Mountain bike legend Cedric Gracia is the face of the new, no minimum order, custom MTB clothing brand Únic that launched last week.
Pete caught up with the man himself to chat all things Únic, why manufacturing in Europe was essential and how they’ve pulled together the right people to make the brand a reality.
How did Únic come about?
It all started by noticing how popular customising different parts of your bike is getting. People seem to want to look different and be unique. Joonas, myself, Sandra and Tomasz thought ‘well, why not offer customised MTB clothes?’ However, everyone we talked to about this idea said it was impossible. After nearly two years, we definitely proved that it wasn’t.
It’s been a hard and crazy year for everyone involved in Únic dealing with all the work, programming, testing different materials and fitting. Eventually, I now think we have a perfect match.
What makes Únic different to other riding kit?
Únic is different in many ways. If you want to customise your own stuff with a normal company that offers average materials, you have to order at least 50 or 100 pieces of clothing, probably in one set of colours which wouldn’t make you very happy… Most of the big brands offer the option to put your own name on the jersey, but it’s done with a heat press on a ready-made product. It washes out and the quality is really poor.
We decided to use the best materials, the best shapes, the best fittings to make people happy and if they want to, they can make just 1 set, no minimum order quantity. I want everyone to be unique because we all are. I always wanted my friends to have different kits for themselves, that would express their liking and personality, but they could only choose from what big brands thought what was trendy at the time.
How did you choose the factories you work with?
We ran tests with several places and looked at the results of their work. It was a long process… but in the end we were able to choose and work with best one for our needs.
Was it important to you to have the kit manufactured in Europe?
It was absolutely crucial. Goods produced in Asia are starting to be associated with bad quality and Únic’s goal is to be a premium brand. Other companies that produce overseas, need to order large amounts of stock and if something goes wrong, there’s no turning back. We are producing every single order from scratch according to the customers wishes.
Our quality control department team is checking that every manufacturing process goes well. Manufacturing in Europe was the only option for us as we wanted to offer custom clothing without compromising on quality.
How many people make up Únic and what do they do?
The co-founders of the company are myself; Joonas Kylmäkorpi (Unic’s CEO); Tomasz Włodarczyk (CTO); Sandra Kylmäkorpi (our public relations and media manager), Mikko Lang and Sauli Konttila (out tech gurus, specialists in website optimisation).
There are however more people who have been involved in the project, such as our assistant Guy Sharp, photographers such as Sam Decout and Stephane Codjia and numerous people who are involved in the production or technical work like building the website.
What made you want to go down the custom route?
I always had trouble finding the cool gear for my team, it was almost impossible. I’ve always wanted to do something customisable for my mates, because my friends that are part of the team, have different kinds of lifestyles. One is an Air France pilot, one is a painter, one is working in a restaurant and when we go to La Réunion island we always want to have our own team design, because that’s what you do.
When we go riding at a bike park, we go riding as a team. We don’t race anymore but we just wanted to have something comfortable and write what we want on the clothing to stand out from the crowd.
What did you have to sacrifice to get to this stage?
The sacrifice was huge, we had to deal with a lot of unexpected things. It was longer and harder than expected. Definitely lots of money involved… but time was the most important aspect that we spent on building Únic.
Lots of time working with Joonas, Sandra and Tomasz, who are meticulous people. In the end we made it and it’s definitely so cool. I think we can say today we’re the only ones to make such a quality fit, design, price and all unique.
Did you have day jobs that you had to give up?
Some people did, yes. Tomasz quit his job he had in a different brand, because he believed in this project. Joonas and Sandra are entrepreneurs with experience in online businesses.
Joonas was in fact a sportsman himself, a 4 time Long Track World Champion and a successful speedway rider. The idea of Únic was basically created when he was laying on a hospital bed facing a career-ending injury…
During the process of developing Únic, Sandra was pregnant with baby Axel and after birth, she didn’t stop work to go on maternity leave, as launching this project was everyone’s priority.
How make or break is the company for you?
We are doing premium high-tech products that are customisable and there is no other brand on the market that offers the same. I have tested for so long that I am confident to say that our clothing is top notch. Our team worked lots of hours to offer an easy and intuitive online customisation tool and that also makes us unique in the industry.
People can literally design their own MTB kit of their dreams in 3 minutes using their mobile phones. I hope the company will be a success not only because of the business side, but simply because I want to give people the freedom to look exactly how they want. You no longer need to be a copy, you can finally be unique.
You have designed and produced other riding kit, what sort of kit did you do and how did it help with Únic?
Yeah during my carrier I worked with other brands and I tried plenty of clothing. I know a lot about the fabrics, so I helped to choose the best textiles. For example, for the summer I always use mesh, that is breathable and very light.
I also tested textiles for rainy days and cold days and all this helped me today with Únic. I know what fits, what’s good, what’s going to be damaged (for example if you go through branches), what can go through different kinds of weather and there is also something we have to think of as well, the washing. Everything had to be taken into account and it was crucial for us to use the best materials.
If you buy Únic Wear, you just want to wear it every day.
How did you learn what you needed to know to get your own company off the ground and the kit in hand?
Already from my riding career and other businesses I knew that you’re as good as your weakest link. This is why having the best people involved in the project was key in getting the company off the ground. Luckily, we managed to gather a bunch of people with passion, experience and knowledge from different fields to create Únic.
How many prototypes/samples did you have before getting to the templates for the custom kit?
We had to run through so many samples because the fitting was adapted for so many different people including kids and women. We had to find the perfect fitting for everyone, with a good range, so there were tonnes of samples.
Like I said before, it’s a big investment, not only in timing but money wise as well.
We didn’t want to create something that was average: that was the key from day 1 with Joonas and Sandra. We wanted to make the kit and that’s why we had to run through so many samples. So many things that I wasn’t expecting from day 1, but at the end of the day I’m so happy we faced and sorted all those problems with all the samples we made. We wanted to be as proper and as clean and as perfect as possible. And I know we have more ideas coming already.
Beyond the prototypes/samples, what form did your testing take?
All the testing was done in various conditions. I’ve been using the clothing now for quite a long time, you guys have seen me using Únic clothing for over a year, travelling all around the world and finding all kinds of different situations of rough terrain.
For example, from Réunion island which is really moist to other areas that are cold and freezing like in Andorra if you’re doing early morning riding. As well I’ve been riding with trousers in the winter.
All that basically helped us to develop and find the perfect material.
Where next for Únic? How do you plan to go about getting extra helpers etc’?
Well we’ve just started and it’s a tough world. I’m just hoping that people are going to be amazed with the first kit that they get and tell their friends. First, I want people to get their kit, get their impression and let it talk by itself. I’m pretty sure what we create, like the fitting, the pricing and the way you can customise your own clothing for only 1 set is going to be key.
I’m interested in racing, all those new people coming into the mountain biking world with e-bikes who don’t want to look like a racer, this is what I’m thinking. Trying to create clothing for everyone. We’re hoping that word of mouth will work, get people talking and media like you guys to help us as well and test our products.