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Inside the LAB at dhb

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26 Apr 2018
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This feature was produced in association with dhb

‘We start with sheets of paper,’ says dhb head of design Tom Webb, as he spreads detailed concept drawings and sketches of would-be products on the table.

‘If you’ve had to distil something in pencil, you’ve really had to think about it. It’s an old fashioned approach, but it works.’

Surrounding us is the dhb Aeron LAB collection, which began life as one of these concept sketches.

The Aeron range has traditionally been at the top end of dhb’s product lineup, delivering technical, performanced-focussed cycling clothing at a pleasing price point. But with Aeron LAB, it’s like dhb has leapt onto a speeding car.

The range includes industry-leading Ultralight climber’s kit, carefully engineered aerodynamic Aeron LAB Raceline bibshorts and jerseys, and even a one-piece Raceline Speedsuit.

But the heart of the collection is the Aeron LAB jersey, an all-rounder to keep you riding in comfort all day long.

‘Aeron LAB is an innovation project, so for us it’s about what technology is involved in fabrics, in the cut of the product,’ explains Webb. ‘It’s about taking the gloves off and thinking more broadly about fabrics, design and technology.’

An example of this innovation can be seen in the Aeron LAB Ultralight bibshorts. ‘On the leg we’ve used an integrated gripper woven into the fabric,’ says product manager Rich Land. ‘It looks simple but is challenging to do.’

Other subtle technical features include a near-transparent mesh built into the sides of the Racelight bibshorts to aid breathability while also keeping weight extremely low.

The Ultralight SS Jersey takes this a step further by utilising three different types of mesh to enhance both performance and functionality. It compares to the lightest on the market yet comes in at only £70.

Pulling the Raceline bibshorts inside out, Land points to the chamois. ‘We’ve done a lot of work with Elastic Interface and have been thinking about what the right pad is for this customer,’ he explains.

dhb’s partnership with UCI continental team Canyon Eisberg will provide valuable feedback to help take Aeron LAB to the next level, yet the input from this collaboration is dwarfed by the vast quantities of analytics data generated by the enormous global partnership between retailers Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles. 

Rise of the machines

‘We’re so close to the market that we can see things shifting very quickly – for instance trends in colours, visibility and breathability,’ explains Land.

At the same time, the brand has a human heart. Among the 20-strong team at dhb’s slick modern hub in Portsmouth, designers and developers work alongside a commercial team and a marketing team, all of them united by their passion for cycling (among many other sports).

For them, Aeron LAB is an exciting way to foster their own premium tastes in cycling while catering for customers whose riding has come to demand more technical and premium apparel.

‘The best thing for us is that our customer now doesn’t have to leave us,’ explains Webb. ‘We’ve seen how competitive this kit can be through our work with Canyon Eisberg. The team tested kit from several possible suppliers and decided they wanted to work with us.’

A key to entering the premium part of the market has been trying to get ahead in terms of style and design and fabric technology.

‘You can only go so far before you hit the wall as a fast follower,’ says Land. Instead, dhb is now trying to lead the way, and part of that comes from  spreading its net wide to look at other sectors and other sports beyond cycling.

‘Polartec is working with us, but we have other partners too like Schoeller [a high-tech Swiss textile company],’ Land explains.

‘I can’t imagine how many medals Schoeller won at the Olympic Games. These guys understand how to make thin fabrics fast – slalom skiers do similar speeds to cyclists and move in similar ways, so a lot of that technology is transferable.’ 

Broad outlook

The same vision is reflected in dhb’s staff, who hail from backgrounds across fashion, outdoor brands, other cycling brands and even tailoring. This diverse collective skillset helps dhb’s designers envisage future trends.

‘Tom creates a colour palette every season that dictates what goes into the range,’ says designer Steph Kitchen.

‘We draw inspiration from anywhere – it could be a pop from a car, a colourway on a set of skis or something from a fashion show.

‘Colour is only one dimension, though,’ Webb adds. ‘The design target is a sense of speed with the use of colour, lines and cuts. We want to grasp that aerodynamic line and shape.’

While the summer kit draws our attention, the LAB winter kit is where some of the most interesting technology has been put to use.

We’ll have to wait a few more months for a glimpse at the finished product, but dhb is thinking far ahead of that. ‘Tom’s already thinking about 2020,’ says Land. ‘But thinking ahead is how LAB came about.’

Perhaps the most important statement made by dhb’s Aeron LAB range is that just because cycling kit is premium doesn’t mean it can’t be economical too.

‘One way to think about it is: because we’re offering a really affordable price for high end technology, our customer could save enough on their cycling kit to fund a trip to tick some climbs off their bucket list,’ says Land.

‘And that idea is one that would really make us all collectively smile.’

The key pieces of the dhb Aeron LAB range

• Aeron LAB Ultralight Bib Short, £120
• Aeron LAB Raceline Bib Short, £130
• Aeron LAB Ultralight SS Jersey, £70
• Aeron LAB Raceline Short Sleeve jersey, £110
• Aeron LAB Raceline Speedsuit, £180
• Aeron LAB Ultralight Waterproof Jacket, £150
• Aeron LAB Womens Ultralight SS Jersey, £70
• Aeron LAB Womens Ultralight Bib Short, £120
• Aeron LAB Womens Raceline Bib Short, £130
• Aeron LAB Womens Raceline Short Sleeve jersey, £110
• Aeron LAB Womens Ultralight Waterproof Jacket, £150

Click here for the full dhb Aeron range