Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Mountain-biking jerseys, shorts, and bibs
Founder Matt Hayes emphasizes quality with his innovative, distinctively Western apparel for mountain biking.
"There's plenty of quality road bike apparel out there," says Hayes, who grew up working at bike shops and in the outdoor industry. "For whatever reason companies don't believe that mountain bikers are going to spend money on apparel and they don't use the same high-quality fabrics for mountain bike apparel that they use for their road bike offerings. So we figured we'd let the road bike companies continue to make their stuff and we just wanted to make some really high-quality pieces for mountain bikers."
Despite the youth of the company and its small size -- Hayes contracts with local sewers and warehouses in the second bedroom of his apartment -- he's already garnering great reviews from industry press.
Mountain Bike Action wrote: "When Conation approached us with the new Merino wool short, we were skeptical. Bottom line, though, it works remarkably well." The products have also been favorably reviewed by VeloNews, Dirt Rag, Bike Magazine, and other publications.
"When we started the idea was to make a more casual looking kit that performed as well as a Spandex kit," Hayes says. "So designed all of our apparel to be worn in a casual setting so that would mean that the liner shorts are worn under a baggy riding short."
"I wanted to start from scratch and just throw out all of the ideas that I had learned," Hayes expounds. "Part of that was looking at fabric."
"I really like to use the Merino wool for pieces that sit against the skin as opposed to using a synthetic piece, which is generally used," Hayes says of the new liner shorts and Conation Collective's popular bib. "Wool has great moisture management. So it wicks sweat and other moisture away really well and it also has natural antimicrobial properties to it."
Merino is often used in baselayers, like undershirts and long underwear but it's usually a thinner fabric that could degrade quicker. "Instead of using a thin fabric in a really high friction area like the chamois the bike short -- which is being pinched between your body weight and the seat of a mountain bike -- we use a thicker fabric so it holds the stitch better, but it's it's a mesh fabric so it has more perforations in it for breathability," Hayes explains.
The chamois also comes from Italy and is designed for the rigors of mountain biking over road biking, using a triple-density foam. "What sets it apart from all the other shorts on the market is that it's a fully perforated chamois," Hayes claims. "We wanted to have that extra breathability of a perforated family that allows for better airflow."
"We use a four-way stretch synthetic for our other products. So the baggy shorts, the vintage and Western-style jerseys, and then we have a synthetic bib as well," Hayes says. "We import that fabric from France we print, cut, sew everything here in the U.S. . . . That's what dictates our price point a little bit, the fabric is just much higher quality than a lot of our competitors are using."
By manufacturing in Colorado and the U.S., Hayes says Conation is able to reduce its environmental impact, while ensuring his contractors are paid a living wage. "Our shipping impact is way lower," he notes. "When you ship a roll of fabric across the ocean it's a pretty minor environmental impact, but when you ship large boxes of finished products, it has a much bigger environmental impact."
Conation is making headway on entering stores, with shops as far away as California and Pennsylvania carrying his clothes, but Hayes says that right now much of his business comes through word of mouth and demos.
"It's just so encouraging when someone picks up the jersey or they pick up a pair of shorts and they're like, 'Oh man, I wasn't expecting this. You know, this is so much different than every other plaid, snap-down shirt on the market,'" Hayes says.
Challenges: "Just just trying to educate riders on why it is important to have quality apparel," Hayes says. "What's going to make or break your ride is if you're super cold because your clothes aren't drying or if you're overheated because your fabric is too thick. . . . We want to make sure that people are performing at their best."
Opportunities: Hayes says demand for quality apparel is on the rise "We finally got to the point that people understand the benefits of better hardware. So I think that as the industry grows in that direction and there will be a natural progression for people to start looking out the clothing that they're wearing as well."
Needs: "The needs right now are really around just getting the word out," Hayes says. "It just takes a lot of time and energy and effort to get in front of enough people to reach that critical mass."