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When USA Cycling announced that Assos had been named the official cycling apparel partner for the USA Cycling Team up to and including the 2020 Olympic Games, there were more than a few disgruntled fans (and racers!) Not everyone was a fan of the retro design, but more importantly, it’s the company’s notoriously sexist advertising that does not sit well with people.
The first company to use lycra in its apparel, Assos is an iconic cycling brand known for its innovation and quality products since the 1970s. However, in more recent years, Assos has become equally known for its non-athletic, half-naked and sexist depiction of its models.
So when USA Cycling proudly announced the new partnership, we had some questions.
“Assos’ past advertising was certainly an area of consideration for us,” USA Cycling’s Kevin Loughery told Ella CyclingTips. “During our discussions, marketing was addressed and our team was happy to hear of their plans to change their approach, which we are already seeing under the guidance of Phil Duff. Both Assos and USA Cycling are in the midst of some exciting change, and both parties are aligned in focusing on positive progression for women’s cycling.”
Phil Duff, the former owner of Black Diamond Equipment, became the new CEO of Assos after purchasing a majority interest in the company in September of last year. He’s been leading a rebranding of the customer-facing side of the company ever since.
“Yes, I am quite painfully aware of how Assos has portrayed women in the past,” said Duff, who had been an Assos customer himself since its founding days. “Not only do I know that from the marketplace, but in my first few weeks of getting involved with the Assos, I’d come home every night and my wife would say, ‘when the hell are you getting the naked women off their website?’”
Further personal commitment to bettering the portrayal of women comes from Duff’s experience as a father of three daughters and having served as a chairman of the board of trustees of an all-girls school.
“Whether I wanted to or not, I have gotten way more sensitive to the issues that women have to deal with in the real world whether that is in the workplace or societally and, in the case of Assos, in terms of being on the bike,” explained Duff. “It’s something that both from a brand perception and from a pure product standpoint, we are right in the midst of addressing.”
While the company’s commitment to innovation and technically performance-driven products will remain unchanged, there are a number of changes in progress.
“There are some things that are changing, particularly with respect to the customer-facing side of this company, one of which is that everyone here is now fully on board that we are now going to portray women the same way we portray men –as athletes,” said Duff.
When asked what that’s going to look like, Duff explained that they’re using real riders and professional riders wearing Assos products in a more realistic setting.
Models will also come from the Assos ambassador program and its employees like Italian employee (and Luca Paolini’s wife) Elena Rusco and UK brand ambassador bad-ass racer Juliet Elliott (pictured). Duff revealed that Assos will continue using Andrea Zamboni — a.k.a The Assos Man — but it “may take on a different form than it has in the past.”
“Certainly our growth in the future is still going to be driven by product innovation but we are trying to add a customer-face to that,” said Duff. “In the past it’s not something the Assos team had spent a lot of time on.”
Here’s a look at some of Assos’ recent advertising images: