July 4th 2013
Tony O’Donnell looks at up-
In his book Primal Branding, marketing sage Patrick Conlan proposes that the “creation story” is one of seven factors that help to create “zealots” for a brand; not simply customers, but adherents to (and evangelists for) its values and principles. Take the creation story of Apple: the two Steves, Jobs and Wozniak, build their first computer in the latter's garage. Or Nike: cofounder Bill Bowerman wrecks his wife's waffle iron creating the company's first athletic shoe sole in his basement. While only a few years into its life, cyclewear brand Torm (the slashed "o" in their logo is a nod in the direction of their Scandinavian fabric supplier) is already finding champions of its own. Let's have a look at its creation story.
To say that Torm exploded onto the scene would be an exaggeration. Towards the end
of 2010, reports began to surface on internet cycling forums of a new cyclewear manufacturer
It didn't take long for Torm to come to the attention of Rapha. Even if you're not
a cyclist, you are likely to have seen Rapha's products, as they are official kit
suppliers to Team Sky. The London company is one of the world's best known suppliers
When Torm appeared with their offer of a cycling jersey comparable with Rapha's equivalent
in style and quality, but at a fraction of the price, it was inevitable that swords
would be crossed sooner or later. "Sigh… can everyone stop ripping off my shit please?"
tweeted Rapha co-
What Torm and Rapha had, and continue to have, in common is their use of Sportwool
fabric, a blend of polyester and merino wool developed by the Australian company
CSIRO. What is this magical merino stuff, anyway? Exhaustive research (alright,
a show of hands on Twitter) revealed just how little people know about the origins
of the voguish wonder fibre. In response to the question "What does the word 'merino'
mean to you?" most respondents recognised that merino is a kind of wool, and that
garments made from it are warm and comfortable, even when wet. Several mentioned
its ability to stay fresh-
Merino wool, as the name suggests, comes from the merino sheep, a variety of woollyback
found almost exclusively in Australia. It is one of the finest of wools available
By blending the qualities of merino with the durability and ease of care of polyester,
you get Sportwool, the fabric from which all Torm jerseys and base layers are made.
I looked at Torm's T12 short sleeved jersey, which comes in a striking Italian tricolore
and caters perfectly to my chronic italophilia. I road tested the jersey on a cool
June evening, with the temperature hovering in the low teens. I should mention that
previously my experience of cycling jerseys has been confined to polyester/lycra
blends, and that Sportwool, therefore, was new to me. The first sensation on pulling
on the jersey was the pleasant warmth of the fabric against my skin. The fit of
the jersey is close, tailored even, with the sleeves feeling high and tight when
I reach for the hoods. It's worth mentioning that sizing is on the small side, though
the website gives advice for customers looking for an athletic "race" look, as well
as those preferring a more relaxed fit. The drop back is of perfect length, with
no tendency to ride up -
When I spoke to Paul Higginson, one of the two co-
The Outdoor Times: So, can we talk about Rapha?
Paul Higginson: Well, to give you the potted history… when Charlie started the company he saw a gap in the market. He was aware of Rapha and Shutt at the time, and what he tried to do was come up with something with the best features of all the jerseys out there. I think Rapha got slightly upset with it, so Charlie just stopped trading for a week or so to talk to the lawyers, who basically told him, “You can't copyright a fashion”. But Charlie took the pragmatic approach, he sat down with Simon [Mottram, Rapha MD] and talked about it, and agreed to make some adjustments. We haven't heard from them since but in any case by now we've started to differentiate our jerseys with different zip pullers, different designs and so on. But anyway, that's before my and Alan's time.
OT: I understand that recently you've had an issue with your supply of fabric?
PH: If you're a manufacturer of [Sportwool] fabrics you have to license it through CSIRO, so it's not proprietary to any one firm. But the mill that supplies us has said that due to certain other supply agreements they have had to restrict the specific composition of the fabric supplied to us. But we've come up with an alternative specification that we're happy with, and we think our customers will be too.
Paul and his business partner Alan Parkinson are the self-
OT: What's remarkable about Torm is the price point. Even the long-
PH: We've considered that over the last two years and decided we could do one of
two things: either maintain the margin we've got now by whatever means, or jump up
the [retail] price and get third-
OT: But is it difficult to keep it small? Surely the temptation is always there to tweak a few things and go for the volume?
PH: Well Alan and I have a wonderful partnership. He's very pragmatic, whereas I'm
used to building things. We both have the same view and that is, it has got to be
small, otherwise it starts to dictate what we want from life. Our passion is cycling,
our passion is running the local bike shop. If we can, we'll open a second bike
shop in the next town over, those are the kind of things we want. At first we worried
that [by staying small] we'd run out of stock on things -
OT: Do you go overseas to your suppliers for sourcing and quality assurance? Am I right in assuming you have the jerseys made abroad?
PH: You're spot on with that. Charlie set everything up. The fabric's manufactured in Denmark; we've never had any problems with the quality, or the colour work they've done, so we've never felt the need to go to them. I've thought a couple of times about going to Vietnam to see the factory [where the jerseys are made] and talk to the people, but every time I've got close something has come up. We have a series of patterns in the works with them at the moment, and when you start to develop a new jersey there are so many variables, be they colours or trims. There'll come a point where I go to see them, but at the moment I'm speaking to them at least twice a week.
OT: I never see any Torm advertising anywhere -
PH: So it is. We talked about the possibilities for marketing, advertising or whatever and we decided that we'd do no paid advertising, and that we'd let the quality of the product get out through word of mouth, riders speaking to each other, forums. I have this aversion to paying to announce your presence. We've got a lot of local riders who wear our stuff, and we get so much positive feedback via emails and on Twitter saying that other riders had asked them about their jersey. Again, we're comfortable with that because it allows us to grow at a rate where we won't disappoint too many people.
OT: Do you export any of your products?
PH: Oh, every day a package goes over the water. You get patches of interest arising from blogs out there… I'd guess 30 to 40% of our sales are overseas.
OT: And that's without any kind of formal export strategy?
PH: Most of our overseas sales are in the US and Australia, with quite a bit to Scandinavia, Belgium, France… it comes in patches. Where I have to work hardest is to help those customers work out their sizes and so on. If a customer from abroad sends a jersey back because it's the wrong size, I feel obliged to pay the postage when replacing it. Anyway, we're comfortable with that from an environmental perspective because we believe that the quality and longevity of the garment offset the effects of the transportation.
OT: Do you have a sustainability policy?
PH: We don't have many policies, to be honest! Al and I have our board meetings in the pub, we chat about things and think, okay, that'll be fine. As far as it goes, our policy is this: while I'm aware of the environmental benefits of manufacturing in the UK, I also know how much we'd have to be able to sell the jersey at to be able to so. In terms of the carbon footprint of the garment, the laundering of the garment during its lifetime far outweighs any environmental cost of transport, so I'm comfortable with that. In any case, with the merino it doesn't need washing as often. The paradox is that if we don't use natural fibres the climate will change and we won't be able to grow it any more. So no, we don’t have a policy, but we’re very aware of it.
OT: Do you have any plans to expand Torm into other product areas?
PH: No, we don't want to rip the brand apart by offering things we're not passionate
about for the sake of making money. So there will be no cufflinks, no cups, no caps,
no socks! Actually, we take our inspiration from [jeans manufacturer] Hiut Denim
Three years into Torm's lifetime, the brand seems set to thrive. After a slightly
dubious foundation, it has differentiated itself under the stewardship of its new
owners, and now offers its own range of attractive design and colour options through
a smart website. The brand has established its own identity, and seems very comfortable
in its own Sportwool-
As a creation story, it's not bad: cycling enthusiast founds derivative cyclewear company, gets his wrists slapped; under enlightened new management, the brand begins to find its own identity and niche, and the makings of a loyal customer base. The irony is that if Torm had been allowed to follow its original path as a Raphalike, it might have quickly faded into obscurity. So, next time you're out on the tarmac, keep an eye out for Torm; if you haven't seen one of their jerseys yet, you soon will.
You can find out more about Torm at their website, www.torm.cc
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