Interview: dhb's Product Manager on How the Brand has Become a go-to for Women - Total Women's Cycling

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Interview: dhb’s Product Manager on How the Brand has Become a go-to for Women

We've teamed up with dhb to find out more about their kit designs and the process behind creating a new range

Wiggle’s in house brand, dhb, formed in 2004 with the aim of filling gaps that the retailer saw in the market. Twelve years on, and they’ve grown from plugging holes to being a well-regarded brand in their own right, with a reputation for providing excellent quality kit at a great price. 

Read: Why we chose dhb as a TWC20 brand

Despite being a diverse brand with five different product ranges to boast, and having won Clothing Brand of the Year at the 2015 Total Women’s Cycling Awards, it’s only recently we’ve felt dhb has begun to step out of the Wiggle shadow to reveal more about the characters working behind the scenes.

We spoke to the brand’s Product Manager, Ben Hewitt, to hear more about the process behind creating a collection – something fresh in his mind following the introduction of their first water resistant apparel, as part of the Aeron range. Hewitt heads up a team of just 5 people responsible for creating the kit, but they also rely upon testers and customer feedback, as he explained…

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TWC: Talk me through the development process of a new piece of kit – do you start with fit, fabric, performance level or by considering aesthetics?

Ben: Honestly? It’s everything. But I guess our choice of fabrics and fit is derived from the performance we want to get to. Once identified we start our research, we talk directly with fabric mills, manufacturers, and use our own experience to come up with options, that we then test. Fit is very important to us, one of the great things about working for dhb is that we get direct feedback from customers, we use this feedback to try and get the best fit possible for the performance.

Do you usually look to make alterations to an existing range, to make it more suited to a specific need, or do you always start from the ground up?

It’s a mixture of both. When you have older product that has performed so well for 4 or 5 years with 1,000’s of reviews, we’d be silly not to look at it. But we’re always keen to push as hard as we can, this often means starting all over again. New fabrics, new fits, new approaches in some cases. It makes what we do more exciting.

dhb is incredibly popular as a brand, and we see a lot of women wearing the kit too – why do you think you’re attracting more women than some other brands?

“We don’t just ‘shrink and pink’. I think we’re honest, we’re direct to customers, so we learn quickly and act.”

This year about 24 per cent of our sales are women’s, something we’re really proud of and hope to build on. We seem to be doing better than some of the other brands we keep tabs on.

I think it’s probably because we don’t just ‘shrink and pink’. I think we’re honest, we’re direct to customers, so we learn quickly and act. The women’s market share is fairly small in comparison to the men’s, but it always will be unless we make kit especially for them, make it accessible and don’t treat the women’s collection as an afterthought.

Kit is usually created and tested in a ‘sample size’ and then altered to suit different shapes. What sort of sample sizes do you use when creating kit, and how do you collect your data sets for other sizes?

Women’s is UK size 10 and Men’s is medium. Most of our test team are these sizes, so it helps to get constructive feedback. Before we get to the testing stage everything is fitted on real models, it took a long time to find models that are the right size, but who can also give us good feedback, they are a really important part in the process. Everything is fitted on the bike in the dhb office. We also work with a company called Alvanon who collect data from thousands of people across the globe to establish best fit and grading between sizes. We undertook a massive fit project over the course of a year and the results are what we see now.

Are there any specific considerations that you take when designing women’s kit, that are less important for men’s kit?

“Surprisingly women are not small men. Every women’s garment is designed and developed specifically for women’s needs.”

Surprisingly women are not small men. Every women’s garment is designed and developed specifically for women’s needs. Whilst some aesthetics in our collection are shared between men and women, women’s kit is developed with women in mind. Where a panels sits, what fabrics we use, which pads to choose, position of pads. A great example of this is probably our offering on Aeron shorts. We recognised that bibs aren’t always the most comfortable thing for women to wear and try to offer solutions for all rider’s body shapes and needs. It worth checking out the Halterneck bibs or if you’re more of a traditionalist the clip bib shorts. It took us about 6 months to fit the right solution for this one.

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Do you speak to a range of riders about what they want from kit through the design process?

We are spoilt in this respect. We have a great tester program and a big pool of people to choose from within our own company. We have people that compete on the program to people who pop out for 30mins at the weekend and everyone in between. We also have a great design team who are willing to sit, listen and take inspiration from everyone around them. The combination of the two make for a really good mix, meaning we can try things out internally, if it doesn’t work, we soon find out why.

How many times is the kit usually tested and altered throughout the process?

“We constantly test and challenge ourselves.”

I would say we usually go through 3 rounds of prototypes before we get to the real testing. Then we tweak and mould from there on in following feedback. Some things take more to get right. Sometimes we even stop production because we find better solutions. But it doesn’t stop there, the constant feedback from our customers means we are able to make improvements to the next round of orders to come out of the factory. I sometimes dream of sitting back and watching, but it never works like that. We constantly test and challenge ourselves.

Do you follow highstreet or catwalk fashion trends in the design process, or prefer not to?

We use trend information, but we try not to follow too much. Inspiration comes from hundreds of different avenues. Sometime the designers’ head, sometimes it’s something sat on a desk. I think the Natural History museum was the last place we found something that could work. Our Design team are really talented and are from completely different backgrounds which complement each other really well.

Do you ever have difficulties working with the factory – or is the process usually quite smooth? Any big errors that have occurred along the way?

[Laughing] It’s all perfect and we never have any errors!  We are very fortunate to work with some great factories. We pick them because they are experts in what they do. It’s not about best price for us, it’s about best product. I occasionally get a lot of noise about that, but product is the most important thing in the world.  Errors occur, they always do, but usually we can fix them before product gets to the consumer. If not, we fix it. We replaced shorts last year because one small batch had problems with the silicone gripper. When it was applied to the garment humidity was very high in the factory and the silicone didn’t adhere properly. We wrote to all customers that could have been affected and replaced with an improved short – free of charge. We’re proud of what we do, things like that hurt us!

What sets Aeron apart, and what’s your favourite piece within the range?

I think the Aeron Rain Defence story is pretty awesome. Breathable, Waterproof, high performance fabrics. We’ve probably put most time into this little collection, so to see the results and some of the comments we are getting back is great. I love the clean looks, great fit and functionality.

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In terms of a favourite piece… I love the Aeron Speed Bib Short. The new grippers are ace, the ColdBlack fabric is really cool and we developed our own straps. All in all, they are a great bit of kit. I really like the Aeron Super Light Packable Windproof too, never leave home without it. But my favourite? Why am I admitting this? The Socks – made in Italy, Meryl Skinlife yarn, socks maketh the man – what’s not to love?

Interested in seeing the range? You can check out everything dhb has to offer here, and read more about the brand and its founders here. 

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