‘They were just mesmerised by the whole process of getting dressed for a ride. Why you wear a base layer and what goes over what. And we kind of let them run with it because we found it fascinating to see all the different combinations. Long sleeved base layers with a short sleeved jersey; the sock length conversation.’
Maria Olsson is describing the first face-to-face meeting between Rapha – where she oversees projects as their Head of Design – and recreational brand Outdoor Voices. Following an introduction by a mutual friend, the two teams came together in the summer of 2018 for a cycling adventure in Mallorca; the smile on Maria’s face as she tells her story hinting at the sense of fun and discovery they all enjoyed during this Mediteranean idyll.
‘Outdoor Voices has a mission to Get The World Moving and this really spoke to us at Rapha,’ explains Maria. ‘But although they believe that Doing Things is the surest way to a happy and healthy life, they didn’t do cycling and that’s what we’re all about. So why not bring them along on a journey to discover how they feel about riding bikes?’
For the experienced Rapha cyclists, the group rides they hosted proved an informative opportunity to view the ride process from a non-cycling perspective. But as the trip coincided with the Mallorca 312 sportive, when it came to booking bike hire for their US guests, they soon came to realise that most of the island’s rental bikes were already accounted for. Managing to locate a bike shop able to accommodate their requirements, the Rapha team then discovered they’d been allocated a number of incredibly expensive titanium bikes. When the Outdoor Voices party turned up – in full Rapha kit but wearing trainers and asking how the brakes worked – Maria recounts how the young girl behind the shop counter appeared a little anxious.
‘After we’d reassured her that we all worked in cycling and would look after everyone, we got ourselves sorted and off we went. And they all excelled; shouting greetings to the other cyclists they passed as they pedalled up the climbs in their flat shoes. For us, so accustomed to all the etiquette and unspoken rules of riding – which can sometimes be a little daunting when you first start out – it was refreshing to spend time with the Outdoor Voices team who were so completely not precious about the whole experience. And in terms of this shared journey, we learned so much about how cycling should be and how it can feel for people when they get that first burst of excitement from riding a bike.’
Punctuating the group riding with team meetings, although Maria’s designers had arrived with a range of fabric samples, it was the island itself that ultimately provided the inspiration for the colours and graphics of each individual item.
‘The weather was beautiful and we’d all bonded over our sensory enjoyment of these beautiful landscapes. And this shared appreciation coalesced around the theme of terrazzo which is commonly used in Spanish architecture. A flooring material that you almost forget to notice in its subtlety.’
‘But this is what’s so exciting,’ Maria continues, ‘because we didn’t arrive in Mallorca with this reference but left with a unifying theme for the collection. The small pieces of brightly coloured marble and glittery granite that are set into the concrete flooring spoke to us of individual elements that brought together, form something whole and beautiful. Much the same way that cycling can build communities and enrich the lives of those that ride.’
Reflecting on the various steps her designers have taken since these initial concept stages, Maria describes how fundamentally they set out to make the best possible cycling kit but with a mindset that acknowledges just how much fun you can have when riding a bike. That the aesthetics of the range represent a certain lightheartedness and a sense of inclusivity that are vital aspects of the sport she herself loves.
‘We want everyone who buys into the range to feel happy wearing it on the bike,’ she suggests. ‘In terms of its functionality – because that’s what we do at Rapha – but also in their emotional response to the designs. We want you to know how amazing you look.’
‘So between us, we agreed who was going to own what parts of the range. My team at Rapha designing the specific cycling elements and Outdoor Voices taking charge of the t-shirt and sports bra because that’s what they do really well. We followed up with regular online catch-ups before they flew over to London where we had a fit session with the first prototypes. The whole process taking over a year and a half to come to fruition but that’s because we took the collaboration really seriously and wanted to launch a range that felt 100% right.’
With the individual pieces offering a host of innovative features and details, the idea for the overlapping panels in the wind jacket was influenced by the Outdoor Voices yoga clothes that wrap around the body to make the wearer feel supported and comfortable. An aesthetic motif that was translated into a Rapha functional feature with the ventilated back of the bib shorts.
‘We got through so many prototypes to get everything right,’ explains Maria with a smile. ‘The jacket alone had five or six versions before it was signed off. But it’s all about refining each stage so that it works exactly how we want it to work.’
‘Playing with this theme of transformations, we considered the on and off bike uses for each piece of the collection. Adding a sense of fun with these little discoverables such as the Essentials Case that you can take with you when you go to the shop. And because we had some excess material in the lay plan that we could put to good use, why not?’
Not only were Rapha and Outdoor Voices sharing the same design journey, the collaboration extended to feedback from the Canyon-SRAM women’s cycling team. Frustrated with traditional cap designs and wanting to accommodate their long hair, the professional riders requested a space in the rear panel that would allow them to ride comfortably with a ponytail. A female-specific problem that Maria argues isn’t a gimmick but a reasoned and functional response.
‘Every collaboration is different,’ she concludes, ‘and I really believe in what we’ve achieved with Outdoor Voices. There’s been an enormous amount of hard work from everyone involved but it’s also been super fun. I’m not sure exactly how it happened but for this project it’s been predominantly women on my team. We’ve compromised together and we’ve agreed together. And after years of working at Rapha, I can honestly say that my female colleagues are the most amazing women I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet.’
Modelled in Manchester by Georgia Keats
Sketchbook imagery kindly provided by Agata Jasinska
Photography by @openautograph