Rapha’s understated apparel has become a favourite with design-conscious riders. But now, the brand is handing over control to its customers, allowing cyclists to create bespoke team kits via an online platform developed in collaboration with London tech startup Unmade.
Customers can choose from eight standard layouts and over 40 colour combinations, along with graphic patterns which can be rotated or scaled up and down. They can also add their own team logos. Once the design is complete, customers can view photographs showing the kit on a model and share a link to the design with their teammates before placing an order. They can also book a kit fitting appointment and view fabric swatches and brochures at Rapha stores. Designs are digitally printed on demand, and delivered within eight weeks.
Announcing the new service, Ed Clifford, Head of Rapha Custom, said: “Custom team kits have traditionally required high manual involvement in the design and production process, with a poor user experience and long lead times. Manual art working and setting up print files for production is costly and not scalable for large volumes.” With Rapha Custom, however, Rapha and Unmade have developed an intuitive interface and an automated process that allows the brand to produce small batches of bespoke products at scale.
Founded by RCA graduates Kirsty Emery, Hal Watts and Ben Alun-Jones, Unmade has created customisation interfaces for Christopher Raeburn, Opening Ceremony and Farfetch. Along with developing front-end experiences for consumers, the London-based startup works with brands to oversee the supply chain and manufacturing process for personalised products.
Speaking to CR last year, Watts said he hoped the company’s technology could help brands reduce waste by allowing them to produce products in smaller runs and offer personalised experiences that go beyond selecting a colour or adding your initials to a product.
“Every customisation experience has traditionally been about clicking on a product and choosing a colour and that’s largely down to supply chain limitations…. One thing we’re trying to get across is that customisation doesn’t have to be that,” he told CR. “There’s lots of different ways you can customise a product and structure that experience to reflect the heritage [or story] of a brand and that’s something brands haven’t done much at all.”
Allowing customers complete creative freedom is a daunting prospect for brands. But Unmade’s technology allows brands to set some parameters. Rapha Custom offers thousands of different combinations but customers aren’t given completely free rein – instead, they can choose from colours, patterns and fonts developed by Rapha’s design team.
“It’s about making something that’s open and can be changed but at the same time making sure every product is of a high standard,” Alun-Jones tells CR.
“Rapha had lots of discussions internally about how open they should make this and the end result is something that lets anyone design their own team kit, but with fonts and colours that work with every item in the range,” he continues. “They’ve really worked on making sure you have that freedom and flex but you can still trust that the final product will be really well made. At the same time, everyone at Rapha is super aware that this is a completely new offering. It’s not the same as when you buy mainline Rapha – this is something that lets you and your team express yourselves.”
The Custom service has launched with two ranges – Classic and Pro – and Rapha says more designs will be added in future. Alun-Jones says Unmade and Rapha adopted an iterative approach to the design process, testing the platform with consumers before its launch. One of the biggest challenges was creating an automated system that could accurately reproduce a wide range of colours and designs and optimise designs for different sizes.
While mainstream sports brands have long been experimenting with customisation (Nike’s iD service being just one example), premium brands have been slower to adopt this technology. But Alun-Jones believes that we will soon see more brands launching personalised offerings. Business of Fashion and McKinsey’s Global Fashion Survey identified personalisation as the number one trend of 2018 – a trend that the report puts down to “consumers’ growing desire to use their fashion choices to express their own style, self-image and values”.
“The hard thing with customisation is that it does force brands to think about things in a new way – it’s not normal that you let customers change parts of your products, or that you have to wait a bit longer for products to arrive … but it feels like there is a change happening in the industry,” says Alun-Jones. “I hope we’re starting to see brands understanding that there does need to be a change in the relationship between brand and customer.”
With any custom experience, Alun-Jones says it’s vital to create an engaging experience that won’t leave consumers feeling overwhelmed. “It needs to be clear what you’re asking the customer to take part in,” he says. “You want people to play with [an] experience and think, ‘that was really cool, and I’ve made some great stuff’, not ‘I’ve produced so much stuff and now I’ve got lost in it’. With Rapha Custom, there are a lot more options than with some of the other work we’ve done, but I think because you’re designing for your team, you’re going into it with an idea in mind [of what you want to create].”
In a separate project, Rapha has also launched three bespoke typefaces – Rapha Sans, Rapha Sans Condensed and Rapha Serif – designed by London foundry Commercial Type.
As Rapha’s Associate Art Director Patrick Wylde-Mafham explains, Rapha had used the same two typefaces – Trade Gothic and Adobe Caslon – since it was founded in 2004, but wanted a bespoke set of fonts that could work across multiple platforms.
New typeface Rapha Sans Condensed is based on Trade Gothic – a typeface that Wylde-Mafham says captured the “golden era” of cycling which inspired the brand’s visual aesthetic.
“Trade Gothic was our primary brand typeface. It was really utilitarian and reminiscent of European advertising in the mid 20th century … and it really spoke to the cycling vernacular of that time,” he explains. “Rapha Sans Condensed speaks to those same principles – it’s very usable and versatile, but speaks subtly to cycling’s history.”
Rapha Sans provides a more versatile alternative to Rapha Sans Condensed (as Wylde-Mafham points out, condensed typefaces are great for headlines, but not for smaller text). The sans typeface was also created to reflect Rapha’s new focus on technical innovation: when Rapha started out, it appealed largely to ardent cycling fans with a knowledge of the sport’s past, and its aesthetic was rooted in the 1960s and 70s, with products and communications inspired by team kits and ephemera from the era. Now, however, it is aimed at new as well as experienced riders and has created a wide range of pro team products, including the skin suit worn by Team Sky in the Tour de France.
“We’re much more about innovation now than we were [when the company was founded] and we needed a typeface to communicate that,” says Wylde-Mafham.
A third typeface, Rapha Serif, is closely modelled on Adobe Caslon, and Wylde-Mafham says this will be used for content or output which celebrates cycling stories of old. “That’s great for talking about things in cycling’s history, which we’ll always do because we’re romantic about the sport,” he adds.
The new typefaces rolled out online last week and Wydle-Mafham says they will appear on products from 2020.