Bianchista Chats With Laura Etherington

Bianchista was very lucky to have the opportunity to throw a few questions regarding the ladies range to Rapha’s marketing guru, Laura Etherington, on her recent visit to Perren Street…

Bianchista: “What were the key factors in making the choice of products to tailor to the female market?”
Laura: “We decided a good place to start would be with the classic staples of the existing Rapha line. The obvious choice was the iconic classic jersey.
We looked at what products we already offered were proving particularly popular in the xs/s sizes currently available. We conducted focus group sessions, and they key thing that surprised us here was that women wanted practical, functional choices in their riding apparel. The shorts were a new product for us the design from scratch, and again focus group research told us women would prefer the half short design to traditional bibshorts. In also choosing the half short design, we felt that customers who actually do prefer the traditional design would be able to purchase our existing bibshorts.
The important thing to us in developing a foundation of women’s products, was that we didn’t want to create anything too different, in the way that we felt the products should be an extension of the Rapha brand, and perfectly complement the existing line. The brand image is successful and we want these products to fit perfectly within it.”

Bianchista: “Does Rapha have plans to extend the womenswear range?”
Laura: “We plan to roll out a few products for the 2010 Autumn Winter collection, although to an extent this will depend upon the success of the Spring Summer items available at the end of March. We want to take our time and refine and perfectly hone the design details of new products so to an extent we are in no rush to flood the range with a lot of women’s products.”

Bianchista:  “Are there any plans for women’s casual-wear, as we have seen with the men’s products?”
Laura: “At the moment we are focussing purely on our ‘Racing and Training’ line for womenswear. We don’t have any immediate plans for a ‘city riding’ range directed at ladies, although this could well change in the distant future. We want to prove we can walk before we can run, and are concentrating on ensuring every detail on the ladies items we design is perfect.”

Bianchista: “Will we see a women’s road racing team, building on the successes seen with the Rapha Condor Sharp team?”
Laura: “Rapha will indeed be running a ladies team, at a grassroots level within women’s racing. Our ladies will race under the Rapha Condor Club name. We will have a schedule of at least 10 races per season for the team, with 6 riders riding each race. The riders will also engage in a full testing program of all our womenswear, quite literally proving that our kit works in a race situation. We will see our ladies team race in the London Women’s Cycle competition also.”

Bianchista: “Any exciting plans for 2010?”
Laura: “In 2010 we have some really exciting things happening. Of course June will see the return of the classic Smithfield Nocturne event, providing a day of exciting fast paced crit action in the heart of London. Rapha are also planning the Rapha Condor Hog Hill Series, an exciting series of 6-8 crits to challenge riders from all over the south-east, with races planned for ladies, men and also children. We will have more information available on this on when details are finalised.
We have stepped up to assume the position of headline sponsor to the ‘Cent Cols Challenge’ possibly the most epic riding experience available on planet earth. The idea of the challenge seemed to fit perfectly with our ethos as a company and seemed a perfect union. We will also offer exclusive Rapha Randonnées this year partnering along with La Fuga (, offering riders a luxury cycling experience of a lifetime.
April 11th sees us take on 100km of North London’s finest pave, on an informal free social ride, aptly titled the ‘Hell of the North’, ending with beer, frites and big screen Paris-Roubaix. Rapha has more of these social informal rides planned throughout the year.”

Rapha Womenswear – Part 1

Bianchista visited Rapha HQ at Perren Street to take a peek at the new products offered in their new a capsule women’s range to be launched officially in March.
Below is bianchista’s summary of first impressions of the items. Rapha’s Laura Etherington was also kind enough to sit down and answer some questions regarding the range and the company’s future plans for womenswear, and this interview will be published tomorrow.
First up, Rapha have refined the supremely popular Stowaway jacket in a female specific guise. Offered in two eye-catching colours – a rich vibrant red and a translucent cream. The Stowaway is a functional three seasons
The main design of the jacket borrows heavily from the successful men’s version, with a few tweaks to offer a premium shell for the discerning female rider.
The reflective detailing on the jacket remains the same, yielding confidence in its visibility once the sun starts to set.
The jacket features a few key design refinements specifically for riders of the fairer sex. Firstly the collar has been tweaked, offering a slightly shallower cut when compared with the men’s shell, sitting perfectly around the neck line without feeling restrictive.
The front pocket has also been relocated, after Rapha found during extensive testing that the new placement was much more flattering on the female form.
The tailoring on the jacket is the standout difference when compared alongside the men’s stowaway. A slim fluted cut hugs the figure around the torso, and with the addition of a chest dart, the jacket won’t compress areas we females don’t really want to be squashed! The fit provided is structured to fit slim yet is also unrestrictive.
All Rapha’s ladies products feature a theme of subtle red branding throughout. This can be found on silicone grippers to the shorts and also on the cute small branded tags on all three items.
The shorts are a completely new product for Rapha. Opinion is divided on whether females actually prefer to ride in bibs or half shorts, and I think one of the reasons for this, is that up until now there has been a severe lack of real premium options for a half short. Assos offered a pair in a few various colours, but I always found the leg length to be like a hot pant…. Fine for if you’re training in a tropical environment, but for us gals in good old blighty we might want a leg length slightly more practical! I found the inseam length on these shorts to be perfect, not too short and not excessively long either.
The shorts have panels with seams that don’t run down the side of the leg, which provides a complimentary fit and doesn’t highlight those problem areas around the hips.
The waist features a grip-less front panel that is extremely supple and has soft stretchy waistband like those found on maternity jeans.
The shorts are also cut with a nice high back, ensuring your modesty will remained covered even when putting down the hammer riding in the drops.
The chamois found inside is a top of the range Cytech pad, one of the best female specific chamois available on the market. It’s soft and supple and found in other shorts almost twice the price. For visibility, the same reflective tabs are found on each leg as are found on the men’s shorts and ¾ lengths.
The third and final product launched for the spring/summer 2010 ladies collection is the ubiquitous ladies classic jersey. This is offered in red and black flavours, featuring contrasting cream arm warmers. The cut is again refined, and the arm warmers have been designed slimmer too. I won’t launch into too much detail here as I actually have one of these jerseys to roads test this coming week. Expect an in depth review on bianchista shortly….

More information over at Rapha