It’s A Swedish Thing

At Poc, the de­sign of the prod­ucts and the prin­ci­ples of the com­pany are all driven by a strong sense of na­tional iden­tity

Cyclist - - Contents - Words SAM CHAL­LIS Pho­tog­ra­phy FRED MACGRE­GOR

Why a sense of na­tional iden­tity is the driv­ing force be­hind prod­uct de­sign at Poc

The Swedish are ob­sessed by light. When Cy­clist vis­its Stockholm just af­ter mid­sum­mer, there’s an un­com­mon clar­ity to the light in this part of the world that’s in­fec­tious – it can’t fail but make you feel op­ti­mistic. It’s no real sur­prise, then, that the HQ of Poc, a brand to­tally and ut­terly Swedish by its own ad­mis­sion, lux­u­ri­ates in a huge amount of nat­u­ral light.

It pro­vides a sense of calm in the work­ing en­vi­ron­ment, yet con­sid­er­ing the growth tra­jec­tory of the rel­a­tively young brand over the past few years, ef­fi­ciency doesn’t seem to have been dulled by the re­laxed at­mos­phere.

‘I’d pin the root cause of our devel­op­ment on our in­her­ent Swedish­ness,’ says Poc’s global PR man­ager, Damian Phillips. It’s an in­trigu­ing com­ment con­sid­er­ing Phillips is from Wales. He moved to Stockholm to join Poc four years ago and now can’t imag­ine liv­ing any­where else.

‘Swedish cul­ture has democ­racy and egal­i­tar­i­an­ism at its core. It’s quite an eye-opener com­ing from the UK. In Swe­den truly any­one can do what­ever they want – the coun­try has the largest start-up rate in Europe be­cause in­no­va­tion is en­cour­aged. We’re al­ways try­ing to in­no­vate.’

We move around the serene, open-plan space and get to a bank of work­sta­tions. Desk spa­ces ap­pear per­sonal yet all main­tain a ho­moge­nous, el­e­gant style – it’s no dif­fer­ent to Poc’s wide-rang­ing yet con­sis­tent prod­uct cat­a­logue.

‘Ev­ery­one in­volved with prod­uct sits more or less to­gether,’ says Phillips. ‘It helps with com­mu­ni­ca­tion, plus we en­joy each other’s com­pany.’

While they aren’t sep­a­rated by much ge­o­graph­i­cally, tem­po­rally the span might be two to three years, with prod­uct devel­op­ment sit­ting to the right, work­ing sea­sons ahead,

‘Swedish cul­ture has democ­racy and egal­i­tar­i­an­ism at its core. In Swe­den truly any­one can do what­ever they want’

and mar­ket­ing, sit­ting to the left, fo­cused on the here and now.

The brand may have come a long way from its hum­ble begin­nings but the pur­pose has re­mained un­changed. ‘Poc is a Swedish com­pany with a mis­sion to do the best we pos­si­bly can to save lives and re­duce the con­se­quences of ac­ci­dents for grav­ity sports ath­letes and cy­clists,’ Phillips re­cites. ‘You’ll see that writ­ten about the place, on our web­site and prod­ucts – all we do is to fur­ther that mis­sion.’

The dawn of Poc

Poc was con­ceived about 11 years ago by Ste­fan Yt­ter­born. ‘He had the idea of Poc on a ski lift – he was a ski racer and he has two sons who were both into rac­ing, so they were on a usual train­ing week­end,’ Phillips says. ‘Look­ing at his sons wear­ing poor-qual­ity hel­mets – the only ones avail­able at the time – he thought there must be a bet­ter way to do pro­tec­tion for rac­ers. That was where he had his eu­reka mo­ment and Poc was born, along with the mis­sion.’

Yt­ter­born stepped back from the com­pany at the start of 2016 to pur­sue a ven­ture in e-moun­tain bikes, but his ideals still in­form the way Poc goes about its busi­ness.

‘Ste­fan’s back­ground was in de­sign con­sul­tancy,’ says Phillips. ‘He worked with Ikea and other fur­ni­ture com­pa­nies. He was very de­sign-fo­cused but wanted to make some­thing that had a bet­ter pur­pose than purely look­ing good. That’s where he re­alised that to be rel­e­vant and com­pet­i­tive peo­ple had to have pro­tec­tion that they en­joyed wear­ing. That meant never scrimp­ing on the prod­uct, but for it to be the best he thought we needed the best ev­i­dence, the best tech­nol­ogy to un­der­pin our de­signs. So he im­me­di­ately cre­ated two fo­rums: Poc Lab and Watts Lab. These are pan­els of in­de­pen­dent

sci­en­tists that help ad­vise us on safety and per­for­mance re­spec­tively.’

De­spite its best in­ten­tions, it took a stroke of luck to put Poc on the map. Amer­i­can skier Ju­lia Man­cuso was a ris­ing star when she signed with Poc be­fore the 2006 Win­ter Olympics in Sestriere, Italy, but had yet to win any­thing ma­jor. To­tally un­ex­pect­edly she won gold, and ques­tions started to be asked about who her hel­met and gog­gle spon­sor was.

‘The whole of Swe­den was root­ing for Anna Ot­tos­son, who ended up third,’ says Phillips. ‘But there were these five guys in Stockholm in the Poc of­fice go­ing mad for Ju­lia.’

With Poc’s her­itage rooted in snows­ports, the com­pany only branched into cy­cling around four years ago, and it took an­other chance ex­po­sure for the brand to get its foot in the door in the road mar­ket.

‘At the 2014 Giro d’italia Ry­der Hes­jedal wore our Do Blade

‘In­stead of mak­ing prod­ucts that helped mit­i­gate the ef­fect of a col­li­sion we fo­cused on pre­vent­ing that col­li­sion’

sun­glasses. He got in the break one day, so got loads of airtime. The re­ac­tion to the glasses on so­cial me­dia was crazy, as they didn’t look like per­for­mance glasses did at the time,’ says Phillips.

Ac­cord­ing to Phillips, the com­pany’s mis­sion meant it was al­ways just go­ing to be a mat­ter of time be­fore Poc got into road cy­cling – af­ter all, few other sports in­volve such great risk and such lit­tle pro­tec­tion. That is why Poc is best known for its first kit ini­tia­tive, AVIP.

Phillips walks us over to meet Poc’s head of ap­parel, Mon­ica Lind­ström. She is so quintessen­tially Scan­di­na­vian in ap­pear­ance – stylish and ath­letic with blonde hair and blue eyes – that Cy­clist won­ders if she is merely an ac­tor, em­ployed for the day to re­in­force Poc’s Swedish cre­den­tials, but the pas­sion with which she speaks con­vinces us that Poc’s soft goods projects are very close to her heart.

‘AVIP stands for at­ten­tion, vis­i­bil­ity, in­ter­ac­tion, pro­tec­tion,’ she ex­plains. ‘We knew early on try­ing to sell pro­tec­tion to road cy­clists would be re­ally hard be­cause they like to wear their skin-tight Ly­cra. So we looked at the sta­tis­tics and science

‘The re­ac­tion to the Do Blade glasses was crazy, as they didn’t look like per­for­mance glasses did at the time’

be­hind the dan­ger in road cy­cling by con­sult­ing the mem­bers of Poc Lab. Cy­clists crash, but the worst in­juries are caused by col­li­sions with cars. So in­stead of mak­ing prod­ucts that helped mit­i­gate the ef­fect of a col­li­sion we fo­cused

on pre­vent­ing that col­li­sion from hap­pen­ing, with colours and pat­terns that have been proven to im­prove vis­i­bil­ity from 120m to 670m.’

Sim­i­lar think­ing was em­ployed to cre­ate Poc’s orig­i­nal and best-sell­ing road prod­uct, the Oc­tal hel­met.

Head of af­fairs

We meet a Poc stal­wart, Os­car Huss, who is head of hard goods and has been here al­most from the very be­gin­ning. We’re in a large, airy room where 3D-printed models of all of Poc’s hel­mets in var­i­ous devel­op­ment phases line one wall.

‘We let the con­struc­tion of the Oc­tal be in­formed by crash data pro­vided by Poc Lab, rather than make them in the con­ven­tional way,’ says Huss. ‘Try­ing to satisfy the safety is­sues we recog­nised an ex­ter­nal mono­coque shell would be bet­ter, rather than use a skele­ton within the EPS as was nor­mal. This pro­vided more im­pact travel in the EPS liner and it was lighter. Now many of our com­peti­tors make hel­mets in this way.’

The Oc­tal has a very dis­tinc­tive shape, with a large ex­haust por­tion at the rear that ex­tends out and back rather than curve round like other hel­mets on the mar­ket. This shape was also in­formed by safety data, yet Huss recog­nises that it can’t be about pro­tec­tion at all costs.

‘We never com­mu­ni­cate aes­thet­ics, be­cause that is in the eye of the be­holder, how­ever we feel re­spon­si­ble for the looks be­cause we know that the safest hel­met is the one you ac­tu­ally wear,’ he says. He pro­duces two hel­mets in the bright green of the Can­non­dale-dra­pac pro team. Both are de­stroyed.

‘These are the hel­mets worn by Da­vide For­molo and Toms Sku­jiņš in their re­spec­tive crashes re­cently – watch out, Sku­jiņš’ has quite a bit of blood on it. Take a look at where the im­pacts hap­pened.’

Both are in the same spot, ex­actly where the hel­met has been built up at the rear.

‘We have these hel­mets com­ing in reg­u­larly off these guys and it’s al­most oddly re­as­sur­ing that de­spite the

crash the hel­met is do­ing its job in the way it was de­signed. Our hel­mets are recog­nised, even crit­i­cised, for hav­ing a larger back end, but there is a rea­son for that. There is a rea­son be­hind ev­ery­thing we do.’

The cut­ting edge

Per­for­mance ra­tio­nale is pro­vided by Poc’s sec­ond fo­rum of ex­perts, Watts Lab. Its work is usu­ally con­ducted in a $100mil­lion wind-tun­nel fa­cil­ity owned by Volvo, with whom Poc is a close work­ing part­ner. Some of the prod­ucts this brain trust has de­vel­oped are quite in­trigu­ing.

‘Let me get Gus­tav Lars­son’s bust,’ says Huss. He brings in a scale model of the Swedish time-tri­al­list’s top half, tucked in his rac­ing po­si­tion. ‘Swedish Cy­cling came to us be­fore the Lon­don Olympics want­ing the fastest hel­met for Gus­tav. He’s known as a very ac­com­plished time-tri­al­list purely be­cause of the way he holds his body. His shoul­der span is 38cm and he never moves, so we were able to make him this, the Tem­por.’

What Huss pro­duces looks like the hel­met that Jug­ger­naught from X-men would wear if he was con­cerned about his drag co­ef­fi­cient.

‘We can un­equiv­o­cally say this hel­met is the fastest in the world if you are a sim­i­lar build to Gus­tav Lars­son and don’t move your head at all. It tooks hours of CFD drag anal­y­sis and with­out the Watts Lab

‘We feel re­spon­si­ble for the looks be­cause we know that the safest hel­met is the one you ac­tu­ally wear’

would never have been pos­si­ble. Although he missed out in Lon­don, Lars­son won the Swedish Na­tional TT Cham­pi­onships four years run­ning.’

Poc’s work at the top end of the sport ex­tends be­yond na­tional bound­aries, thanks to its long-term spon­sor­ship of Can­non­dale-dra­pac.

‘We’ve al­ways been pro­duct­fo­cused – get the best ath­letes in it and let the prod­ucts do the talk­ing,’ says Phillips. ‘We did this be­cause we wanted to build a trust­wor­thy brand. To do that you need to gain trust from the most trust­wor­thy peo­ple, so we con­sid­ered plenty of pro teams be­fore we went with Jonathan Vaugh­ters’ set-up. He man­ages it in a unique way and our at­ti­tudes suit each other.

‘They have very strict pro­to­cols for con­cus­sion and em­pha­sise rider safety and sus­tain­abil­ity. This year we moved on to pro­vide all their kit – we are look­ing for­ward to de­vel­op­ing with them as it’s a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial re­la­tion­ship. Their feed­back is an­other in­valu­able re­source to draw from when de­vel­op­ing our prod­ucts.’

That Poc now sup­plies the en­tire kit for Can­non­dale-dra­pac is a state­ment of the com­pany’s in­tent, and Phillips says the com­pany wants to con­tinue forg­ing into the road mar­ket. ‘There are so many ar­eas we can ex­plore to make the sport safer and per­for­mance bet­ter,’ he says. ‘The road mar­ket is very tra­di­tional, so it’s not easy to en­ter. Now we’re a se­ri­ous player in it we’ll con­tinue to try and in­no­vate and in­flu­ence the mar­ket, just as we have al­ready. Like I said, it’s our Swedish­ness that is the key.’

Cy­clist ’s visit is com­ing to an end and it’s time for a late lunch. ‘What’s on the menu?’ We ask Phillips. He looks at us in­cred­u­lously. ‘Uh, meat­balls of course.’ Sam Chal­lis is edi­to­rial as­sis­tant at Cy­clist and en­joys a swede now and then

‘We’ve al­ways been prod­uct-fo­cused – get the best ath­letes in it and let the prod­uct do the talk­ing’

The Swedes love their light, as demon­strated in the airy sur­round­ings of Poc’s Stockholm HQ

Above: 3D-printed ver­sions of Poc’s hel­met de­signs line one wall in the main meet­ing room

Left and be­low: Poc has spon­sored the hel­mets and sun­glasses of the Can­non­dale-dra­pac World­tour team for a num­ber of sea­sons now, but this year moved to pro­vide the rid­ers’ en­tire out­fits

Left and be­low: Poc reg­u­larly re­ceives de­stroyed hel­mets back from Can­non­daleDra­pac fol­low­ing crashes. ‘We wel­come the op­por­tu­nity to re­ceive them be­cause it con­firms that our devel­op­ment meth­ods work,’ says head of prod­uct devel­op­ment Os­car Huss

Left: Although the bulk of pro­duc­tion is com­pleted else­where, pro­to­type and sam­ple prod­ucts are made at Poc HQ, then tested by em­ploy­ees on their reg­u­lar lunchtime rides

Be­low: In its rel­a­tively short his­tory Poc has won nearly 60 in­dus­try and de­sign awards

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