The majority of the Twin Cities cycling apparel companies are small shops that specialize in a “crafty” persona and great goods made locally. But we also have bigger companies manufacturing on a large-scale, one of those companies is O2 Rainwear. We caught up with Adam Ziskin the Owner of O2 after meeting him at ARTCRANK a few weeks ago. Here’s what we learned.
CTC: What first got you into the cycling apparel world and how did you decide to focus specifically on rain gear?
Adam: It was by accident. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s business school with the anticipation of working for someone in the music industry for a few years and then trying to start my own record label. I was a musician (drummer) & an outdoor sports addict. I loved being active. I had an internship in Chicago for the Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) and realized quickly that the music industry was not what I thought it was nor did I want to explore it further as a career. I moved back to Minneapolis & sent my resume to the SF Bay Area, where all my college friends ventured for the dot.com surge and I where I had family close by. During that time, I was approached by a few people who wanted to start an apparel company with the exclusive rights to a very high performance membrane. This membrane was extremely breathable and fully waterproof. I knew nothing about textiles at the time, I just knew about business models & execution strategies. When we first started, we made somewhat generic designs with this technology for general rainwear use. We slowly got into camping, fishing, hunting, golfing, running. One day, we took our fabric to a local bike shop and visited with the store manager at the time whom opened his door to us. He immediately thought the fabric would work in the bike market and allowed us to test a bike design on the employees and get feedback etc… From that, we made a bike specific product and jumped into the bike market. During this time, we were making licensed rainwear, private label rainwear, as well as our own brand O2 in most rainwear categories. I had been cycling my entire life but as a mode of transportation. It never occurred to me until after college that it wasn’t just a mode of transportation, it was a lifestyle, a sport, and an enabler. I suffered a severe disc injury in my back playing high school sports that slowly crippled my ability to do some of the more rigorous & higher impact activities that I was into. I have chronic pain and barely any disc left in my L4 & L5. That is when I turned to the bicycle. It became my fix, my outlet, my freedom without severe pain. Because of this, it also became my focus for our brand. In 2003, the guys that started the company with me all went their separate ways. I didn’t want to go anywhere, so I kept at it. I pretty much just focused on the cycling business from there on out, since it was what I was most passionate about. I eliminated our fishing & hunting products, and just made cycling specific products along with a continuing few other programs that have now run their course.
Adam: Without any detailed explanation I would say that I bring high performance waterproof, breathable, & lightweight bike apparel to price points that are extremely affordable with designs that are clean & functional. When we first started making waterproof breathable products in 1998, the mass markets & audience weren’t ready for it. People wouldn’t pay for performance, they didn’t understand fully the benefits of breathable vs. non-breathable rainwear. Our technology allowed us to come into the market at extremely low price points for breathable waterproof gear, an area that usually only a clear PVC jacket would be priced at or around. This allowed us to be unique & have a competitive advantage. The mass audience was still used to non-breathable cheap plastic rain gear. Customers weren’t yet educated on “performance” attributes and why one would want to pay more for it. However, the sports niches were always the first adopters & usually the first to be educated on performance technologies, and so the running/biking markets were really where we were having the most success. It wasn’t easy. Nowadays, all brands are making high performance apparel and most retailers and end-users are very familiar with the technologies out there. I run a very lean company, so the overhead is extremely low. Price of a product always takes into consideration overhead. Because of this, I have always felt that my products have more value than anyone’s just based on price alone, if it were ever an apples to apples comparison, my product would always be more affordable. I also think that my designs come from hearing feedback from my sales reps, dealers, & end-users on what their needs are in harshest conditions. We bike in the Midwest. The Midwest has the most inconsistent & extreme weather for cycling. We may not have mountains to bike up, but we have straight line winds to bike through, and a very small window of perfect biking weather annually. If you bike at all in the Midwest, you’ve biked more often than not in non-ideal conditions. My designs come from cycling in these conditions & getting feedback from cyclists that endure these conditions far more than I do.
CTC: We saw that Nokomis Rain Suit on your website, looks great! What else is new for 2011?
Adam: Being a one-man company for the most part, things take time. This past year I have put all my energy into giving my brand & products a facelift. I am extremely proud to be from the Twin Cities. I think we have the best cycling community in the world. I actually think the Twin Cities cycling market is a brand in itself. We are trend setting in the cycling industry as much as anyone, from our unique shops, events, local brands, and fashion, to just plain social & political support, we have it all right here. I have redesigned the website first and foremost. Our website was archaic & wasn’t working for me. It was designed almost 10 years ago and had 10 year old technology. I wasn’t able to be hands on with it, so I couldn’t adapt quickly with requests or information updates as I would have to hire help for any changes and it would take weeks etc… Now I’m super pumped to bring our website to a more contemporary design that I have full access in managing. I wanted to have that subtle Minneapolis feel to it, and have a real simple & clean navigating experience. About two years ago I started thinking that I wanted to honor the place that I love the most by branding our products with the names of our lakes, parks, or landmarks. In 2011 and moving forward, this will be the case. Both the Nokomis & Calhoun Series is new for 2011. To me, the names were a no brainer. Obviously most people know the Calhoun & Nokomis lakes, and I wanted to start with those since those lakes were the ones I bike past more than any others. But the names now bring more personal pride to my product. I’ve also taken a more active role in being involved in our local events, media, and collaborations. I also have teamed up with the local Twin Cities RedBlackBrown Collective to design some t-shirts for me that should be up on our site very soon. (www.redblackbrown.com ).
CTC: How long does the design process take for new gear?
Adam: Usually it takes a full season to fully come up with a new design. This isn’t because of the actual creative process taking that long, it’s more of trial and error and cost effectiveness of the design. You must take into consideration which textiles you are using, how they are being used in the design, what other elements you are adhering or using with the textile, what price you are trying to achieve, and what performance level you are trying to achieve. You must have samples made each time, and it’s a back & forth process until you are happy with the outcome. This takes time obviously as the initial sample from the initial design is never the final product.
CTC: Where around town can people find O2 gear to try out?
Adam: You can visit my website www.O2Rainwear.com and use the store locator to find your closest dealer. A good amount of our amazing Twin Cities dealers carry O2 Rainwear. Our 2011 gear is just shipping out so it may be a few weeks before its showcasing anywhere.
CTC: What’s special about the Twin Cities Cycling scene, that keeps you around here?
Adam: I’ve answered that to some extent already, but I’d like to elaborate as well. The amount of paved & gravel paths that most people can get to within a mile from their home is incredible. Bike advocacy in the Twin Cities is amazing. We have the support from our community at large that views cycling as an important part of our transportation system and they promote the creation of safe bike routes to do so along with supporting Nice Ride MN bike stations around the Twin Cities. We have every dynamic of bike shop you could want to be educated on any brand or product that you can think of. We have very diverse cycling niches in and around the Twin Cities that get along with one another and sees the big picture of being one strong community. We have the biggest & best state of the art cycling distributor in the world QBP, which employs, advocates, & supports our local cyclists/cycling community. I could go on forever…
Adam: Sure do! A lot of my friends are artists & designers and as big as cycling is in the Twin Cities, we have just as good of a design community here. So I get stoked ever year for the brilliant concept that Charles Youel created combining artists & cycling for the bike poster party ARTCRANK. My office & house are decorated almost every wall from posters from this. I love it. Another event I simply don’t miss is the Nature Valley Bicycle Festival, and specifically the Sunday Criterium Race in Stillwater. It’s usually humid & over 90 degrees that day for whatever reason, but there is not another crit course harder than this one in North America with that Chilkoot Hill climb every lap, its brutal. I always try to bring as many of my non-cycling friends to see this race as it turns people on to the sport.