Located in Fonzaso, at the foot of the Dolomites, Sportful’s headquarters is ideally located to inspire and refine the technical clothing that makes the Italian company one of the cycling world’s leading producers of cycling apparel.
Whilst the bulk of production no longer takes place in this idyllic setting, the heart and soul of the company is still firmly rooted in the heartland of Italian cycling. Drops partnership with Sportful started this year, but the company has a pedigree in specialist clothing for athletes going back to 1972 when founder Giordano Cremonese took up Cross Country Skiing and discovered the kit available to him wasn’t up to the task and began to produce his own.
The natural parallels between the clothing for the winter sport and cycling, which was the summer activity of many of his competitors, soon led him to start experimenting with cycling clothing. As the clothing developed, so did the list of clients. Italian super-team Mapei were Sportful’s first significant partnership. However the clothing brand will perhaps be best known for their iconic Italian team outfits for the World Championship and Olympic teams in the era when Paulo Bettini was a threat in any one day race. However despite impressive team exposure, Glen McKibben, a twenty year veteran of the sports clothing industry and manager of Sportful’s relationship with Drops, explains for Sportful the most important rider is the one that buys their clothing for their own rides. “We don’t like to supply pro teams just to say we supply pro teams. Part of it is making sure we get that feedback from the riders to make better products. If you see a guy on your local ride wearing Sportful, you know that’s a guy who cares about the performance of their clothing and that’s what motivates us… how to improve that rider’s experience on the bike.” Even in the earliest days of the collaboration between Sportful and Drops the company were impressed with the team’s outlook and ambition. “From the very first meeting with Bob when we discussed coming aboard as a technical partner, I was blown away by the enthusiasm, the professionalism and the desire to do something new and exciting for women’s cycling. It’s rare to come across a new team with such a clear vision of where they want to be and how to get there.”
For Glen, the first interaction with the riders and staff was the early season training camp in January, when he travelled to Majorca to issue the riders with the first batches of their new kit, take measurements for special items and introduce Sportful as a brand and a partner. “From the start I was really impressed with all the girls’ professionalism and their willingness to give feedback and to tell me exactly what they needed. In some cases you’ve got young women of eighteen or nineteen years who are absolutely in tune with what they demand of technical clothing for their job and unafraid to express it, it’s really cool to see.”
So how much of this input makes it back to the end user who spends their own money on Sportful products? “Every item of clothing we put in the marketplace benefits from the input of the riders we sponsor” Glen explains. “Last week, for example, Susy Zorzi, who lives an hour away from here, came by to give us some feedback on some chamois pads she was testing for us. She was here for a couple of hours and in that time we were able to get her feedback, alter the shorts to reflect that and send her away with an improved product.” “Some of the items we give to Drops are prototypes of products we won’t be releasing for one or even two years, and all the feedback we get from professional athletes goes into making a product that will improve our customers’ experience on the bike. The Stelvio jacket, for example, was an overall development process of three years, from identifying the fabric to releasing the finished article. We do some of our own testing as well, the roads around here are so great for riding and offer all sorts of conditions in the mountains, that we can use our lunch rides or after work rides to try things out, we’re very lucky that way.” Sportful have been impressed with the start to the season Drops have made, and Glen cited in particular Ann-Sophie Duyck’s stage win in the second stage of the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana and Alice Barnes’ top ten in Gent Wevelgem as highlights. However, he has praise for the entire team, “The results they get and the way they ride for the resources they have is truly inspiring. They have nothing to envy much bigger teams for, the team spirit and the attitude of everyone involved is second to none.”