Born out of ne­ces­sity as a house brand for on­line gi­ant Wig­gle, a fo­cus on de­sign, qual­ity and, yes, price, has seen dhb emerge as one of the UK’s big­gest ap­parel brands…

Cycling Plus - - CONTENTS -

A tight-knit de­sign team based in the heart of Lon­don, backed by Wig­gle’s on­line pres­ence.

In­ter­net cy­cling be­he­moth Wig­gle houses its head­quar­ters on the south coast of Eng­land, but tucked away just south of the River Thames in the heart of Lon­don is the de­sign stu­dio of in-house brand dhb. Here, in one of the world’s fash­ion capitals, a team has been turn­ing one of Bri­tish cy­cling’s most pro­saic brands into one that can hold its head high in the most ex­alted com­pany.

Chief de­sign­ers Tom Webb and Nick Un­der­hill are largely re­spon­si­ble for that sea change, though they in­sist the build­ing blocks were al­ready in place.

“Nick and I ar­rived around the same time in 2013, and dhb pro­vided a good foun­da­tion for us to build on: it had a rep­u­ta­tion for pro­duc­ing func­tional kit that peo­ple had as their ba­sics, but when it came to a big ride or event peo­ple would reach for some­thing else. And they would do that even if the per­for­mance wasn’t as good, be­cause it looked bet­ter or made them feel bet­ter. Nick and I could def­i­nitely see that, and so it of­fered us so much op­por­tu­nity. In the last three or so years we’ve been given a lot of room to do what­ever we’ve wanted, and we’ve been head­strong,” Tom tells us.

“We’ve al­ways been the odd­balls in the cor­ner. We are a house brand, and we’re here be­cause of Wig­gle, but we pride our­selves on not be­ing your typ­i­cal house brand. The way we’re set up and given our in­de­pen­dence means we can op­er­ate dif­fer­ently.

“I’ve worked in re­tail and with house brands and it of­ten is lit­er­ally a case of brand­ing up off the shelf prod­ucts, but this setup gives us the abil­ity to flex our de­sign mus­cles and com­pete with the other brands Wig­gle sells,” Nick adds.

Named af­ter the ini­tials of the three founders of Wig­gle, while the small scale and na­ture of dhb’s Lon­don of­fice give the brand an in­de­pen­dent feel, it nat­u­rally ben­e­fits from Wig­gle’s reach and con­tacts when it comes to en­sur­ing their de­signs are de­liv­ered in the form of qual­ity cloth­ing at com­pet­i­tive prices.

“We like to see our­selves as a ‘real world’, down to earth brand, look­ing to of­fer what is still great look­ing kit but at a third of the price of some of our com­peti­tors. We like to see our­selves on the side of the un­der­dog,” says Nick. “To that end be­ing with Wig­gle is a huge ad­van­tage be­cause we have part­ner­ships with key fab­ric mills that a smaller in­de­pen­dent brand wouldn’t be able to de­velop. We can work di­rectly with them to se­lect fab­rics at source, we aren’t work­ing with a fac­tory that pieces things to­gether for us.”

“One of the two fac­to­ries we use in Italy pro­duces kit for Rapha,” ex­plains Tom. “We use the same ma­te­ri­als, but we pride our­selves on not copy­ing them. We wouldn’t be able to call our­selves de­sign­ers if we were just copy­ists.”

Nick re­turns to the theme of de­liv­er­ing prod­uct for ev­ery cy­clist, what­ever their bud­get: “We get sat­is­fac­tion out of match­ing the spec of other brands, us­ing the same fab­rics and the same top-end high-tech pads. We make out of the same parts of Europe, and the de­vel­op­ment we put in is huge.

“But the added sat­is­fac­tion we then get is that peo­ple might not be able to af­ford some of the most pre­mium brands, but they can af­ford dhb, and that’s what drives me: the thought we can do a lot of what they do at our prices. In that, our sup­pli­ers are a great as­set for us.”

Lon­don call­ing

We leave Tom and Nick in the of­fice as we head out to dhb’s favoured test­ing ground of Rich­mond Park with brand man­ager James Pullinger and PR man [at the time] Chris Snook, but Tom is a reg­u­lar in the Park and both de­sign­ers are keen cy­clists who tap into what’s hap­pen­ing on their doorstep.

“The whole Lon­don cy­cling scene has re­ally taken off,” en­thuses Nick, “and to be im­mersed in that and soak it up for in­spi­ra­tion, as a cy­cle brand be­ing in and around Lon­don, Kent and Sur­rey where we ride, it’s great for us.

“We like to see our­selves as a ‘real world ’, down to earth brand, look­ing to of­fer great look­ing kit but at a third of the price of some of our com­peti­tors” Nick Un­der­hill

“Early morn­ings around Re­gents Park and Rich­mond Park are mas­sive. We also ride down in south Lon­don around Crys­tal Palace.”

Tom has seen things de­velop over the years, and no­ticed the broad­en­ing of the pool of com­mit­ted road rid­ers in the cap­i­tal.

“It’s an in­ter­est­ing scene around Re­gents Park,” he tells us. “Ev­ery­body cares about what they wear and how they look. For a long time, be­tween 2001 and 2011, it was a Rapha scene, and mostly peo­ple who worked for Rapha were there be­cause they were dragged there, but it’s re­ally caught on now.

“I ac­tu­ally live next to Rich­mond Park and it’s re­ally di­verse there, you could do a car­i­ca­ture for ev­ery half an hour as to who is go­ing to be rid­ing around the park at any given time. The road­ies will have been and gone early, then you’ll get more old-school rid­ers, then the time-tri­al­lists an­noyed that there are cars there at all… It’s a re­ally broad scene.”

“Then there’s the cot­tage in­dus­try side of be­ing in Lon­don. There are lots of small bike brands pop­ping up and that’s re­ally ex­cit­ing. There’s a lot go­ing on with in­ter­est­ing brands and frame mak­ers,” Nick con­tin­ues.

“On the flip side we do ride sportives and get out of the Lon­don bub­ble,” Tom ex­plains. “Hav­ing been in fash­ion be­fore this, there’s no doubt that Lon­don is a bub­ble and for re­tail­ers in other ar­eas and coun­tries it’s a dif­fer­ent vibe and we have to be aware of that. But it’s not just cy­cling, we’re in­flu­enced by all the things we see in our lives – even choco­late wrap­pers – and we adapt the colours we use to try to up the ante a bit each time.”

Style points

As dhb has upped its game on Nick and Tom’s watch, a range of eye-catch­ing styles has emerged from Lon­don that, while dif­fer­ent from each other, are all in­stantly recog­nis­able as com­ing from the same brand. Colour­ways and print styles link pieces to­gether into out­fits, and a con­sis­tency of de­sign en­sures the whole range sits com­fort­ably to­gether.

Tom talks us through the process: “When we joined there was al­ready a range called bloc, but it didn’t look very nice: it was a Union Jack bro­ken up with flu­oro yel­low zips. It worked for some peo­ple, but we want to hit the right spots for most peo­ple – you can call that com­mer­cial if you want, but we don’t look at it that way, it’s about get­ting the right feel.

“We took that range and used the plus sign de­sign that be­came a bit of a sig­na­ture in a va­ri­ety of sizes, ran with a blue and orange colour scheme, and went from sell­ing £500-a-week worth of kit in that range to £10,000-a-week.

“That’s con­tin­ued to the point that we’re grow­ing now and we’ll want to bring peo­ple in who can do some of the prints in­stead of me, and that’s a chal­lenge. Be­cause I have to lock my­self away for a cou­ple of weeks to get, say, 30 dif­fer­ent prints done.”

“We’ve achieved the con­sis­tency you iden­tify with a small team, and one of the chal­lenges of grow­ing will be main­tain­ing that as­pect of dhb – that it is in­stantly recog­nis­able,” Nick chips in.

Time to dye

While at the of­fice we were shown a range of swatches for up­com­ing dhb ranges, which led to won­der­ing about the turn­around be­tween sketch­ing a new de­sign locked in a home of­fice to that jer­sey pop­ping up on the Wig­gle site.

“We’ve been work­ing on a new de­sign for our top-end ASV range for a while. It goes through a very rig­or­ous test­ing process, then we get the man­u­fac­turer to re­vise, say, the in­te­grated grip­per so it works the way we want, then com­mit to so many thou­sands of or­ders so they will do for us what they would do for As­sos...” says Tom.

“It can be two years to get that far,” in­ter­jects Nick, “then an­other year to see the re­sults.”

“For our core ranges we have a quicker turn­around. We have fab­rics and shapes that we know work – although we’re al­ways test­ing new ones – and with Euro­pean fac­to­ries we can check sam­ples and make amend­ments quickly. It can be as lit­tle as six weeks,” Tom con­tin­ues.

“We can also go di­rect to mar­ket through Wig­gle the mo­ment stuff is ready,” adds Nick, “so there is no time lost in whole­sal­ing, dis­tri­bu­tion or a long check­ing process where changes can end up be­ing made just so some­one has some­thing to say in a meet­ing.

“Be­ing self-con­tained we avoid that, although it does mean that if some­thing doesn’t do well we can’t point at some­one else and say that they said it was al­right!”

“We’re in­flu­enced by all the things we see in our lives – even choco­late wrap­per s–and we adapt the colours we use to try to up the ante a bit each time” TomWebb

James, Chris and CP show off some dhb to the other posers in the Rich­mond Park cafe

Though work­ing in­de­pen­dently, dhb’s staff are quick to ac­knowl­edge its debt to Wig­gle

The Lon­don staff at dhb of­ten put their kit to the test rid­ing at Rich­mond Park

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