Simon Mottram, Rapha CEO, image courtesy 99% by Behance

Rapha CEO Simon Mottram – 99 Percent Interview

As a huge Rapha fan, I always enjoy reading about its founder and CEO, Simon Mottram, and his insights into brand development in general and the evolution of the Rapha brand  in particular.

I recently unearthed an interview with Mr. Mottram on Behance’s “the 99%” website.  While starting to write some commentary about his approach, I ended up with a summary of my introduction to and experience with Rapha.

My introduction to Rapha was through their collaboration with Apolis Global on the Transit Elite sweater–an interpretation of a 1950s-era wool cycling training jersey in a merino and cashmere blend woven at the Citta Women’s Cashmere Cooperative in Kathmandu, Nepal.  Apolis produced a short film documenting this aspect of their Nepal Project which was fascinating and informative to watch, and watch, and watch again.  Somewhere along the line, I purchased a Transit Elite and it is in continuous rotation in my wardrobe–a very nice outer or mid-layer for chilly San Francisco mornings.  Did I mention that I also practically live in Rapha’s lightweight merino City Riding sweaters?  Well, I do, and find myself thinking a lot about merino lately–not the sheep, but about how we might work something in merino into the Mobilized product line.

I spent time on the Rapha website getting reacquainted with road cycling, which had been a passion of mine in the 1980s when the likes of Hinault, Fignon, and Lemand dominated the professional peloton.

Within a relatively short period time, I was essentially living on the Rapha site, catching up on blog posts, reading editorial pieces, watching films, and, of course, checking out the wares.  Mr. Mottram’s vision was intuitively clear to me well before I read anything about him or Rapha’s evolution. I understood that he sought to create a community of interest around road cycling, generating excitement and a certain mystique through well-executed photography and short films of suitably suffering cyclists, kitted out in Rapha’s gear while engaged in epic rides in the Alps or Pyrenees to which one could vicariously aspire from the safety one’s cubicle or sofa. What’s also noteworthy is the extension of the brand to include sponsorship of the Rapha Condor Sharp professional cycling team, the quarterly Rouleur magazine, and both pop-up and permanent cycling clubhouses.

Naturally, I was pleased when Rapha opened a clubhouse in San Francisco and elated when they announced that it would be their first permanent retail outlet in North America.  In spite of the cross-town trek, I’m making a concerted effort this summer to cycle over to the club two or three times a week for a coffee, catch the latest stage of whatever race is running, commune with my fellow devotees and the staff, and, of course, buy stuff. I think San Francisco was the logical choice for a permanent presence since it’s possible to cycle year round and the Bay Area is home to a large contingent of affluent cyclists. It’s located in San Francisco’s Marina district, where it gets plenty of foot traffic. The club’s proximity to to the Golden Gate Bridge makes a convenient and dramatic gateway for club rides in Marin County.

From an outsider’s point of view, Mr. Mottram and Rapha are executing flawlessly on his original brand vision. I’m particularly impressed with the apparent speed of their product development cycle as I receive a continuous stream of emails with new product announcements. I’ve observed a significant expansion of Rapha’s product offerings since 2010, so I think they hit an inflection point from which their business has grown quite rapidly, particularly outside the UK. It also appears that they are moving production to factories in the EU when and where possible.  So, I’m looking forward to continuing to observe and learn from Rapha’s evolution while pitching in to help their top line as well.