I recently read Rick Vosper's piece "Why Levi's is no threat" in Bicycle Retailer and since we initially perceived Levi's to be a big threat to our tiny company, I wanted to write in with my two cents.
When I saw the headline "Why Levi's is no threat" I was very curious to read the insights of a cycling industry veteran. We're a small cycling-specific urban apparel company and one of the first to introduce cycling-specific jeans, so Levi's entrée into the market seemed a definite threat, if not an insult. After we got over our initial shock, we soon realized having them around is probably going to be good thing in the long run.
First, a little about us: If you've never heard of swrve, we started in 2005 as a tiny two-person operation. Matt, our lead designer and co-founder, started racing in his early teens and though he has stopped competing, his love and enthusiasm for cycling has only increased over the years. Since day one our goal has been to make apparel that meets Matt's exacting expectations of on-the-bike functionality paired with a simple aesthetic sense that works off the bike.
We started with cycling knickers as our lone product and quickly realized a demand for other garments so we developed a pair of jeans that could stand up to the rigors of urban riding that remained comfortable after many miles in the saddle. While our knickers were enthusiastically received, we were often met with confused looks and rightful skepticism when we showed people our jeans.
Anyone who's ever ridden in jeans knows traditional denim is far from comfortable and functional. Once anyone who doubted tried on a pair, it took just one ride to discover our jeans were the real deal and looked pretty sharp to boot.
When Levi's dropped their cycling jeans with a big splash last summer, our initial fear of being steamrolled by a behemoth was quickly assuaged.
We attended the launch party Levi's held at Orange20- ground zero for the urban cycling explosion here in LA. The lure of free beer and discounted denim enticed the key influencers Levi's was after to show up, but the discerning cyclists they so coveted were sharp enough to realize the Levi's product, while a perfectly capable pair of jeans, didn't quite measure up to the cycling-specific apparel the riders become accustomed to.
However, the kids who buy their first cycling jeans at a suburban Urban Outfitters are no different than those of us whose first taste of two-wheeled fun came aboard a department store bike that was the greatest birthday present ever.
To us, that is Levi's biggest contribution. Levi's and Urban Outfitters are now a new gateway into cycling. Just like Nike before them, they're introducing a new generation to the great fun bikes can be. We know most of the kids getting into cycling because it's the next cool thing might not stick with it, but enough of them will come to love bikes just as much as we all do.
And in two years, when Levi's will be chasing the next big trend, we'll be sticking to doing what we love and will be more than happy to cater to the needs of the core crop of kids they're currently bringing in to our wonderful world.
all the best + happy riding!
Editor's Note: Muriel Bartol is co-founder and general manager of swrve® inc.