Words by Hannah Reynolds
I've been wearing ASSOS shorts for twenty years, (not the same pair of course although I have a jersey from 2002 that is still in circulation) and in that time I’ve seen the range grow and become increasingly technical and sophisticated year on year.
ASSOS has always been a premium brand, its slogan ‘Sponsor yourself’ even acknowledges that buying ASSOS kit is an investment. Riders who have bought ASSOS have always done so in an understanding that it is a professional level garment for serious amateurs, at a serious price.
I have justified the expense to myself on a cost per wear basis, if my Windstopper bib-tights get worn every day throughout the winter, allowing me to continue to ride daily in even the coldest of weather then they are worth the £240 price tag. I just wish I could remember to apply the same logic to jeans.
You know when kit feels good on and it performs well. That’s often reason enough to make it worth the money - whether it is an expensive or cheap garment. However, spending a day behind the scenes at the ASSOS factory in Switzerland made it abundantly apparent why it costs what it does. Desirée Bergman-Maier, daughter of the founder of the brand Toni Maier-Moussa , showed me around.
At ASSOS HQ in Switzerland the whole design and production process can be seen virtually under one roof. There are 5 pattern makers, 2 textile engineers, 1 full-time product tester and two part-time product testers. The attention to detail is meticulous and every aspect of the product is tested at multiple stages.
Textile testing is key to ensuring garments fit and perform as they should. An in-house laboratory works with the designers, sourcing new materials and working with textile manufacturers to find materials with the right properties.
Samples of fabric are put through a number of different machines to test its ability to withstand friction, washing, snagging, shrinkage, colour fade and stretch. Machines run non-stop for 24 hours at a time, relentlessly trying to find the breaking point of the fabric.
All the fabric is sourced from within Europe and sent via HQ to be checked. 20% of every bolt of fabric is tested and quality controlled before it goes to the pattern cutters in Italy and finally to an exclusive factory in Bulgaria for stitching. Laborious, time consuming and expensive but it allows ASSOS to have total quality control at every stage.
Research and Design
It takes 3-4 years for a product to reach completion from the start of the design process to it appearing on sale. In one corner of the design room there is a large glass display case where garments are kept under lock and key, Desirée explained, “this is called the incubator, it is where products go for 1-2 months for a cooling off period. Sometimes we can become too obsessive, we tweak and change too much. My brother (Roche - head of product design) doesn’t always respect the calendar and production schedules, he is a perfectionist. He will make 80 prototypes sometimes before he is happy."
Roche prefers to work in isolation in order to create designs that are 100% innovative and original. Although I didn’t meet him, the impression gathered from staff at ASSOS is that he is regarded with both affection and frustration, the genius perfectionist who works to his own time scales and high standards. He is also the person behind the unusual names on ASSOS products, from pomPadour jacket to the Laalalai women’s collection.
When a product is finished in the design area it goes through two stages of testing, the first with dedicated product testers who ride thinking and focusing on the feel and the fit of each garment and then with factory team riders.
Product testing sounds like a dream job, but when I spoke to Danilo, one of the full time testers, he told me otherwise, “It is not so easy to be a tester, you have to be very sensitive to the garments. It is not easy to give feedback on the little details. We always ride the same lap so we can focus entirely on the garment and not be distracted. We make sure the lap has both climbs, downhills and coffee stops, all the things that riders will do in the kit so we can see how it feels to get sweaty and cool down. There is a women’s product testing team also, made of the women who work here at ASSOS. We also organise a fitting day with selected customers, male and female, so we can test the fit on a wider range of body shapes and physiques."
Once the product testers have made any adjustments needed with the designers then a batch will be manufactured that goes to the factory team riders, for them it is just a stress test of the textile, “we ask for the products back so we can see where it has rubbed or been worn, they do not give input on the design at this stage. They fill in a form after every ride, so we know how far they have ridden, in what conditions, how often it has been washed."
Walking around the building in every department from design to testing to accounts the tell-tale sign of cyclists were present; sweaty cycling kit hanging up behind desks, or road shoes tucked away behind a chair. Nearly every member of staff will have a chance to ride in new designs and add their opinions.
It can take 3-4 years for a garment to get from design concept to reaching the shop floor. ASSOS is not a company that responds rapidly to fashion but it has a deep commitment to textiles, testing and creating designs that they believe will result in the best quality garment for rider performance.
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