A few months ago high-end cycling brand Assos launched their flagship store on London’s famous Regent Street.
The concept store was designed by award-winning London design studio Ab Rodgers and is intended to immerse customers in the full brand experience.
I have to admit, I was a bit sceptical, especially when I read an article in the Evening Standard about the launch. Chief executive Phil Duff told the Standard, “The growth of UK cycling amongst women particularly means that launching our flagship store in London, post-Brexit, remains a real opportunity for us.”
For those familiar with Assos, you will know that in the past they have faced a lot of criticism for their intentionally sexist marketing approach to female cyclists. So I wondered if this was just more marketing chat or is the brand genuinely heading in a new direction.
After vocalising my scepticism on Twitter, Dalany Watkins, PR & Marketing Manager for Assos, invited me to come down to the store and learn more about the brand and their plans for the future. I have to give credit where credit is due, as not every brand would take such a personalised approach to demonstrate they really are trying to move forward and make amends for past mistakes. In many ways, this is a new era for the Assos brand, with the company under fresh ownership by the American entrepreneur Phil Duff and he has made it clear that changes are afoot.
Women’s cycling has undeniably grown over the last few years, with Pro’s like Laura Trott inspiring a whole new generation of young women. However, there are still a lot of inequalities in the sport. From the way women are sexualised in advertising, to inequality in prize money between male and female racers.
But, there is a revolution taking place at the moment, with more women than ever getting on their bikes, and there is ample opportunity to be had for brands that support women’s cycling.
While being shown around the shop, it became apparent that while Assos may not have the best track record, they want to set this straight and become an advocate for women’s cycling. Not only by putting on events, but by developing kit specific to women’s racing needs. The almost sci-fi space in which the products were displayed, only served to highlight the fact that each garment is a technical work of art.
Philip Gale, Social media manager and project leader F1, explained to me that when designing a new item, the designers are given no restrictions. They are encouraged to use the best materials for each need a cyclist may have. If that means having 16 different materials in one piece of kit, so be it… The premium prices now all made sense.
As we wandered to the back of the store, we entered the unusual changing room dubbed ‘The Elipse’. Rodgers and Assos wanted to create a space where cyclists could check their garments in a realistic position and put the comfort of Assos to the test on a static SRM bike. This is such a smart move from the brand, as I quickly realised the kit pretty much sells itself when you are able to take a close-up look at it.
Full disclosure, I have never tried on any of the Assos kit but after checking it out I have a few pieces on my shopping list.
Entering the flagship store is a bit like entering something out of Space Odyssey but it works. It is designed to make the customer think about the science and technology behind the brand and its development.
As for whether Assos is all chat when it comes to women’s cycling…. they just announced they are sponsoring the Women’s track league at Herne Hill Velodrome in South London. I have to say, it is great to have been proven wrong and to see Assos invest in women’s cycling from the grassroots upwards.