paul mason and phil yates were the two originators of new zealand's solo clothing, a company born of their love of the jerseys from the 50s,60s and 70s. feeling that nobody else was catering for their tastes, and both having sound design backgrounds, they decided to go it alone. and solo was born.
paul mason has since become the sole proprietor of solo, after buying out his partner's share in the company, and is now on a path of onward and upward in the world of stylish cycling apparel. i've already reviewed both the classique jersey and equipe gilet, but knowing very little about the company, i asked paul for the following interview. it makes interesting reading...
are you a competitive cyclist or just a serious leisure cyclist. do you have time for cycling at all?
serious leisure cyclist probably describes me quite well. i raced a bit in the uk when i lived there for six years and rode with cc islington. nowadays i try to get out 4-5 times a week - usually 1-1.25 hours in the morning and a big one (or two) on the weekends. more so in summer. it's winter here in new zealand (august 2007) and it feels like it's been going on forever. i'm probably typical of a lot of cyclists whose competitive days are behind them, but still love riding for the sheer enjoyment.
any interest in mountain biking?
i actually gave my mtb to my brother last year, so don't own one now. at the risk of sounding like an old fart - and at 44, i probably am to a lot of mtb riders - just looking at the new breed of bikes scares me.
when did solo start?
the solo website went live on august 22, 2005. there was about a year's planning before we got to that stage - researching, designing, testing, sorting out suppliers etc.
why call it solo?
i wanted a name that reresented an idea, so spent a lot of time thinking about what cycling means to me. i use the phrase 'you are not alone' on some of our advertising. this works on a couple of levels. it means that there are other people who appreciate the classic style of the old jerseys - so don't worry, you're not the only person who thinks like that! it also means that cycling can sometimes be a very solitary and demanding sport - it asks a lot of you - so you have to have confidence in your own ability. from a design perspective it's a nice short name that works well across a variety of uses - clothing labels, packaging, advertising etc.
whose idea to replace the 'l' with a one?
it is an 'L'! i wanted to put across the idea of our clothing being inspired by road racing by elevating the 'L' to simulate a podium placing. you can definitely see it as a '1' though. (i did, i'm afraid)
what sort of design background do you have?
up until about a year ago i ran a graphic design company with my wife. she's now taken it over. i've been involved in the design industry for 25 years. one of the most enjoyable things about solo, is being my own client. i'm designing for myself and hoping that there are other cyclists out there who appreciate the same things i do. luckily, this seems to be the case!
do you find that there are a disproportionately large number of 'arty types' in cycling (a posit of tim hilton in his book 'one more kilometre and we're in the showers')
i really don't know. one thing I really like about cycling is that it's a great leveller - it doesn't matter how much money or status you have, it won't mean you're a better cyclist or enjoy it more than any other person. meet someone at a party and if they're a fellow cyclist, you have an immediate rapport. there is some great imagery associated with cycling. i watched 'a sunday in hell' again the other day and the shot of merckx's molteni team riding to the start line nearly brought tears to my eyes, it was so graceful.
if you'll forgive my antipodean ignoarance, is there quite a healthy road scene in new zealand?
itŐs certainly growing. there were a fair few bunches out at 6.00am this morning when i went for a ride. what is good to see is how much the sport is being encouraged at school level. the volvo estate with the back up, being eagerly pursued by a bunch of 14 year-old wannabe boonens is a common sight nowdays.
did you and phil design all the associated publicity material and website too?
yep - the whole thing. i've got a very strong idea of how i want the solo brand to be represented. there's a lot of work goes into it.
is there a danger of doing too many 'national jerseys'? i'm thinking here of the 'vote for the next jersey' invite currently on your website
the temptation when designing our classique jerseys is to 'overcook' the national identity aspect. i try not to simply use the colours of the national flag, or use a too obvious sponsor. they may not even been seen as 'national jerseys' by many people.
which is the most popular classique jersey at the moment?
the most popular classique jersey is - and probably always will be - the st neith jersey. It sells about twice as many as the others. it's one of the simpliest and most classic designs, which is encouraging, as it really shows that the classic styles still look the best.
any other plans for so1o that you can mention just now?
we've just redesigned our arm and kneewarmers. we're now using the same mapp matrix fabric as used in our equipe jerseys - although a lighter weight. it's pretty amazing stuff - a new zealand made fabric too. they are definitely 'winter weight' warmers. we've also incorporated some reflective piping in there as well. i've now completely redesigned the solo website to make it easier to navigate and show off the clothing to better advantage. i get a lot of feedback from our customers, so i've listened and made some changes. this will launch 28 september.
do you sell most of your clothing across the world, or is home the biggest market?
we only sell about 10% of our clothing in new zealand. solo currently sells to 30 countries. The uk, north america, australia, germany and switzerland are our biggest markets. and if anyone can tell me how to sell retro-style cycle clothing to the french - please let me know!
any plans to sell into retail stores?
We've got five shops selling solo - two each in new zealand and australia and a shop in tokyo. the plan is to expand into other countries - i'm currently speaking to a shop in copenhagen. it's important to me that we find the 'right' shops - which means places that care for their customers and understand what solo is about. basically, somewhere i would want to shop! for this reason we tend to partner with smaller owner-operated shops and have avoided the big chainstores.
do you undertake any cycle sponsorship?
it's a tricky one this. solo has never really been about sponsorship. it's almost why the company was started - as reaction against the huge increase (and resulting ugly jerseys) in sponsorship in pro racing - which is simply a fact of life i suppose. we do have some other non-profit activities: a series of free cycling movie nights in winter, and solo club rides during summer. these events are more about bringing cyclists together for the love of the sport rather than trying to sell clothes. i use it as a good opportuity to talk to people and find out what they want - market research you might call it. and our movie nights are great, as it gives the 'old boys' a chance to say 'now that's a real cyclist' to the younger riders in the audience.
money no object, what bike/frame do you buy?
i've never been one to change my bike every season. in fact up until a couple of years ago i had a steel colnago spiral conic for 14 years! It's now been relegated to the indoor training bike, but i'll never sell it. the replacement was an alloy bmc (the one on the solo website) which i really enjoy. the new breed of colnagos, pinarellos etc., look pretty cool, but i would probably go for something custom made, as it's something i've never tried. from what i've read, the pegorettis sound amazing as do the bikes from (australian company) baum. my last few bikes have been dura-ace equipped - i'm happy with that. the wheelset i've got is dtswiss 1450 and they're a great pair of strong, light wheels. i don't like the way some of the deeper section rims get pushed around the road.
favourite rider of all time?
pantani. just for his sheer panache and the enjoyment he gave his fans. if you remove the obvious choice and look at it analytically, then hinault was an incredible rider.
are you self-sufficient in the mechanic department, or is the local bike store your best friend?
i do all the basic stuff - with the exception of wheel truing, which is my wife's department. she has an amazing talent for this. like a lot of cyclists, i don't need much persuasion to hang out at the local bike shop.
do you cycle to work?
i cycle before work, and afterwards walk the 23 steps downstairs to the solo studio (the studio is below my house).
campagnolo or shimano?
i've always ridden with shimano.
posted tuesday 14 august 2007 - all photos courtesy solo, new zealand...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
as always, if you have any comments on this nonsense, please feel free to e-mail and thanks for reading...........................................................................................................................................................................................................