When I arrived at Specialized in 2016, it was a huge priority to improve the fit of their cycling apparel line. At the time, being hired as their Technical Design Manager, that meant diving into fittings as quickly as possible, making pattern adjustments with a brand new digital system, and challenging the status quo of their line. They had been relying on the same fit blocks for three years, and while they served the team well at first launch, they quickly became outdated as the cycling industry trends evolved. At this point in time, their jerseys in particular felt oversized and slouchy, and since my previous experience at Pearl Izumi had me focusing on men’s cycling tops, this was a perfect first project for me to tackle.
Quickly, I moved out of the Technical Design Manager role and was promoted to be the team’s Development Manager. This allowed me to hire two more experts in the area of cycling jersey fit, and we were off to the races to make the best jerseys in the industry. Our pièce de résistance of the line was the SL Race Jersey, which was born out of the extremely fast S-Works Evade Skin Suit that the company launched in 2015. We started with the top portion of that pattern and re-worked it to become our new jersey.
This was no easy task. The fabrics in the Skin Suit were quite different from the fabrics we wanted to use for the SL Race line. We went through countless fittings to make the new garments fit and feel the way we wanted while the rider was on their bike. We purposely worked with the sleeve and shoulder areas to pull the rider’s arms forward into the optimal racing position. Our Product Manager also wanted this jersey to feel painted onto the body. It was to be marketed to the traditional “roadie” and racing cyclist, which meant that it had to be not just form fit to the body, but compressive. It was intended to be something that the riders in the pro peloton would wear at the Tour de France, so we made it extremely tight.
The garment came out perfectly, according to its brief: compressive all around with a longer sleeve length that articulated the rider’s body for them. The problem was that we didn’t do a great job of marketing it that way. So the jersey started to receive some really poor reviews. People were buying it to be their “every day” jersey, and we started to experience a great deal of returns. Notes over and over again told us that the jersey was vastly undersized or was too “Italian” of a fit.
The Specialized SL Race Jersey project is one of the most contradictory projects in my portfolio. The team that I worked with to achieve the fit on this jersey was outstanding, and we delivered exactly what we hoped to create with this piece. It is one of the garments I am genuinely most proud of from my entire career. But at the same time, I learned an enormous amount about the power of marketing throughout this project. Without the right message and information about the garment getting to the consumer, its impeccable fit and construction were lost. It became one of our worst sellers in the line, and to this day I continue to receive complaints about it from friends or family who try it out. The part that always makes me smile though is their reaction once I explain its purpose. I tell them why it should never fit you while you’re standing up straight and how to use the locking zipper head to keep it from pulling open while you’re off the bike. Once they try it and wear it like it’s meant to be worn, it all of a sudden becomes their favorite racing piece in their closet.