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.

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.

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.

 

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″. 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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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.’