Have you ever found yourself in a race, a solo ride, or grinding up a mountain with a group of friends and wondering, “How did I get here?” The sport of cycling can be intimidating to get into to say the least. With hurdles to overcome and questions like:
Do I buy the $10,000 or $1,000 bike?
Will I look funny in those shorts?
What happens if I fall over while I’m clipped in?
How do I know if I’m in the correct gear ratio?
What happens if I can’t keep up?
At some point we all worked up the courage to clear those barriers and answer the questions. We all stared down the early challenges with determined focus and most likely did so with the help of a friend or family member. Early on, that friendly, motivating voice riding with us provided the fuel we needed to overcome the mistakes and falls. We also learned from those mistakes and in the end came out a better cyclist with a bigger passion for the sport. With each ride that passed, the mistakes became fewer, the rides longer, our confidence higher, and at last, those early barriers that presented themselves as mountains were now flat roads with a tailwind. Now with that newfound confidence and comfort, cycling is not only enjoyable, but an integral part of our everyday lives.
THE NEW NORMAL
So here we are. We find ourselves in this new world with challenges in front of us that have not been faced in recent history. If you are like me, you are missing the comradery of a group ride, the process of setting goals and training for a big event or Gran Fondo, and the sense of normalcy we had just a few short months ago. What keeps us going right now is the thought of regaining that normalcy and perhaps that familiar feeling of nervousness that we had on our first big group ride. We remember how we overcame that and can draw on that experience to help us succeed and be better in this new world.
The nervousness that I felt on my first ride at the age of nine with our dad, Ricardo (now known as Tato to our family), is the same nervousness that I felt in 2002 when George and I decided to start a new company. In the beginning, prior to my full-time endeavor into Hincapie Sportswear, I worked with an Italian pro cyclist and graphic designer to design and source clothing in Italy for our racing team. Our first office was humble, located in the unfinished attic of my Greenville, South Carolina home. We would set up shop and work nights following my day job. Our first order was for a local event, The Assault on Mt. Mitchell. We still proudly produce apparel for that event today. Once the apparel arrived, friends and local clubs began inquiring as to how they could submit orders. Little by little those friends and clubs spread the word and more orders started flowing in.
HEADING UP THE CLIMB
In 2003, I traded my full-time job for a 10’x10’ office in downtown Greenville. A year or so later we had grown out of that small space, which was at that point occupied by 4 employees, 2 desks, and countless stacks of boxes that reached the ceiling. We purchased a building close by, just a few blocks from downtown. Today, we still call that building home and look forward to returning when the time is right.
The turning point for us to switch from our Italian source to our family-owned manufacturing facility in Colombia came in early 2003 when we received an order for 50 cycling caps. Our source in Italy required a minimum order of 500 caps. We decided we could not turn down the order, so I reached out to my uncle Jorge in Medellin, Colombia. Jorge worked in textiles, and I asked him if we could find a way to produce cycling caps there and although he had never done it before, the “we will figure it out together” mindset is what allowed us to be successful with that order, and what has kept us moving forward all these years later. Just like those early days on the bike, if you are passionate and motivated enough, you never stop learning new things.
That first fifty cap order turned out to look something like a scavenger hunt, going about like this:
Upon receiving the order here in Greenville, I emailed that order and the art to Jorge.
My cousin David downloaded the image and saved it to a disc.
Jorge took that disc to “El Centro” (Downtown) to get a color laser printout.
Jorge then drove that printout to the screen company. I use the word “company” loosely, as it was an old house in a Bario with one screen machine from 1952.
While the screens were in production, Jorge bought enough fabric to produce the order.
He then took that fabric to a lady who used to work for him at the factory he once managed. She now worked at a hot dog stand at the bus station, but she agreed to help and cut the fabric.
Jorge then took the plastic for the visors to another town to be cut.
With the visors in tow, he then drove back to the hot dog stand to pick up the cut fabric.
Now it was time to take all the materials to the print shop in the Bario for screening.
After the materials were finished at the print shop it was on to another location to get them sewn.
Once the caps were finished, Jorge took them home where the entire family counted, applied hang tags, and boxed them.
Finally, he drove to UPS and manually filled out all the necessary export paperwork to ship.
As time went by, we received more cap orders as well as orders for jerseys and other items. Sometime during 2004, Jorge and his wife Mari, along with our first Art Director and employee, Gustavo, moved into one floor of a building with two computers, a few phones, and a whole lot of hope. Slowly, we brought the entire production process in-house. First with the paper printing, then cutting, followed by sublimation, and finally sewing. Each department started with one machine and grew. Little by little we started to occupy the second floor of the building, then the third, until we ran out of space. In November of 2007 we moved into a new facility. Shortly after that move we bought the building next door. Just a few years ago, we purchased a third building. Now, “La Factoria” is three very large renovated homes originally built in the early 1900s. These buildings are home to 150 members of our team in Colombia, hundreds of machines, fabric storage, a small convenience store for employees, and a retail boutique. While there were certainly mistakes made along the way, we have never stopped learning. With help from family and friends, we continue to clear the barriers that are in front of us. Just like riding a bike, the daily goal of improving never ceases.
I am proud to say that after our factory was closed for the month of April, we are now back to producing and shipping orders. Although some changes had to be made with guidelines from the government, the new “normal” has been well received by our team who have adapted and adjusted. Just like our next big group ride or race, this moment in history may have taught us to look back on how things were and how we can make it better.
WE WILL FIGURE IT OUT
So, why did I just share this story with you? I look back at the beginnings of Hincapie Sportswear very fondly. George and I, along with my friends and family, learned a lot about ourselves and each other in those days when we were in “we will figure it out” mode. We learned how to efficiently produce a product that we are proud to wear, and continue to draw on past experiences to get better. In the past few months we have all found ourselves in a “we will figure it out” mode. How do we keep our personal relationships when we are confined to our homes? Our businesses running? Our passions in life? Our kids from driving us insane while they are not in school?
The answer, you ask? “We will figure it out together!” Just as I needed, and still need, my friends and family to help our Hincapie entities be successful, we will need each other to make it through this challenge. We will also need each other to help learn from this experience and be ready for the next challenge we face. Each of us will continue to do our best, learn from our mistakes, set new goals, and grow.
As a cyclist, take a second to think back on those early challenges you faced and how you have grown.
You realized it is not always the price of the bike that makes it the right one for you. It is more about the memories you make on it. The anxiety you probably had buying your first bike has now been replaced with the excitement you had as a kid during the holidays. Because you know, New Bike Day is a holiday!
You learned how to clip in and clip out of your pedals a lot easier than you thought. You probably have not fallen over in a while.
With experience, you learned the right gear and climbing rhythm. The question evolved into “How do I get to the top faster?”
You learned that everybody gets dropped from the group or has a tough day at some point. Nobody is exempt from this rule of cycling. Now it probably happens less often. When it does, you know your way back and how to enjoy the suffering.
With that said, I will leave you with this.
Stay safe, stay happy, and stay hopeful,