One quick online search for 'custom cycling clothing' generates a seemingly infinite number of options. While choice can be great, it can also be daunting sorting the good from the bad. There are so many variables to consider when going down the custom clothing path; is there a minimum order quantity? What materials are used? What type of cut and fit is best? How long will delivery take? How can I be sure what I'm ordering is of good quality? How much will it cost?
Given the number of things to consider, it's best to go in with a plan and a specific outcome in mind. To help you with your custom clothing journey, we've put together this handy buyer's guide to answer the most commonly asked questions – and some often forgotten questions you should ask – all to help deliver you the best outcome.
What is considered custom clothing?
Custom cycling clothing is kit that is created according to specifications from an individual, club, team or group. The made to order kit differ from off-the-shelf designs because every facet can be controlled by the buyer, including the choice of material, type of chamois, graphics, colours, type of fit and much more. It allows buyers to personalise the kit to represent a club, please sponsors, stand out from the crowd or nurture their creative side.
And sometimes custom clothing isn’t even about designs, it can be about riders looking to get kit that’s exactly suited to their personal needs.
Getting the design right
Of all the variables you need to get right, the design is undoubtedly the most important. After all, if you were just after some cool kit you could just buy something off the shelf.
To start, here are a few questions you need to answer;
Are you providing the custom clothing supplier with a specific design, or are you relying on them to generate the design?
Do you have specific colours?
Do you have sponsors that need to appear on the kit?
Unless you are a graphic designer there are a few simple ways of bringing your ideas to life. Many custom clothing providers will have an in-house design team or software program you can access to create the designs. For companies with an in-house design team, providing a simple sketch drawing is all it takes to get the process started. Joel from Sportful says all it takes to get started is an email address and phone number, "and we can take the reins in managing the steps to a great design and final kit". Santini also take email enquiries with a brand manager typically walking you through the process from start to finish.
The key when providing this information is to make your concept as clear as possible so the design team is simply refining what you have done. If you provide vague information during the initial design process, the whole project will take longer and it will be far more labour intensive to get exactly what you want.
Once the concept is clear, the team will set about creating design proofs for refinement and approval. Expect some back and forth between you and the provider at this stage to get things 100% correct before proceeding to order and making payment. We'll talk about pricing in more detail later but it's important to know that while most companies won't charge extra for design changes and proofs, some will, so a lengthy back and forth could end up blowing your budget, all the more reason to go in with a clear concept.
Some companies, such as Santini, have its own online custom platform to help you create your design. This interactive design software program will allow you to get a little further down the creation assembly line than simple drawings will. These programs come pre-loaded with templates featuring the companies designs, cuts, colours and styles, so you are using the same platform as the design team and speeding up the process as a result. It can also be fun to play with different designs and colours.
Choosing colours might seem simple, afterall, red is red, is it not? But depending on what fabric is used, the type of ink, and the method of printing, the colour could change dramatically from what you had planned and what your computer screen showed. To avoid a surprise, find out what printing method your provider uses, looking for the latest methods like digital sublimation technology. The best custom kits will use a sublimation process for the design of your custom kit. This sees ink fused into the fabric as opposed to sitting on top like basic inkjet and screen printing. This results in higher-quality prints with sharper lines and improved durability.
If you really want to be safe, colour samples are available from good providers and cost little to nothing to access. Most companies will send out the fabric you want, with the colour requested so you can see exactly what the end product is going to look like. The (potential) additional financial outlay and time delay associated with producing the sample is less than ideal, but it could save you from heartache.
Sponsors and logos
Many groups have sponsors or logos that need to feature. It might seem to be a simple process of pulling an image from a website, but not all images are suitable for digital sublimation printing. Often logos used on websites or for business cards are either low resolution or small in size and so will appear blurry when enlarged on clothing.
In order to get a sharp, crisp image on your clothing, there are specific formats logos and images need to be. All adobe illustrator files, encapsulated post script (.eps files), and high-resolution pdf files (over 300 dpi). are referred to as 'Vector' format files and are generally suitable for printing on clothing. This is because these formats can be resized and manipulated without losing resolution, producing a sharp and clear image on your custom clothing.
Santini: "A lot of people underestimate the need for high-quality logos."
If all of those terms mean nothing to you, simply check if your image file ends in .JPG, .GIF .or BMP, if so, it is not vector artwork. If the image file ends in .AI, .EPS or .PDF, it's most likely vector and suitable for use. If you're still not sure, send what you have to the provider and they will be able to definitively tell you. If for some reason you don't have access to any vector formatted image files, your custom clothing provider may be able to help, but most often at an additional cost.
While on the topic of logos, one thing often overlooked is that the custom clothing companies often require you to have their logo on the kit too (unless your desired design is really, really ugly). While it's not a deal breaker, it's an important consideration as it will affect the final look of the kit, and may influence your design.
Choice of material
Once you've got the design sorted, material choice is the next hurdle to overcome as the options vary greatly between, and within providers.
To give you an idea, Champion Systems has nine different options ranging from a lightweight, highly stretchable mesh fabric, right through to a three layered wind-proof fleece. While most companies won't provide the same number of options, they will require you to make a choice between a number of fabrics. Synthetic fabrics like polyester and elastane are commonly used as they provide lightweight, stretchable and highly durable clothing that are resistant to wind and water. Often these synthetic materials are blended with natural ones like cotton to improve breathability.
To help you decipher between the good and not-so-good materials, look for companies to include independent testing in their product descriptions. For example, the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC) provides tests for quality fabrics including things like color fastness to perspiration and light, aging, water resistance, anti-bacterial properties, wrinkle recovery and many, many others. A good result from this independent test should provide you with confidence.
The image above showcases the variety of additions and customizable options available. The bib shorts pictured have raw cut silicon grippers as do the 'BodyFit' jersey sleeves on these Santini garments that are targetted at elite riders seeking to maximise performance. Such features come at a cost.
For racing and high-performance clothing, it's best to look for movable, breathable fabrics that are lightweight and will keep you cool. If you are really serious, certain fabrics are faster and more aerodynamic than skin, so it's worth investing in a quality skinsuit or long sleeve jersey to gain some free speed. For training through colder temperatures look for fabrics that are water and wind resistance, potentially with an insulated layer if things really get cold. And when it comes to protection from the sun, not all fabrics are created equal, so look for fabrics with a 50+ UV rating.
Choosing the right chamois will go a long way to avoiding discomfort, saddle sores and chafing while riding. Most companies will allow you to choose your chamois, as such, there are a few key points you should be looking out for when selecting a chamois, as highlighted below.
Density: Each chamois should be well padded with variable thicknesses throughout, placing more foam in load bearing locations (like your sit bones) and less in highly moveable locations (like the groin region).
Size: Bigger is not always better when it comes to choosing a chamois. Ideally, the chamois you choose will be targetted to specific locations like the sit bones, and not extend beyond that as that can increase the chance of friction burns or saddle sores.
Location: The location of the chamois is crucial to its effectiveness, as a chamois that is poorly positioned, regardless of how good it is, will be useless. The best way to tell if a chamois is in a good position is to turn the knicks inside out, put them on, and see where the chamois sits in relation to your sit bones. If the chamois position is too high and the dense sections are not covering your sit bones, then look elsewhere.
Gender specific: Men and women are created differently, and so it's only right that their chamois is too. Women generally have wider sit bones so the chamois is going to be wider too. Men's chamois are generally longer at the front to provide some modesty. Ensure that if you order a women's specific chamois, it is in fact, shorter and wider than the standard and not simply a size smaller than normal.
Keeping dry: It's important for the chamois to remain as dry as possible, as any excessive moisture build up will cause friction which will lead to saddle sores. Look for 'wicking' properties that draw moisture away from the chamois.
Where it's made
Clothing may be listed as being created in China, Italy, North America, Australia or countless other locations around the world with varying levels of quality depending on the companies involvement, use of contractors or work practices. The place of manufacture doesn’t mean a whole lot these days, so in short, the only true way to assess a garment's quality is to obtain a sample, and if possible take it for a ride. You won't be able to assess the longevity of the clothing but you'll better understand the quality of fabric, chamois, and construction.
Getting the right size
Getting the right size for cycling clothing is much like trying to get it right for everyday clothes, the sizing varies between manufacturers and even sometimes between different items from the same manufacturer. In order to get this right, there are a few things to consider highlighted below.
- Get a fit-kit Many companies will have a 'fit-kit', a package of sample pieces of clothing that can be sent out to help your group or team get the right size. Normally companies are happy to ship these kits out at little to no cost (with a deposit), and if there is a cost involved, often this is subtracted from the final order. The fit-kit helps individuals select the correct size for them, much like trying something on in a store, and is a much more reliable way of choosing the correct size than going off a size chart.
Size charts Sizing charts will typically only have height, weight, chest (when measuring tops), waist and hips (when measuring bottoms), so it can hard to get an accurate idea of all round fit. As such it's best to use these charts as a guide and request a sample pack be sent out or go to a shop to try it on. Also, pay attention to any information companies provide on 'how to measure', as for example, some will have a different way of measuring the chest.
Do they sell non-custom kits? If the company you have selected sell non-custom clothing as well, the best way to check the sizing is to go into a store and try on their kits. Just be sure the product you are trying on uses the same construction method, and materials you are looking at purchasing.
- Do you like it tight or loose? Typically the top tier clothing options are created for 'elite' riders who are seeking every performance advantage without being concerned of the price. As a result, these kits are made with the highest quality fabrics, have some form of aerodynamic gains attributed to them, and will be a tighter fit than traditional clothing, so you may have to go up a size from an off the shelf item. Santini suggest, 'going up one or two sizes for its sleek race garments to ensure a great fit'.
Intermediate and entry level options tend to be closer to the items we see in stores with a more generous fit, high-quality fabrics and reduced price tag. This option will likely fit closer to the size you normally wear or may require you to go down a size if you like things tight.
Making the most of your ordering size is a key consideration when searching for a custom clothing provider. Companies will have a minimum number of pieces that need to be ordered to get a custom creation together, for some this could be a single piece, for others, it could be upwards of 50. And often companies will have a scale for orders, generally the more you order, the cheaper each piece becomes. Creating larger orders will also help keep overall costs down as some companies will have additional charges such as a set-up, freight and design fees. Economy of scale is in your favour if you have large orders.
It's important to know what each company's minimum is, and what they categorise as a 'piece'. For example, Champion System class their main items - jersey, singlet, shorts, jackets - as one single unit, but accessory items such as socks and warmers are bundled in groups of five to create a single unit.
|Examples of Champion Systems Order Sizing|
|Order Size||Items||Counted Number|
|1-4 unit order||1 x Jersey, 1 x Tri Top, 5 x Socks||3 units|
|5-9 unit order||4 x Jerseys, 2 x Bib Shorts, 5 x Socks, 5 x Arm Warmers||8 units|
|10+ unit order||6 x Tri Tops, 2 x Tri Shorts, 5 x Visors, 5 x Socks||10 units|
Pricing custom clothing can be a complex equation, especially when you consider the different types of designs, fabrics, construction methods and fits that we've already discussed. Add to that GST, freight, possible discounts for large quantities and coming up with a final amount can be difficult to compare. For this reason, we've decided to forgo publishing estimated prices, and rather just let you know what to beware of.
The best way to start is to ask for a price list. This will normally include each item and any scaled pricing based on the quantity ordered, as ordering in bulk could result in a 30-40% price reduction. From there it's important to know whether the pricing includes;
Costs for artwork and colours
If GST is included
Any costs associated with delivery such as freight and taxes.
If you are getting a quote, be sure to get the final price including all of these items and get it in writing. And if you are comparing prices from different companies, make sure you are comparing apples and apples. Make sure that the clothing material and construction is comparable and ALL costs are included.
As well as discounts for large orders, some companies offer other potential savings such as referral programs, reduced costs for second round orders, and discounts on standard items (if they also do non-custom clothing) such as socks and warmers. Some may even do price matching, so it's worth asking the question if you have two competing companies but favour one in terms of quality over another.
The time it takes your custom creation to arrive is always testing, as if you are anything like us, you'll have one eye on the letterbox from the day you make the final payment.
Most companies will estimate between four to eight weeks for you to receive your custom clothing, but this figure could be based on when the artwork is approved, when the order is placed or when the final amount is paid. As such, it pays to factor in time for artwork creation, getting a fit kit posted out, collecting order quantities, placing the order and receiving payment from group members into your time estimates.
Santini: "Our lead time is 60 days from order confirmation to delivery. A lot of people underestimate the need for sufficient lead times."
If you absolutely have to have your kit in a hurry, some companies offer an express turnaround time of as little as two weeks but this will cost extra and require extensive organisation on your part to ensure there are no hold ups.
Keep in mind that public holidays such as the Christmas / New Year period, Easter and Chinese New Year could delay the process by as much as two weeks.
To safeguard you from any unforeseen issues, it pays to check if the company provides a warranty, and if so, what does that warranty cover and for how long? Do they provide a warranty on materials, workmanship, delivery? What if problems arise after receiving the goods? Some companies go so far with their after sales commitment as to provide discounts on replacement items if you have a crash.
Check their level of support and how easy it is to contact them. If they have a local contact that can help you over the phone, that's great, some will even provide a specific contact person who will help you throughout the process.
As we've mentioned previously, make sure you have everything in writing, including what is and what isn't covered.
Things to be aware of if you are the organiser
If you are organising the kit on behalf of your group or club, be sure to get commitment and money from people before placing the order. The last thing you want is to be out of pocket because someone has changed their mind and pulls out.
To keep the process moving along and avoid any lengthy delays, set a deadline for orders and money to be received. And speaking of money, it's best to set up a separate bank account that the money can be transferred into and perhaps even allow someone else in the group to have access to it, or require two levels of approval before money can be taken out. If you don't like the idea of controlling all of the finances, take advantage of programs that allow individuals to order, pay and organise shipping on their own. Some companies will have a system to manage individual orders from club or group members, taking care of all transactions and shipping, meaning responsibility doesn't fall on a single person.
Sportful: 'It is a 5 minute job that can again avoid disappointment.'
"Another common issue is people not checking over final files thoroughly enough", Joel from Sportful says. "Every company will send through final files before the clothing goes into production and these files are as close of a representation as you can get to how the clothing is going to turn out. Make sure you check your colour codes, sizes, quantities etc... It is a 5-minute job that can again avoid disappointment."
A great piece of advice from Sportful. "It is always good to research your options in anything you do but we can't stress it enough in this field. There are a lot of companies out there that claim to use 'Italian Fabrics' or are 'Engineered in Italy' but there is a lot of word play going on also. A lot of the time these brands are great with their marketing but don't have the quality control and product testing that leading brands do. Most of the time these brands will look great out of the packet, however, the customer more often than not is left deflated after their kit is deteriorating after a few washes."
Brands that feature in the WorldTour or provide clothing to professional teams often indicates quality products, especially if the products the pros are using are available in the company's custom range. The better quality your kit is, the more probability of a rider reaching into their cupboard and grabbing that first.
If you do have sponsors, keep them happy and informed. Send them pictures, have a launch day, maybe even swing them a free kit.
Make a big deal when the new kit does arrive. Organise a group ride with everyone in the new custom creation, and fill up your social media feed with pictures of the team rocking the new team apparel.
The kit will likely be on your back and with the group for 2-3 years, so don't rush the process initially. Make sure you're happy with the design, the cut, the price, the order quantities and do your due diligence to make sure you're happy with everything before hitting go.
Be aware that spearheading the custom clothing process can be a stressful experience, so be patient and offer to help where possible. Trying to get a unanimous decision from a group is nigh on impossible and it's hard to keep everyone happy. So be understanding and keep the energy of the group up throughout the whole process. And if you do have input or suggestions, make them early and make them clear, once the wheels have started spinning it's often too late, and too stressful to try and make changes.