Why are KNICKS so expensive??

After a recent Facebook poll on what sort of bike-related things are too expensive, knicks came out on top of the list.

Before starting our blog, we didn't really know a great deal about the nitty gritty of cycling clothing - particularly women's cycle shorts. Either it was comfy or it wasn't, it was the right price or it wasn't and we liked the colours/pattern or we didn't. Simple. Right? Irrespective of how much knowledge of technical fabrics and biomechanics you have, whether you have been riding for a week or a decade, there is one thing you will be familiar with: Knicks, particularly bib knicks, can be f%&king expensive. So, we talked to one of our favourite cycling gear retailers and asked them about how they price their knicks and what to consider when purchasing them... it was at this point we started to understand there is a lot more to knicks than we appreciated at first glance. If you aren't yet aware, cycling shorts (knicks) have come a long way since the days of yore. Historically, cycling shorts were made of wool (perfect for hiding oil and grease stains and able to conjure a particularly nice brand of thigh sweat for those of us who live in the tropics) and had a chamois leather pad stitched into it. And this was only in the 1980s. Today, the introduction of technical fabrics, synthetic chamois and a great deal of innovation in material and manufacturing means cycling shorts offer us the benefit of:
  • protection against friction
  • sweat absorbtion
  • keeping us cool
  • reduced fatigue in the leg muscles, and
  • providing support and comfort to the genital region - particularly during longer rides.
Then, of course, there's the reduced wind resistance if aerodynamic efficiency is something you are into.

Why are those women's cycle shorts so expensive?

So, after that trip down memory lane, let's circle back to the original question. Why are knicks sometimes so expensive? Here are some factors we think you should know to make your decision.

Economies of Scale and minimum orders

When speaking to a few different businesses about the shorts they make, one factor became really evident. Economies of scale. When creating the garments you see in shops , the companies selling them have to order them (mostly!) from a manufacturer. If you have ever tried to get your own kit designed, you will know it can be an expensive process because you need to pre-pay the manufacturer to have them made once you design them. Most manufacturing companies have 'minimum orders' (because everyone needs to pay the bills) and then a sliding scale of prices depending on the quantity ordered. The larger the company, the more easily they are able to pre-pay for large quantities of knicks at once achieving volume discounts for doing so. This means they can pass this discount on to you, the customer. For smaller businesses and those just starting out, you might only be able to afford batches of 20 garments (as opposed to 20,000). At this quantity, you aren't going to be able to secure the volume discounts of your larger competitors. In fact, if you tried to sell at the price of your competitors, you would be losing money! In fact, we talked to an Australian designer of cycling kit who has very kindly given us a breakdown of their costs and profit. They are currently able to afford a minimum order of 30 pairs of knicks from their manufacturer and sell them with an RRP of $160.00 AUS.
Manufacturing Cost $ 59.00 $ 71.98
Postage (per item) $ 2.00 $ 2.44
Duty (approx 5%) $ 2.95 $ 3.60
GST (10%) $ 5.90 $ 7.20
Warehousing (Admin) $ 2.08 $ 2.54
Packaging $ 1.50 $ 1.83
Swing Tags $ 0.80 $ 0.98
Postage $ 8.40
TOTAL $ 98.96
"For most boutique cycling companies, until you pick up the market and you can start to manufacture 200+ items at a time - that's when you can see your profits."
Out of the $60 profit per item, they also need to take into account:
  • design costs (minimum of $250 per design)
  • staff salaries (varies from hundreds to thousands per week)
  • web design and e-commerce costs (thousands in set up costs plus ongoing maintenance and subscriptions)
  • social media marketing campaigns (hundreds of dollars per month to make sure the ads you see on your Facebook feed actually get you to click and buy)
  • tents at events (hundreds to create marketing banners, flyers and have samples printed to sell at events)
All of these items reduce the profit to the designer until you, the buyer, reach a certain number after which time the company can order larger quantities of the garment and pass on the savings to you.

Country of origin

Aside from any ethical issues that may exist, another factor which comes into play with the price of your knicks is where the manufacturer is. If a company advertises their gear is made in a first world country, understand that the price will be higher because people (just like you!) are getting paid a fair wage to feed their families. For instance, if you get your product designed and made in Australia (or any other 1st world country), your product is bound to be more expensive as the cost per item is much higher thanks to the labour laws that protect us (such as minimum wage) and the general working conditions that we enjoy in our own jobs. If you outsource your manufacturing to countries such as China, India or the Philippines, the price is going to be much lower due to, well.. the opposite of everything we listed above.

Material quality

If you've ever had the distinct unpleasantness of riding in clothing that is ill-fitting, poor quality or poorly put together, you will know that sometimes the old adage is true: You get what you pay for. The material your knicks are made from will have a huge impact how on how luxurious and comfortable the garment feels as well as how it washes and wears. The majority of cycling clothing is made from Lycra/Spandex (though some are sill made from wool) - a synthetic fiber known for its exceptional elasticity (stretching up to five times its length) and strength (it's more durable than natural rubber). It's important to remember that there isn't just one type of lycra. Fibres can be produced in four different ways which impact its elasticity, its ability to return to its original shape after stretching it and its ability to dry faster than ordinary fabrics. Different blends and combinations of lycra and other fabrics within your knicks will determine how expensive it is to purchase wholesale and then how expensive it is for the manufacturer to work with. It pays to make sure the materials in your knicks are worth it. No-one wants to spend time in the saddle wearing uncomfortable shorts! Understanding that the type of materials used can impact the price is important.

Chamois quality

Yes. They're reminiscent of drawings a 13-year-old boy might doodle in their school books, but the chamois is - without a doubt - the most integral feature of cycling shorts. Think about it. When you're out for a spin, you might be averaging 80-100 pedal strokes per minute. That's between 14,400 to 18,000 revolutions in three hours. Without a good quality chamois, you may as well start putting sandpaper between your thighs. Throw some between your buttcheeks too, while you're at it. A good pair of knicks will:
  • have a chamois that has bacteriostatic properties, which IS NOT the same as antibacterial treatments - these are often chlorine-based, which can lead to skin irritations and an imbalance in good vs harmful bacteria on your skin.
  • absorb sweat and leaving the skin in the intimate parts as dry as possible, preventing chafing
  • enable you to maintain better posture in the saddle, meaning no shifting around to find a more comfortable position
In short, the sole purpose of the chamois is to protect your nether regions and deliver the highest level of comfort possible for the type of riding you are doing.

The verdict

It's important to get right, yet so difficult due to the sheer number of shapes and sizes available. Make sure your chamois is fit for purpose (long distance, short to medium rides, discipline-specific). We've been spending a lot of time researching how best to support businesses in the bike industry; particularly, local businesses. What we've found is that things aren't necessarily as simple as they might seem on the surface. Buying and supporting local does cost more. Items you find cheaper in a bike shop may not necessarily be the worst quality, and the most expensive may not be the best. Every body is different, which means every brand fits differently on every person. To find your best fit, head to your local bike shop and try as many brands as you can. Get recommendations from your friends and don't let the price of an item put you off... you may be surprised with how hard a company is working to get your fave pair of knicks made and in your closet at home!

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