Here at the CyclingTips Emporium we’re pleased to be featuring an exclusive pre-release men’s and women’s kit from Stelf Cycling’s upcoming fourth season, available for a limited time only.
The barriers to starting a cycling apparel brand are lower than ever — it’s easy to get access to the same manufacturers as the big brands, and social media is a proven (and inexpensive) tool for growing a loyal following. But it’s one thing to have an idea, and another to turn that idea into reality.
In founding Stelf Cycling in 2014, Matt McCrohon ran into a problem; a problem that might have stopped most one-man brands from even starting: he had no design experience whatsoever.
“It was just a simple idea shared between riding mates which continued to evolve over time as I became more confident with the craft of developing designs and garments,” Matt told us. “I had no prior experience with the textile industry, retail or graphic design, however I knew that if I followed the simple strategy of continuous improvement whilst developing kit and a brand that passed my own high standards than success was achievable.
“Ohh … and most importantly, have fun doing it!”
Hailing from Wollongong, a coastal town in the Australian state of New South Wales, Matt is humble about how he got his brand off the ground. He literally taught himself how to design by watching YouTube tutorials, while the skills from his day-job in procurement helped him establish the manufacturing agreements that would make it all possible. He also had the support of and honest feedback from a loving wife.
“Laura, my beautiful wife, is acting Stelf design curator,” Matt explained. “Although she’s not a cyclist she provides the brutal honesty I need when drafting seasonal designs.”
Like many cycling brands that we speak to, the idea behind Stelf Cycling was conceived over a post-ride coffee between riding mates. And while Matt has been the driving force behind the brand as designer, owner and rider, he sees his relationship with Kyle and Jayden Ward, two elite mountain biking brothers, as key to his success.
“Involvement with the Ward Brothers first started in late 2014 soon after releasing Season One when Stelf become one of their main sponsors,” Matt said. “Our partnership has gone from strength to strength. Me and the boys created Team Stelf a group of elite male and female MTB riders and Kyle Ward is now a part of Stelf Cycling which extends past his involvement as a sponsored rider.
“Kyle’s role includes product testing and development, sales and industry know-how.”
While Stelf was founded just two years ago, it feels like the cycling apparel industry has evolved a lot in that time. The idea for Stelf came from a desire to stand out and wear something other than heavily branded kits (hence the brand’s logo being a take on a stealth bomber). And while that was a new concept in 2014, Matt acknowledges it’s harder and harder to stand out today.
“Creating a point of difference within the extremely competitive ‘Instagram Brand’ market is the biggest challenge,” Matt said. “From a marketing perspective, it’s all about getting the customer to stop scrolling through their phone and pause on your post.
“Stelf is doing this by combining high-quality kit, quality images whilst also adding humour, racing and training/recreational ride shots to show the human elements behind the brand.”
When speaking to Matt, one thing is clear: he is absolutely obsessed with our great sport. The motto behind the brand and the Stelf racing team is #ridehardhavefun. The brand shares that philosophy through Matt’s passion for racing (he races at an A-grade club level) and riding with mates. It’s a passion that most of us can relate to.
“I love racing. I love the gear. I love the kit. I love the competition. But for me the most important element of the sport is when race day comes; you ride your ass off and win or lose, you have fun doing it!” Matt said. “If you win you have a laugh. If you lose you have a laugh. This mantra is what I want the brand to represent.
“Take the bike and kit seriously but its always about riding hard, hitting limits and having fun. I want Stelf to encourage people to invest their own passion of cycling into the brand.”
Now that Stelf is in its fourth season, Matt (above left) has decided to do something different to continue evolving the brand’s design. He’s collaborating with his cousin, and talented fine artist, Amber Carbury (above right) to develop the designs. This season the brand will also feature a dedicated women’s range.
“With each season Stelf has increased the complexity of its designs. The ultimate goal is to create artwork which the rider can wear,” Matt explained. “Amber is an exceptionally talented and acclaimed artist from Valla Beach. Amber’s artworks include extremely intricate and unique patterns as backgrounds for her painting main subjects.
“I chose to make these backgrounds the forefront of Season 4. S4 truly is artwork.”