.

3) Select materials that perform- Every chamois on the market is made from similar components being a soft material that touches the skin and then layers of sponge foam to provide the comfort. This formula has been used for decades and while it works to a degree on the bike, it feels very uncomfortable off the bike, especially after a long hard ride when the chamois eventually turns into a nappy, soaked with absorbed sweat.

We stared from a blank sheet and worked with new materials to create something that offers maximum comfort when you are on the bike but also after your ride so you can sip your espresso without feeling like a toddle in nappies.

4) New technology “ Chamois suppliers do a very good job of providing a off the shelf solution to the buyers needs. However this does not separate the competition and why should we just settle for an easy solution. In collaboration with our manufacturers we’ve been able to design a bespoke chamois using technologies never seen before in this market. Bringing our expertise in garment manufacture and transferring this knowledge into design and develop a chamois which hits all of defined matrices for the ultimate chamois.

 

ashmei confirm the Benefits of why they use Merino Wool in their Running Apparel.

Stuart Brooke explains why merino wool was the chosen performance fabric for the ashmei collection of performance running clothing.

Merino Wool is the choice of performance fibres for ashmei

http://www.ashmei.com/ was created because I found the performance of current running clothing was pretty low-tech. The majority of the running kit was of poor visual quality and performing to the same mediocre standards. I knew there were much better performance fabrics out there as I have been involved in the development of high end sportswear for some of the leading sports brands for the last 20 years. So I thought it was about time runners were introduced to some of these, not to mention that I also wanted some better gear for myself! Without a second thought I knew merino wool would play a major role in the development of ashmei running apparel. I have used merino wool on several high end products before and also had quite a collection of cycle, outdoor and ski gear that all use merino because of its superior performance.

Sourcing the merino wool was also pretty easy as I knew the quality and performance must be the best possible, so New Zealand & Austrailian was the only option, but I also knew we had the chance to spin to our own specification with regard to the grade and weight and could also manage the handle and feel of the fabric with different finishes.

Merino isn’t new, it’s been around for decades and was commonly used on performance climbing gear before the invention of synthetics as it was found to keep mountaineers warm and was very easy to wash and dry. Merino was used for expeditions and still is for this reason with most of the high performance sportswear in cycle, ski and outdoor using merino on their top end products because of its performance.

So why is merino so special?  Most people think it’s going to be itchy or just get you too hot, but they are confusing merino with other wool’s such as lamb’s wool. It’s true, some merino is itchy but not if you select the finest merino from NZ which has been developed by nature (sheep) to be one of the finest and also the strongest type in the world.

It’s true, merino wool does warm you up when you or the conditions are cold but it is the only yarn to also cool you down when you become too warm or the sun is shining. Most people don’t realise this and think of merino as a winter only product but I have been running in merino 12 months of the year for the last 2 years and don’t think twice about a midday run on a scorching summer’s day.

The other advantage with merino is it’s naturally antimicrobial. This means it never begins to smell like synthetics do as it won’t attract and breed bacteria, and it’s this bacteria that caused that nasty whiff that never washes out and will always come back, even if you use special soaps to combat this. It means you can wear merino wool for a long run, take your garment off, fold it up and put it back in your sports gear drawer ready for the next run without having to wash it.  If you wanted to, you could so this several times and the garment still won’t smell, however we do always recommend you wash them from time to time as remember the sweat is still dirty with body salts (apart from ladies who simply glow)!

So these are the two key performance statistics why we chose merino over typical cheaper polyester, but there are also some other key benefits that also confirmed our choice:

– Sustainable
– Biodegradable
– Quick drying
– Moisture Wicking
– 100% Natural

There is one issue with merino and that’s price. It’s dramatically more expensive than the cheap petrochemical polyester fabrics, however when you work out that your merino jersey has lasted you for years and years because it still smells as nice as the day you purchased it and it’s your favourite piece of gear because of it’s performance it actually becomes great value for money and strengthens the sustainability of it’s existence. If you don’t believe me, ask any merino sheep, they swear by the stuff and you never see them in polyester!

Stuart Brooke (founder) http://www.ashmei.com/

Sportswear branding and trims make a difference

Garments labels and trims should be designed and developed with the same consideration as the garment design itself to maintain the same brand message. At Blue Associates we design and develop the garment trim pack before the garments and design the trims to strengthen brand message.

Sportswear branding – the difference between average and unique.

Gone are the days where sportswear brands can simply stick a rubber badge on the chest of every garment and then plaster their logo onto every other piece of trim so that the garment ends up with 25+ logos.

Every piece of trim should be considered as a jewel and these can be branded to make them bespoke to the brand but they should be done so in a way that is cleverer than simply applying the logo.

Together these trims create a brand identity that should deliver the same brand message that is delivered in all other communication to the consumer. Quality of design, function and materials should match that of the clothing so the brand has a very clear positioning.

At Blue Associates we ALWAYS start with the trim pack before we start the clothing designs. We create a list of the trims we will need for the entire collection and designs the trims to work as a package that we can dip into when we start the garment designs. This is signed off before we start the clothing designs and put into work with our trim factories as the development lead times can be very lengthy and we like to get these trims on the 2nd prototype if possible.

Trim colour should also be considered too as these will need to compliment the choice of colour for the clothing range and individual product.

Sourcing the trims need special consideration too. We always try to source the trim pack from one supplier so that the quality remains consistent across the range and across suppliers. It also increases volume per trim items that should reduce the costs per item too.

Some examples of trim designed by Blue Associates

 

 

How to launch a sportswear brand?

Launching a sportswear brand should be built on core attributes that should then be translated to everything that brand touches. Blue Associates help launch many sportswear brands.

Want to launch a sportswear brand. Read here how we did this.

We launched our own performance running brand in 2011 after we found there was a gap in the market for quality, high performance and stylish running clothing. The market was drowning in identical product that looked awful, used inferior and budget performance fabrics and tried to make you look like you could run as fast as Usain Bolt.

The ashmei clothing is built in parallel with 3 words that also define the brand and what it stands for.

PERFORMANCE

QUALITY

STYLE

These 3 words MUST all feature in everything the brand now does. Producing clothing is our bread and butter (we do this everyday for the last 20 years) and working to these key elements are easy, however we now have to extend this into everything the brand now touches, be it Events, POS, Advertisement, Trade or Consumer Shows and even Social Media.

These 3 words now define our brand and everything anyone can see, hear or touch must be as coherent and “on brand”.

To give you an example, we wanted to be able to present the brand at consumer shows, marathons and events and we needed to make sure what we did was a massive improvement on our competitors efforts of a fold away table and branded gazebo. Whatever we did had to emit PERFORMANCE, QUALITY and be uber STYLISH. We wanted something that made a massive impact too and brought quality retail to a muddy race village and had to be large enough to present the whole range in a professional manor. There was really only one conclusion and that was to import a classic 1964 twin axle 26ft airstream trailer from the USA and restore and convert this into our own mobile POP UP shop and showroom.

The trailer took over 9 months to convert and features a small office area that converts into a double bed for overnight accommodation at race events, a log burner to warm the trailer through the winter, a satellite dish, a retractable LCD TV to show ashmei films and host presentations and a cappuccino machine. The rest of the trailer showcases the clothing via a bespoke shopfit made from riveted aluminum, solid oak, Italian alcantara seating and ashmei red perspex with LED backlighting.

The outside was polished to an inch of it’s life to restore the 1964 box fresh look when he was built and we added a massive hydraulic lifting door to one whole side of the trailer so people could see the inside and enter something much more open and airy.

To pull this huge mobile pop up we decided to purchase a vehicle that had similar pedigree to the airstream and followed the 3 words the brand was build on. There really was only one option and so we bought a 110 double cab pickup land rover.

We now turn up to events with a mirror finish, rare classic that converts into a luxury shopping experience, keeping runners warm, dry and watered (remember cappuccino machine) while they pick up some essential kit.

ashmei-airshop-019

Not all sportswear designers are equal

We design and engineer performance sportswear by first creating a list of obstacles and problems we need to solve to produce the best garments possible.

Sportswear designers need to address a design as a list of problems that need to be resolved.

Designing sportswear is a simple checklist of obstacles. We always start with a blank page and compile a list of the requirements of the athlete. Do they need it to be waterproof, incredibly breathable, durable, soft hand, quiet, lightweight, contoured and tailored,multifunctional, quick drying, fast wicking, thermo regulating, warm or cooling.

Once you have determined the function, we then start to look at fibres rather than fabric and determine the best mix of fibres suitable to answer all of these obstacles. We then start to look for the fabric and if nothing exists we develop our own bespoke fabric through a network of mills around the world.

We then start to compile a new checklist detailing the features required. We only add features needed for the sport, for instance we don’t add hand pockets if you don’t put hands in pockets when doing the sport. They add cost and restrict movement or breathability.

Once we have a list of features and understand which fabrics we will use, we then start to place the features in the relevant position on the garment for maximum benefit to the user. Simple stuff but so many designers don’t do this and end up with features that don’t work in practice.

We then start to construct the garment with seamlines that enable an erganomic fit to allow the wearer maximum reach and movement while allowing the garment to be manufactured easily and cost effectively and without limiting the performance.

We end up with a product that really works. Something that is a class leader and soon becomes recognised as “Best in Class” because we have engineered this garment rather than simply designed something that looks great.

We are able to engineer rather than simple design because we have a wealth of experience in sportswear design, development and production. Most of our clients require us to manage the whole process from design through to production of their range and this allows us to fully understand the garment construction. It gives us the knowledge to understand what is possible and what’s not and also the implications of each feature.

Many sportswear designers just design and never get involved in the development or production and this really stifles the engineering of the product. If you don’t understand how the garment is going to be made or how mixing different fibres together will effect the overall performance of the garment, how on earth can you design something innovative, something that pushes the boundaries and develop a game-changer.

We see so many products on the market that have obviously been designed without any engineering involved. Running jackets made completely from reflective material so you can be seen but the fabric does not breath and you end up a sweaty mess or outdoor jackets with pockets that sit under rucksack straps so you cannot access them.

When we complete our designs we present one design per style. There is no option B or alternative to choose from as this is always weaker than the original. If the design is engineered to perfection then improvements simply cannot be made.

This is how we work and our reputation is built on award winning product rather than fancy drawings and flashy presentations that distract from the real design, the product.

Sportswear design, development and sourcing is never straightforward

Blue Associates has been designing and sourcing performance sportswear since it was established in 1997

Blue Associates is a consultancy that specialise in sportswear design and developments and has been sourcing performance sportswear since it was established in 1997.

We predominantly produce our designs in the Far East through a trusted network of quality and performance driven manufacturers. Not only do we source the factory that stitches the garment, we also source all of the other components that are required to produce the garment including fabric, trims and components.  Again these are produced through a network of trusted suppliers that we have worked with for many years and therefore know their abilities, strengths and weaknesses.

We often get approached by entrepreneurs that have a great idea to start a sportswear brand but don’t have any experience with regard to sportswear design, developing or sourcing the product. Many of these entrepreneurs understandably want to start small with tiny production runs to make sure their concept is viable and to manage their investment, however we always turn this work down as tiny production runs always equate to issues. Issues equate to late launches and wasted investment of time and money and ultimately our reputation is in question.

We don’t advertise or hunt for business. Luckily business finds us because of the work we have done over the last 17 years and our reputation for building great product, so when a new client suggests producing below minimum volumes we always refuse this work.

So often, a potential client believes it is possible to produce 300-400 pieces of a style and possibly in several colours, however we understand how factories operate and good factories that produce quality product don’t advertise or hunt for business either and never accept below minimum orders. Because of their reputation, their capacity always becomes full throughout the year and they can pick and choose which brands they want to work with.

We also understand that any factory that produces orders of say 300 pieces would need to add a huge surcharge to recoup the loss of setting up a production line for such a short period of time.

So, back to the start-up brand and their quest for finding a supplier that can produce small runs for them. Usually we part company and they go and explore more local sources that they believe can support their fledgling business. This usually requires a trip to the nominated country to meet a local agent who takes them to several factories who claim they can produce their first collection and a deal is struck. What usually happens is the factory then slips this production into their production schedule when OR if they are quite, however whenever a larger and therefore more profitable order is placed by an established brand, the start-ups order is pushed further and further backwards and quite often is never produced at all.

Every time a new start-up approaches us with the remit to produce tiny volumes, we tell them about these pitfalls and advise them that there is always only one way to do things, and that’s the right way. If you are looking to produce quality, high performance sportswear you need to be producing in a factory that has a reputation for producing this type of product. Unfortunately for start-ups no factory with such a reputation would need to accept tiny orders from a brand with no track record when they are lucky enough to pick and choose their clients.

Usually what happens is the entrepreneur comes back to us after several months of wasted energy and funds because their quest for quality, performance sportswear with tiny minimums was never actually achievable and we then start the process again through our network in the Far East

Luckily we have built great relationships with our suppliers and place several brands collections with them in any given year and can actually call in favours from time to time to help reduce their minimums slightly providing we believe there is potential and growth behind their concept.  We have done this time and again with brands that are now leaders within their sports sector.

Sourcing from the Far East is not however straight forward and it’s not as simple as jumping on a plane or visiting a trade show to meet up with factories. Trade shows are usually full of smaller, less quality or lower performance driven factories that “Claim” to make specific branded product to lure you into believing they produce great gear, however typically they have simply purchased a garment from a store, hung it on mannequin and presented it as their production

Sourcing quality sportswear is never straight forward but if you are looking to start-up a new brand, have a great concept and understand the need to produce your product in the right factories to achieve great gear then give us a shout.

Blue Associates Clients

Grow your Sportswear Brand with Blue Associates.

Always join up your thinking when designing sportswear

If you are designing performance sportswear, then start with getting the fabrics right and you have 1/2 the job done.

Designing sportswear is about understanding the requirements of the end user.

We like Mover. They have launched some really clever skiwear over the years since their launch in 2006. It’s their understanding of the benefits of merino wool we especially like.

They use merino wool to help regulate body temperature as being too warm on a mountain means you sweat and cold sweat on a mountain can result in discomfort at it’s best and can be lethal.

Synthetics are fantastic if you want something extremely lightweight and warm, but no synthetic can regulate body temperature, so if your working hard or the conditions change, you can soon become too hot and you feel clammy inside your layers. This clammy moisture can then turn cold when you stop being active and cause severe heat loss.

Breathability is the key to optimal thermal regulation and you need to look no further than nature for the answer. Animals are exposed to excessive heat all the time, such as being out in +30º sunshine all day with a huge fleece or a dog lying much closer than any human could next to fire for hours on end after enduring a day of freezing snow, rain and extreme cold temperatures. A merino sheep has over the centuries perfected the art of staying comfortable in excessive summer heat while staying warm in extreme winters through its fleeces ability to thermo regulate.

Mover wanted to replace the synthetic wadding in padded skiwear with something that regulated heat and was the first ski brand to produce a 100% natural wool padded and merino lined GORE-TEX® ski garment that is never too cold and never to warm.

WOOL SPORTSWEAR

How 3D printing and sportswear design and development are now linked?

3D printing helps Blue Associates reduce the cost of developing sportswear trims and components.

3D printing and sportswear design – a new way of working.

In the past five year, 3D printing has quickly gone from a topic of advanced research development to an affordable piece of home equipment.

3D printing is a method of additive manufacture, which eliminates the need for moulds. A high-powered laser fuses a fine powder of material into thin solid layers, forming a 3D structure. The process produces almost zero waste material and can produce highly complex structures not attainable through traditional processes.

With 3D printing machines becoming more affordable and the processes involved to produce a printable becoming easier, trim suppliers have now invested in this technology to provide quick solution to first stage prototypes.

Currently, developers send design artwork to trim suppliers, who in turn produce the 3D CAD files required to produce a mould. The developer therefore doesn’t see a to-scale sample until the mould is created, a process which is very expensive and time consuming.

Now, our suppliers are changing this process, allowing to-scale 3D printed working sample to be presented to our clients prior to mould being produced. It allows our clients to physically see the detail and function of any of the trims we have designed and also allows us to dummy fit these in situ on the prototype garments to make sure there will be no issues.

So, why isn’t trim being mass produced using 3D print?

The simple answer at this stage is materials and cost. Materials that are more cost effective to produce trim simply aren’t durable enough to withstand the repetitive pull of for instance, a zipper. Materials that are strong enough are available and have been used in many current sports products (for other uses, see video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIRyxzMWvkA), however the raw materials and equipment set-ups are far more costly. Certainly in the near future this is a possibility, were just not there yet.

Once 3D printing on a mass scale becomes a reality the design rules for production efficiency are thrown out of the window and the results will be extremely impressive. And by the time your zipper head breaks, you may well have a 3D printer in your own home to print off a replacement…

 

Showing the complexities available through 3D printing
Showing the complexities available through 3D printing

STANTT – Mass clothing production with a tailored fit

We appreciate Stantt’s vision for offering true fit to their customers, a goal which we share at Blue Associates.

Innovation Appreciation:

STANTT: Mass clothing production with a tailored fit?

Stantt produce button-up shirts that fit. They are aiming provide tailor fitted clothing to the mass market by offering over 50 sizes based on three simple measures: Chest, Waist and Arm Length. Using an algorithm based on 3D body scans, Stantt were able to prioritise key measurement points, which varied the greatest across an America male population.

Layout

Stantt’s vision is highly desirable for clothing brands and I hope they can fulfill their goal. In our 20 years experience in garment development, there is a limit to the number of size sets that a factory will be able to cope with efficiently, providing high quality garments whilst maintaining reasonable lead times. It is about finding the middle ground between a tailored fit for all and producing garments in an efficient manor, this middle ground is found by focusing on your key consumer.

We appreciate Stantt’s vision for offering true fit to their customers, a goal which we share at Blue Associates. We research and analyse the fitting needs of each sports brand that we work with to provide a bespoke fit for their key consumers.

 

 

 

Starting a sportswear brand? Then don’t just knock off someone else’s.

Blue Associates work with many start up sportswear brands wanting to develop sports clothing and ALWAYS starts with a blank page.

Starting a sportswear brand from scratch is really tough.

Its extremely hard work and takes real dedication and commitment to make it succeed. The brand concept needs to be unique, really set itself apart from the competition and stand for something. If your concept doesn’t tick these boxes then the chances for success will be slim.

We get approached by lots people who have, in their mind a fantastic new idea in sportswear. In reality many are passionate about a particular sport and see $$$ in front of their eyes when they look at the scale of the super brands who dominate the sports market. Some even think they can simply knock off their product and undercut them to make them stand out, however in reality this is destined for disaster. The super brands are working to pretty standard ma­­­­­­rgins and produce huge quantities of each style to then distribute around the globe to their network of retail partners. How on earth is a start up going to simply undercut them when they struggle to produce the factory minimums….

At Blue Associates we only work with clients that are truly interested in creating something unique. We simply don’t do “Me 2’s”. When we start the design process we always start with a blank page. We obviously research the market and evaluate the competition but importantly, we look at alternative influences to drive the design process. Function and performance always leads this process followed by style and colour that are usually dictated by the function anyway.

We have worked with big design departments in established brands and have noticed that they soon become very stale. For instance, an outdoor brand will only visit outdoor stores, suppliers, fabric mills and trade shows to check out what their competitors are doing. Before long all the brands within outdoor start to copy each other and the market becomes stagnant with launches of their new version of last seasons product, usually with some new snazzy style lines and some flashy new colour.

We hate this. It’s not innovative and quite often the original concept of a particular product is the best as its driven by innovation, so why change it just for changing sake. Instead, we design with a fresh approach. We develop styles that are required and necessary to partake a sport. We then finesse each product to be the best it can be and move on. We don’t promote redesigning a new version 6 months later with new style lines and in the latest trend colours as most sportswear will never be worn down a catwalk or on a red carpet…..

There is always room for improvement or introduce new technologies and materials and when such technologies become available and will significantly improve the product will we opt to produce V2 of a design. Basically we are improving the engineering behind the product.

So, the moral of this journal is simple. If you want to start a sportswear brand, make sure you have a fresh concept that’s unique and stands for something. If you are simply looking to become the next Nike by knocking them off then stop right now and rethink.

Below is a very funny film from the CEO and designer of Saddleback Leather who has decided to highlight the uniqueness and quality of his product by teaches consumers what they are giving up when they by something Knock Off.

http://youtu.be/a11wlngpuSY

 

Why Brand Language for start up sportswear brands is so important?

Start up sportswear businesses must create strong brand language to stand apart from their competitors

The importance of brand language, a new term and more than a simple logo

We work with many start up businesses that want to launch a range of performance sportswear to compete with the established big brand names as they believe their concept offers a new niche or they want to improve what is currently on offer.

We are approached on a weekly basis from entrepreneur’s who believe they have the difference. They are usually from completely different backgrounds than the sportswear market but have a passion for their sport and therefore have figured out their concept

Once we have established if the concept has legs and studied their business plan we start to investigate the sometimes difficult topic of “Branding”. Many of our start up clients have already started the process of registering their brand name and have even come up with a logo to be used on the garments, however this is only the start of the “Branding” process.

Back in the day, it was generally accepted that a brand was strong enough to warrant their position in their chosen market by simply coming up with a decent product and plastering their logo onto this. This is still accepted in the lower/middle markets as many consumers within this sector are less driven by brand values and price/features start to take priority.

If you want to start a mid/high end brand then clear brand values and a brand language needs to be created. Once these have been finalised these should be adhered to and applied to everything the brand then creates, weather this is product, communication or marketing.

Brand language is not simply a logo that never changes. Brand language allows a consumer to recognise a product even if the brand logo was not applied. It’s about quality, visual & functional consistency. Apple for instance has a very strong brand language and if the apple logo was not applied to their products I would guess the majority of consumers would still recognize their brand straight away. This brand language does not simply end with the product but the whole apple experience. The way their stores look, the staff uniform and service approach and even the packaging that has been engineered to strengthen the quality approach and brand language.  I cannot think of one PC brand that has a similar strength of brand language as apple and until PC brand start to recogise that apples success is far more than its functionality and great product design, they will never have queues like this in their stores.

apple HK store

When we start to work with start up brands we look at the Brand Language way before we start to look at product as this determines everything the brand stands for. It’s very hard to introduce or change Brand Language once a brand has been established.

Posted by Stuart Brooke

Founder of Blue Associates & ashmei

http://pursuit.ashmei.com/#home

Innovation Appreciation: PATAGONIA WORN WEAR

We LOVE Patagonia and WORN WEAR is just one of the reasons we appreciate what the brand stands for

Patagonia Worn Wear

With the now, worldwide yearly tradition of ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cyber Monday’ creating hysterical scenes at many retail stores and online around the world, Patagonia took the opportunity to celebrate the items of the clothing which their customer’s already own.The Worn Wear campaign created a community of individuals who have shared the stories of their favourite Patagonia products, how long they have owned them, where they have been together and how the product has helped overcome challenges along the way. The campaign promotes the reuse, recycle and repair messages to create items of clothing, which have a personality, a story and a journey; therefore reducing the waste created from discarding old clothing and removing the unrenewable resources used in the production of a new garment. The video below showcases a number of these incredible experiences, creating an inspiring and aspirational piece, which among friends, led to the immediate purchase of some waterproof patches and a sewing kit!

The standout individual in this piece is a surfer from Baja, Mexico; who after 15 years of wearing his Patagonia board-shorts in adventures which spanned surf hotspots around the world, showed his deep regret that he had to replace the ‘ass end’ of this board-shorts with a recycled beach umbrella. Check it out:

Link to Video: PATAGONIA WORN WEAR

The Patagonia Worn Wear campaign reinforces the Patagonia mission statement that quality lasts. Many brands will have succumb to the temptation of exponential sales and profits over the ‘Black Friday’/’Cyber Monday’ weekend, however we want to show our appreciation to Patagonia for standing strong and true to their message, a standard that resonates with us at Blue Associates.

For more information on the design, development and sourcing that Blue Associates has completed for sports brands, please email: stuart@blue-associates.co.uk

Read more about Blue Associates HERE

 

 

 

 

We are hiring…. Sportswear developer

Sportswear Developer / Technologist – FULL TIME

We are a successful technical sportswear design and sourcing consultancy and also have our own brand of performance running apparel.

Our clients work in Cycle, Outdoor, Ski, Golf, Surf and general sports markets and we offer a turnkey solution to design, development, sourcing and production.

We are looking for a Garment Developer/Technologists to manage the development and production of our clients products from creation of detailed specifications, fittings, size & grading, critical path management and sample approval.

You will need to communicate to the factories on a daily basis via e-mail and resolve all development and production questions.

You must be computer literate with e-mail, word, excel and illustrator and have at least 3 years experience. Excellent communication and organisational skills are required and you must be able to work with the team and also be motivated to work alone.

In return we offer a highly competitive salary based on experience and excellent career prospects.

Please send your CV to stuart@blue-associates.co.uk, with a covering letter along with your current/past salary package and required package.

Blue Associates Ltd – ashmei. ALDBURY – HERTS

BLUE  ASSOCIATES

A consultancy of sportswear designers and developers that specialise in the production of performance sportswear

Established in 1997 and have been designing, developing and sourcing high performance sportswear for blue chip sports clothing brands around the globe ever since. Our products and clients often win “Best in Test” against their competitors due to the product we design and produce for them as we approach product design and development in a different way to most sportswear brands.

Working with sportswear brands in different sports we are ale to look at the sportswear market as a whole rather than focus our research into a specific activity. This allows us to share technologies, fabrics, research, manufacturing techniques and garment features from one sport that may not be obvious to another.

For this reason we are often brought into established high profile sportswear brands that have an internal sportswear designers and development teams to bring some fresh thinking and new concepts to the brand. Most of the product we are asked to design are their top tier, highest performance product.

We also work with many start up brands who have no idea about how to design, develop or source sportswear but have a great idea, route to market and funding in place. Many of these start up brands are now successful brands with some now established as brand leaders within their sports sector.

When we work with any client we ALWAYS start with a blank page and break each garment down into its basic ingredients, right down to which fibres to use to extract the highest performance for the end use. We then source fabrics from our library of technical mills around the world and if we can’t find a suitable material we start to develop our own specifying which fibres to use, how they are blended and the performance finishes required.

Once we have determined the fabrics we start to design the garment based on the required features and build style around these features. We also design and develop all the bespoke trims such as cord locks, buckles, buttons, adjusters and swing tickets.

Sourcing is predominantly Far East based as we find the quality, service, technology, infrastructure and price are all favorable over other alternatives and at the end of the day, if the product is the best quality and is the right price the you sell more, which means everyone wins.

Merino wool keeps you cooler in summer than polyester.

merino-performance-

We have been preaching the benefits of Merino wool since our launch in 2011, but we still get asked “Merino is just for winter – right?”

“No” we answer promptly. Merino is for 12 months of the year and any climate. It is the ONLY yarn that regulates your body temperature, keeping you warm in winter and cool in summer. Synthetics simply warm you up and so you end up sweating more to try and stay cool. This means your garment needs to work harder to keep you comfortable and dry.

Because merino wool regulates your temperature you can go out for longer training sessions knowing you will more likely be comfortable if conditions change. An early morning run could soon turn warm as the sun rises or running through valleys or over mountains conditions and climates change consistently.

It also has some other amazing qualities, like the way it wicks moisture, dries really fast and will never stink like nasty petrochemical polyester that love bacteria that causes cheap running gear to stink after a while.

Sure, Merino is more expensive than polyester, but if your jersey lasts for years and still smells fresh even after 100’s of miles and doesn’t need special soaps to wash out bacteria then you are actually investing in value for money, especially if it becomes your favourite jersey of all time.

Posted by Stuart Brooke – founder ashmei www.ashmei.com

So this is the start of project “Phoenix” for ashmei running

He is a 1964 “Overlander” airstream that we have just purchased and imported to the UK from the USA.

He hasn’t been loved for many years and currently has no floor, exposing the steel chassis and worn axle’s and there are no internal fittings or wiring, but this is great as we are basically starting from scratch and giving him a new lease of life.

Phoenix will be fully restored but not to his former glory, but to a new life as the ashmei “airshop” who will tour the country going from race to race, marathon to marathon and will be fully stocked with the ashmei range so you can see the product up close, try it on and understand why ashmei is so different.

We also plan to take Phoenix to some key events in Europe this year, so look out for news of the “Tour” on the ashmei website, twitter and facebook so you can come and see him, the range and meet the team.

We will be following the restoration of Phoenix over the next 10 weeks and again posting these on the website and social media.

airshop phoenix at the US docks

http://www.ashmei.com/

 

The Brompton cycle jacket nominated for Design of the year

BROMPTON CYCLE JACKET

The Brompton cycle jacket nominated for Design of the year which was designs and produced by Blue Associates.

 

brompton cycle jacket designed and sourced by blue associates

brompton cycle jacket designed and sourced by blue associates

The Brompton cycle jacket was nominated for design of the year due to the clever “stealth” cycle features that made you visible and protected from the elements when on the bike but maintained a classic and stylish look and handle of a traditional corduroy jacket.

The fabric was a permanent water repellent corduroy that was finished with a bespoke treatment that allowed the rider to breath without sweating but repelled water. It was also designed to be machine washable so it it became dirty then could be easily washed and line dries.

The Brompton cycle jacket was constructed so that all of the facing and interlinings inside the jacket maintained a tailored look but maintained breathability and could be washed easily.

Features to be seen on the bike included a yellow high visability flap that unzipped from a hidden seam at the back of the jacket that protected the jacket from splashed wheel marks but also made the jacket very visible from behind, especially with the reflective print.

The lapel included some hidden buttons and was cut so that you could enclose the front of the jacket completely to protect your chest from driving rain and wind.

The ends of the cuffs had a discreet turn-up that you simple flap down to reveal some reflective trim for when you indicate at junctions and also add the additional length to the sleeve a cyclist requires when riding.

The collar also included some reflective detailing when pulled up and we included some large storage pockets with buttoned flaps to the front of the jacket to carry any equipment you may need when on the bike and hark back to 1920’s traditional tailored sporting jackets.

MP3 pockets inside the jacket and a zipped security pocket for you valuable with a hidden union jack flag finish the Brompton cycle jacket and made it worthy to be nominated against some of the leading product designs of the year.

BLUE ASSOCIATES designed and developed the Brompton cycle jacket

 

 

How to launch a sportswear brand

I established Blue Associates in 1997 as a design and sourcing consultancy working with blue chip sportswear brand, developing some of the highest performance sportswear in the world for them.

We have worked with many of the elite performance brands within Outdoor, Cycle, Marine, Golf and Ski and have watched our products win our clients “Best Product” and sometimes “Best Sportswear Brand”.

We have also worked with many start up brands, helping them evolve their concept into reality and now watching them enjoy the success of hard work, quality product and a great concept.

In 2009, I got into running as a quick and simple way to keep fit that could be squeezed into a busy schedule and something that could be done anywhere in the world with very little equipment.

My passion for product meant I quickly acquired a massive collection of specific running kit from the typical running brands and running became my escape from work, usually finding time for a midday run three times a week to clear the head and work out life’s troubles.

One day I came back from a typical run and looked in the mirror before my post run shower and noticed that the only running gear I was actually wearing were running shorts and trainers. My shirt was a merino jersey I use as a baselayer when I snowboard and my socks were merino too from my downhill cycle days. I realised this was wrong and started to research the running market to try and find running gear that had similar high performance I was used to when I snowboard and cycle.

I was amazed to find that nothing really existed and was bemused at the way all of the running brands seemed to follow an identical formula of product development and strategy. I found that all of the gear used almost identical fabrics, colours, styling and therefore price points. My research concluded in the running department of Paragon sports in NYC where I wondered if I covered all of the logos up and invited the brand managers from each respective running apparel brand to come and identify their products, if they could actually do this.

At this point I knew there was a gap in the market for a higher level of performance gear with a completely different look to the establishment. I spoke to several retailers and journalists about this concept, nearly all of them saying this was a great idea but make sure the clothing was not any more expensive as runners don’t spend money on their kit.

I didn’t believe this, as running shoes are a big investment with gels and hydration also add up. I also believed runners were prepared to trade up but have not been given the opportunity to do so as nothing currently existed. I also knew we could not improve performance and quality without using more expensive materials and manufacturing craft which would in turn increase the cost and therefore retail price.

Our strategy was simple and one we have used for some of our blue chip clients when we develop their best clothing – Don’t compromise on quality, performance, features and style, ignore the cost of the product until we get the product right.

This strategy has resulted in the launch styles winning “Best in Test” over and over again and “Best Brand” several times by gear reviewers and specialist running press.

The range is developing fast with a much larger product offering being launched this year and a women’s specific range that will be the same size as the men’s range by the end of this year.

So there you have it. That’s why we started ashmei and some background to our pedigree on the design and development of sportswear. We have established a great following of loyal customers who come back time and time again to order the new product as soon as we launch them which is a great compliment to our vision and we thank you very much for this support.

I hope you enjoy the gear and we are very interested in your views, comments and opinions that we will digest and use to develop the brand and the product to maintain our position of being “The finest performance running clothes in the world”

ashmei

No innovation left in sportswear design

Producing something better by innovative sportswear design

ashmei is built around its product. We are a “Product company” and our number one focus is designing and developing the best high performance running clothing we can.

Being trained in sportswear design with over 20+ years experience and the founder of ashmei, I will make sure this focus does not steer towards sales, marketing or distribution as the company grows. I have seen this happen time and time again through our sister company Blue Associates who design sportswear for blue chip sports brands and within a short period of time their brand looses it’s identity and creativity and becomes stale.

This is something I have noticed happen to the running industry. Sure there are pockets of genius with brands developing new products or technologies that think outside the box, but generally the industry has lost it’s focus on product.

Running clothing in particular has not really progressed since the launch of cheap synthetic materials. It seems apparent that a certain look, feel, performance and price now drive the industry so that we end up with a range of product that is almost identical. If you don’t believe me, pop into your local specialist running store, ignore the branding on the chest and try to see the difference between each brand. It’s quite scary how similar they all are, with almost identical price points, features, materials, construction and look.

That’s the main reason we launched ashmei. We knew we could do better. Offer product that worked better, looked better and was made better. Style is classic and understated and materials and components are selected purely on their performance rather than price.

Since our launch we have identified several of our competitors have placed orders for most of our styles. Some even place orders for every size! We are flattered by this, however it does frustrate us too as we know why they have bought our gear and we will be watching them closely, but where is the creativity and innovation. Where is the benefit to runners to develop masses of product that looks or performs exactly the same? Why have lots of brands if we all do the same thing?

Competition is good for the industry, but I wish there was more innovation and “out of the box” thinking just like there is within other sports like cycle, Ski and Outdoor with brands that have created their own niche within a saturated market giving the consumer a wider choice of product rather than a simple choice of logo.

by Stuart Brooke – founder of ashmei

ashmei wins ISPO BRAND NEW 2013 SPORTSWEAR AWARD

ashmei WINS ISPO 2013 Brand New award

We are over the moon. ashmei has just won the ISPO BRAND NEW SPORTWEAR 2013 and will present the brand at Europe’s largest sports trade show held in Munich in February 2013.

The competition was strong with entries from around the world, concluding in 93 finalists presenting their innovations to the public and industry experts to vote for their favourite.

I have been visiting Ispo for over 20 years and I am totally chuffed to bits to now be part of this show and exhibit in the hall that is the “buzz of the show” with massive press coverage, PR and exposure to the world’s premium sports buyers.

THE CONCEPT OF ISPO BRAND NEW

ISPO BRAND NEW is the world’s largest start-up competition in the sporting goods industry. The awards are focused on innovative products and the brands behind them. Each year the best applicants are selected by an international jury of experts.

Brands which are four years old or younger and never have exhibited at ISPO MUNICH before, can apply – backdated from the start of the current ISPO. There are several categories to which you can submit your product in order to win one of the coveted awards.

During the presentation of the products and their brands to the international jury the focus is on: product, degree of innovation, design, brand features, market potential, and marketing.

Our main goal is to provide young entrepreneurs with a presentation platform and the optimal support on their way to the international market.

A lot more than just an award

ISPO BRAND NEW is not just any contest in which the lucky winners are in the spotlight shortly. The key premise of the Awards is not only to filter out the best young entrepreneurs in sports, but to make them enter into the international market as easy as possible.

These include services which are absolutely unique and are described in more detail in the following points.

Levi v Vulpine: the battle for the best everyday bike wear

In the eternal hunt for the best on-the-bike/off-the-bike clothes, who does it better: big-name Levi v Vulpine, a tiny start-up?

One of the best gauges of cycling’s ever-increasing popularity is the explosion of “commuter” clothing ranges, designed to be functional both on and off the bike.

My instinctive reaction is often sceptical: if I’m riding quickly or a long distance, nothing beats cycling gear, but there’s no reason why other trips can’t be tackled in ordinary clothes. There’s nothing specifically bike-unfriendly about, say, a pair of jeans.

This attitude has been reinforced by some unexceptional early examples of the genre. A couple of years ago I was cautiously positive about the Bspoke range of in-the office/on-the-bike clothes. In retrospect I don’t think moleskin trousers with a generously cut, MC Hammer-style gusset are the future.

But equally, I’ve been proved wrong. One of the most-worn items in my cycling wardrobe is a pair of ultra-light, sleek and supremely versatile shorts by Surface, the clothing arm of the Charge bikes empire, equally at home in the saddle, on the beach or mooching round the house. I’ve been stopped several times at traffic lights by riders asking where to buy them. This isn’t the sort of thing that usually happens to me.

After that long introduction, down to business. I’ve been trying out examples from two new ranges which offer something of a contrast, not least in origin. One is the Commuter series from Levi’s, the clothing behemoth’s entry into the cycling world.

The other comes from Vulpine, a tiny venture set up by a cycling-mad couple who left their jobs to pursue their dream.

It’s fair to say that this difference shows. The two items I tried from Levi’s bear the hallmarks of things designed by a committee given, from on high, the brief: “This cycling stuff seems quite trendy, how can we get on board?” Inevitably, the range’s website shows a very cool model holding up a narrow-handlebarred fixie, albeit with front and back brakes, probably on the advice of the company lawyers.
Levi’s Commuter series jeans Trousers from the Levi’s Commuter series

The two most obvious innovations on the jeans I tried out were on the same lines: an extra loop of fabric on the rear waistband from which to hang the ubiquitous mini-Kryptonite lock, and reflective seams on the inside, for rolling the trouser up the calf in the approved courier-style fashion. The slightly stiff, crinkly fabric is supposedly more resistant to water, stains and odours, but to me mainly felt a bit hot.

I was even less impressed with the grey long-sleeved shirt, which seemed equally boil-in-the-bag despite a breathable mesh strip at the top of the back, hidden with a neat seam, and small mesh patches under the arms.

I think it’s wonderful that cycling is now seen as sufficiently aspirational for such a vast company to want to hitch itself to the bandwagon. I’m just not hugely enthusiastic about the clothes. Worse still, the Commuter series is currently a men’s range only. Maybe the Levi’s focus groups forgot to mention that women also ride bikes.

By contrast the Vulpine range is clearly a labour of love. Even the items I was less keen on were well thought out and beautifully made.
Vulpine cotton rain jacket The Vulpine cotton rain jacket

The star was a lightweight cotton waterproof jacket which managed the near-unique trick of being both fairly impermeable to water but reasonably breathable. Even if you don’t like the slim, almost militaristic styling – I think it works very well ­– you can appreciate details like a neat bum-guarding flap, tucked out of sight when not in use with a magnet, and the ultra-cosy rings of delicate fleece around the inner cuffs. Vulpine also do a thicker softshell jacket, which again looks well-made, even though the one I was sent ended up being too big to try out properly.

I even – and these are words I never anticipated typing – liked the gilet, a clothing item I’ve previously scorned. Slim-fitting and lightweight it makes short work of chilly mornings and takes almost no space in a bag.

The merino button jerseys and crew-neck T-shirts were slightly less to my taste, if undeniably sleek and comfy. I found them a bit too snug to resemble something you might wear to work, unless maybe you work in a gym.

There is, of course, a catch. The Levi’s range isn’t cheap, but £80 for a posh pair of jeans is not so exceptional these days. The Vulpine range is that bit more: £195 for the rain jacket, for example.

It’s almost pointless rehashing the arguments over such prices. At one extreme some ascetics affirm a pair of sellotaped bin bags provide sufficient rain protection and it is immoral to pay more; others think £200 is worth it for a well-made, comfy jacket which will get a number of years’ use.

The more relevant lesson, I’d argue, is this: the more a company appears to genuinely love and be obsessed by cycling, the better their cycling gear.

Rapha – How they started

How Rapha started the design and development of their cycle brand

Making design integral to the business

A tight integration of all the company’s activities is an essential part of the brand’s success, insists Scheybeler.

‘The design of our products is the core of the brand, but everything we do has to reflect the same values,’ he explains.

To achieve this, design is a core responsibility for Rapha’s senior management. Mottram and Scheybeler are intimately involved with all key design decisions, from product prototypes to catalogue photo shoots. ‘Design can’t be an afterthought, you need to build it in at the start,’ he continues.

At the same time, Rapha is a highly outsourced organization. Six full-time employees handle product development; marketing and order fulfillment but detailed design, sourcing and manufacture are all outsourced. ‘We use a network of freelance designers and small agencies to handle this work,’ says Scheybeler. ‘More often then not they are cyclists themselves and they bring their own passion to our concepts.’

Core members of Rapha’s extended network include Message, the web design agency that helps with the back-end design and functionality of its website, and Blue Associates, a clothing design and sourcing agency, for liaison with manufacturers and material suppliers. The company has also collaborated with clothing designer Paul Smith.

Managing such a loose network of contributors to produce a cohesive product range is a challenge for Rapha and the process has been a significant learning curve for Scheybeler. ‘I was a creative type in my old role; other people did the organizing: now it is really important that we get the product development process under control ourselves.’

To do this, Rapha has adopted a formal approach to the writing of briefs for every new product, carefully discussing and documenting as much as possible about their vision for each new product– who it is for, how it will be used, what it will be made of, what it will cost. Together with rough sketches produced in house, this brief provides first the company’s designers and later its material suppliers and manufacturing partners with a thorough understanding of the requirements.

Manufacturing takes place across the world, with items produced in the UK (London, Somerset, and Scotland) China, India, Spain, Vietnam and Italy. Increasingly, production is moving to the Far East, although Scheybeler insists that this has not been for cost reasons.

‘We actually found ourselves going to the Far East for quality reasons,’ he notes. ‘We do source from Italy too, but so much experience has been lost from the European textile industry that it was difficult to get the manufacturing expertise we needed.’

Tested to destruction

User testing has been at the heart of Rapha’s product development process. The founders started by testing the products themselves, before eliciting the help of London cycle couriers for prototype evaluation.

‘Couriers are very hard on clothes,’ explains Scheybeler, ‘They wear them a lot, probably don’t look after them very carefully, they carry heavy bags and they don’t wash them as often as perhaps you might expect!’

The result, he explains, was a lot of destroyed clothing in the early prototype phase and a considerable amount of invaluable feedback on durability and design features.

Today Rapha also sponsors its own cycle racing team, in association with leading London cycle retailer Condor. The team not only serves to raise the company’s profile at racing events, it also acts as the perfect test bed for new designs.

Rapha’s founders remain adamant that they will not be shifting the core values of the company to encompass other sports, or even other areas of the sport of cycling.

So while mountain bike enthusiasts might be buying Rapha clothing today, they won’t be seeing products targeted at them. That still leaves the company with room for growth. Worldwide, the bicycle industry is worth in excess of $20billion. In developed markets, this expenditure is split roughly in half between bicycles themselves and accessories and clothing.

Within its target niche, though, Rapha has been quick to exploit opportunities for expansion. To date the company has done this in two ways: by broadening the range of its products and be exploiting even narrow sub-groups within its target audience.

Rapha’s original series of jerseys and caps, for example, has now been expanded to include leg wear, gloves, rain gear, luggage and branded accessories developed in partnership with other companies – including a heart-rate monitor and an elegant training diary.

The company has also produced a more informal range of clothing aimed at the fixed gear movement. Fixed gear bikes are a simple, single speed design popularised by cycle couriers and city commuters, who value their robust, low-maintenance characteristics and the cachet associated with the fact that they are more difficult to ride than conventional machines.

‘We are debating internally how we take these sub-divisions forward,’ says Scheybeler. ‘It will be an interesting balance; we want to develop product ranges for specific types of cycling, while keeping the overall offering consistent.’