BY GRAHAM HUTSON
CYCLING can be tough going in Sweden. The default setting of the weather is “cold,” according to Thor Kruse Een, the founder of Void clothing. Even in summer.
“Today is eight degrees and sunny, but later it is raining, so if you want to go out riding in that you need some varied protection.”
It’s weather that sounds quite familiar to anyone in the UK. But for a clothing brand it can often present a challenge. This is where it helps to know your outdoor clothing, and why Void has hit the ground running in the burgeoning cyclewear sector. Things like all-weather softshell jerseys don’t just come about overnight.
Void is the latest creation from Colour Wear, a Swedish leisurewear company that started in 2010 with collections for skiers and snowboarders and also runners. Three years ago, Thor and his business partners Fredrik Abrahamson and Johan Ullbro decided to set up a cycle brand. “We really love cycling so we thought, ‘why not?’.”
It seems to have been a wise decision. Colour Wear and Void are now growing so fast that Thor has been forced to sacrifice his office
“We needed the space so I have to walk around a lot,” he confirms over the phone. You can sense him pacing and talking into his headset and you know he’s doing other things because every now and then his voice goes quiet. “My office space is gone, I’m the coffee drinking wanderer.”
Thor himself has been riding bikes since the eighties and has been racing for a good amount of the time since, both mountain-bike and road. He says this passion for cycling along with his team’s background in snowboarding and skating has helped shape the brand.
It is also the reason for Void’s approach to retailing. As is common with the best underground operations, Void is a brand that is quite difficult to track down. There is the website, but bricks and mortar retailers in the UK are few and far between. “We select only the cool bike shops as our stockists.”
One of the downfalls of clothing brands is that to make money, items need to be produced in volume. When you’re trying to retain an air of exclusivity, however, it doesn’t do to flood the market with product.
Thor says Void has not been faced with this dilemma because the production facilities and suppliers were already in place, producing Colour Wear clothing. It was simply a case of revising the items they were producing. “The business is already made. The production team is already here, the design team is already here.”
“Our turnover is really low and this year we will only sell around £550,000 of stock. We want to keep the volumes low and concentrate on the details in the garments.”
Void clothing is notable for its subtlety. Even the louder designs are well thought through and while the jerseys might have the logo emblazoned across the chest in a familiar block font, it’s done in a tasteful manner.
Thor is aware of comparisons that have been made between his brand and Rapha of the UK, but he insists the similarities are more coincidental. “We have minimalist designs. You have not too much but you have cool details. Our inspiration is commonly from Swedish brands like Nudie Jeans.
“Many people compare us to Rapha but we are definitely not Rapha. Rapha for me is more UK, and it is a little bit older. We want to be a little bit more up-tempo, a little bit more sticking the chin out, we are a bit more rock and roll. Because this company, we are in skiing and snowboarding and skateboarding so a lot of the designers’ backgrounds are from those areas so they look into cycling apparel a bit differently than if you are a cyclist.”
Thor says the cycling scene is growing in Denmark. “Not like the UK and Denmark, but definitely growing. In the beginning it was a lot of middle aged men doing a big race but now it is becoming a lot more fashionable and stylish.”
“If you just want to ride your bike and look good and do it with friends, that’s what it’s really about in Sweden. The weather is limiting certain things, you can’t go out every day and expect to be in short pants.”
Coincidentally, short pants happen to be one of the main items in the Void collection that Thor is most proud of. “We are really satisfied with them. Last week I did 32 hours of riding in six days wearing them and they work so good.”
Not the same shorts, presumably, but it gives you an idea of Void’s commitment to cycling. Something that Thor has every intention of continuing, despite the other side of the business.
“Void is going to be a what you call, organic company, we want to grow slowly and want to do it right. We want to put more focus into the product. We want to offer the consumer the best products at the best price. Not expensive but we really want to … you know we’re not satisfied with the products out there, we want to do it better, not really expensive.”
This is what sets Void apart from some competitors. Because of the established production process it is able to offer a high quality of garment at a relatively affordable price. But it doesn’t stop at the lower overheads. Thor insists it is also about remaining grounded.
“The challenge is doing middle priced products with quality. It isn’t buying Lamborghinis. We worked at American companies and we were so sick and tired of CEOs flying private helicopters and stupid stuff going on and then you see how expensive kit is and how bad quality and you know where the money is going and you’re so sick and tired of it.”
So not being stupid with money has become a company value, as has employee satisfaction: “We are three owners of the company and we are riding our bikes and everyone employed at Colour Wear gets one hour’s free of training every day and our office is located with singletracks and road cycling nearby and we have a gym and we never talk about turnover or reinvestment or how much money we could earn, we just want to do good products.”
It’s telling that Thor is prepared to hand over his own personal office whilst the company retains its personal gym, but that’s what Void is about. The cycling comes first, and for the label, to Thor it is about looking the very best while doing it.
“We want to have the coolest guys wearing our products, not the best guys but the coolest guys. No Team Sky. The best thing I know is if you can plan around a good cafe so you can stop there. That’s road cycling for me, I’ve been racing all my life but racing is no longer important, it’s just riding.”
Into the Void just took on a whole new meaning.