The centuries-spanning story behind Wearwell

With a history spanning centuries, we’re pleased to feature the brand new Revival collection from the UK-brand Wearwell in the CyclingTips Emporium.

There’s a black and white picture from 1953, in which the smiling podium placers of the Tour of Britain are surrounded by an adoring public. Ian Greenfield is hoisted on the shoulders of his team-mates from the young Wearwell Racing Team, an arm raised in triumph. His team-mates are grimy faced and weary looking but they’ve got reason to celebrate, too. The team have swept the podium of their home tour, taken out the teams classification and are the new darlings of the British racing circuit.

It wasn’t the first taste of success for Wearwell and it wouldn’t be the last. But these glittering highs sit alongside terrible lows. From sporting glory to embezzlement, insolvency and resurrection, Wearwell is a brand with a hell of an origin story.

In the working class heartland of Britain in 1889, Wearwell was a bicycle manufacturer born from the ashes of a family feud — four brothers striking out on their own after falling out with their older brother, who’d just seized control of the family’s existing bike business. Having weathered this storm, the brand quickly grew to a major player in the market before being brought to its knees by the company secretary gambling the profits away at the pool hall, with the added indignity that this was perpetrated with insider assistance from one of the brothers. The deception had been uncovered too late, forcing Wearwell into administration and putting an end to the first chapter of its existence.

The Waine brothers (George, Vincent, Jack & Theo)

So how do we take the route from bankrupted pre-war bike brand to 21st century cycling apparel manufacturer? The journey is a circuitous one, involving plenty more twists and turns. Saved from the chopping block by George Alexander Waine, Wearwell’s second phase straddled the two World Wars, even falling victim to a German bombing raid. But against the odds, Wearwell battled on, eventually becoming titans of the British bike manufacturing industry and exporting thousands of bikes to more than 30 countries throughout the Commonwealth and beyond. The brand was still manufacturing bikes until the mid-1970s, when the last Wearwell was welded — forced out of business by the twin indignities of recession and the automobile boom. Finally, it seemed, this was the end of the road. Or was it?

Three years ago, Alex Joynson (above left) and Will Laughton (above right) started looking into the possibility of starting a cycling clothing brand. The two were keen cyclists, and long-term rowing rivals — each having competed at the national level — and they saw an opportunity to bring something unique, and authentic, to the cycling apparel space. A new, 21st century iteration of Wearwell was born. The great-great-grandson of George Waine, former owner of Wearwell, would be behind the revival of the name as a clothing brand.

Joynson explains: “I’d known about a family connection with a cycling company ever since I was a child… however, it wasn’t until I started cycling properly about 10 years ago that I began to be more and more intrigued by the history of the business. The further I dug into the backstory the better it got!” Joynson pieced together the mythology of the brand, linking the dusty old bikes hanging around in his grandparents’ garage to Wearwell’s glory days.

It’s the company’s rich history which ultimately informs the modern-day Wearwell’s first release. Of the classy, classic black and white Revival Collection, Joynson says “it’s an homage to our Tour of Britain winning team of 1953 — albeit one that we’ve brought bang up to date in terms of the fabric and construction technology used.”

Quality is a driving concern behind Wearwell’s apparel, and fittingly enough, there’s a lesson from the past for the new generation to draw on. “The slogans ‘Quality you can rely on’ and ‘The Choice of Champions’ were both used in Wearwell marketing campaigns during the early 20th century,” explains Joynson. “And we have tried to be true to these values as we relaunch the brand”.

Current Wearwell owners Alex Joynson and Will Laughton bring both a passion for cycling and serious chops as riders — Will has survived leukaemia and a bone marrow transplant and has gone on to medal with the GB Transplant team at both a national and international level. But they also have an appreciation for the long history of the brand that they’ve revived, and a personal connection that’s woven into the fabric of their kit.

The modern era of Wearwell is one that incorporates the long and storied history of this venerable British brand, embracing both its struggle and perseverance. The Wearwell of 2017 is an evolution from its industrial forebear, and is part of the globalised present — suppliers from around the world making products for a quintessentially British brand, selling their heritage-rich garments to a new breed of enthusiasts worldwide. But its heart is the same. Wearwell’s proud legacy continues into another century.

You can view the Wearwell Revival collection here.

This content was written for the CyclingTips Emporium.