Rapha uses design to translate a passion for the sport of cycle racing into understated, high performance products - and to create a brand that appeals to dedicated, enthusiastic customers.
Cycling enthusiasts Simon Mottram and Luke Scheybeler were convinced that they could translate their passion for cycle racing into a powerful niche brand when they started Rapha three years ago.
They wanted high performance cycling clothing and equipment that appealed to a sophisticated audience - avoiding the bright colours and low cost materials typically used in the sport. They were convinced that good design would create a significant niche for this type of product, right at the top of its market.
The company’s principal product is cycling clothing but its portfolio has expanded rapidly in the three years since start-up to encompass luggage, accessories and even a magazine publishing venture. Today, the company has gone from start-up to £900,000 turnover.
Passion and performance
Bicycle racing is a sport that breeds passion. The sport’s great battles are fought on an epic scale, across the plains and mountains of continents. This is an activity that demands extraordinary commitment from its participants and encourages it in its followers. It’s a sport that has accumulated more than its share of legends, heroes and villains.
Mottram and Scheybeler, both passionate cyclists, were convinced that an opportunity existed for a new type of premium quality cycling brand. They felt that the bicycle apparel industry was failing to deliver products that suited their taste and they set out to build one from the ground up.
Putting design at the heart of the brand
From the beginning, design was going to important to Rapha. Its founders come from the marketing and design sector – creative director Scheybeler had worked as an interaction designer at dot com consultancy Sapient and at brand and digital media consultancy Rufus Leonard. He was involved in some of the high profile internet ventures of the early 21st century including the first internet ventures of major high street banks and travel companies. MD Simon Mottram had left his early accountancy training behind to become a specialist brand consultant, working for, among others, PricewaterhouseCoopers, branding giant Interbrand and Sapient, where he and Scheybeler met.
‘We knew that design was going to be essential to the brand’s success,’ says Mottram. ‘Our initial research told us that our customer base would be very design aware, and we needed to ensure that everything the company made or did would communicate our passion for the sport through design.’
Mottram based his analysis on a comparison of the cycle sport industry with other sports sectors. Where many sports support sales of the core equipment with major markets in clothing and accessories, spend in cycling was heavily skewed towards the bicycles themselves. ‘All the research suggested there was an unexploited niche for high value clothing and accessories,’ says Scheybeler, ‘But at the end of the day, it was our gut feeling about the market that made us go ahead.’
What’s in a name?
The Rapha name comes from deep in the heritage of cycle sport. Rapha was a junior cycle racing team in the 1960s, designed to prepare young cyclists for a career in the professional team sponsored by the St. Raphael drink brand.
‘We broke all the rules when we chose the name,’ says Mottram. ‘When I was in branding I would advise my clients never to use a name that somebody else owns and never to use a name where you can’t get the dot com web address. In the end, we did both. We had to buy the brand name, but it works so well visually and with the brand values that nothing else would do.’