The Story of Lusso
by Jake Wright on Aug 03, 2022
Where It All Began
Before Lusso was a thing, John Harrison was an amateur cyclist in the UK - but doing it even better than the pros! In those days, you could win more prize money as an amateur than you could from a pro contract.
At 23, John decided racing bikes wasn’t for him, and found a job as a salesperson visiting bike shops to sell “Suretrack Tyres”, knowing quite a few store owners from his time as a racer.
On his rounds, the talk of the trade was that people were struggling to find comfortable, affordable, cycling shorts - let alone a pair produced in the UK. There was only one supplier doing this at the time, but they're not around these days.
To seize the day, John took to night-school. Learning how to design patterns and fabrics, John applied his newfound knowledge to creating his first pair of cycling shorts. Dot, his girlfriend at the time - now Mrs. Harrison - was the perfect partner in stitches, working as a sewing machinist in M&S.
A single roll of fabric and three rented sewing machines later, John and Dot were well on their way to creating their first pair of waist fit shorts. Hand drawn onto paper, then cut into cloth.
For the day, you'd expect to find a leather Chamois pad sewn into your shorts. But that was the problem, it just wasn't as comfortable as you'd like. John, cogs turning, headed to the local tannery to have his pads individually cut. Next, he headed to a local furniture upholsterer and sourced some high-density 10mm foam. By stitching the Chamois leather over the foam, he changed the game forever.
With their one roll of fabric, they managed to eek out just over 100 pairs of shorts. The backroom outfit became an overnight success, with every pair sold out almost instantly. How's that for validation?
Tyred of his day job, John handed in his notice. Lusso is born.
We've always sourced the best materials in the world, they just so happen to be from Italy. So we picked an Italian name, Lusso - meaning 'Luxury'. All the best things in cycling were coming from Italy at the time - Campagnolo Groupsets, Bianchi, Colnago Bikes. To this day, we're still getting phone calls and emails in Italian, so it's a shock to the callers when they're greeted with a warm Mancunian welcome on the other side.
Within the month, our second product was born: Belgium Hats.
By the winter, we'd sold thousands of these hats. In these days before helmets, people were a little more blase about protection. But everyone likes a warm noggin' in the snow.
We started our production in the corner of Derek Partington Cycles, up in Bolton. We figured out a deal for free rent if we let Derek have discounted Lusso product on his shelves (bargain!). Derek helped keep us up to date with the latest trends in the market, helping us keep growing. He was a legend in his time, and we're very thankful for everything that he did for us.
This is the year that we had our first logo designed and made into sewn-on badges - we still have a few that we've held onto.
We started to build the variety in our range. Winter bottoms, long and short-sleeve jerseys, jackets. It turns out nobody else was making heavy duty winter gear for the UK, so Lusso exploded in popularity. Most of the kit of the day was being made for sunny and warmer climates.
Over the next two years, we'd outgrown our little corner in the mill. We cobbled our money together and bought a Jahovas Witness Hall - not that we used it for much prayer! When the tenants moved out they left over 100 chairs, which was handy for our growing business. It turns out the place was haunted, but thankfully by 1984 we knew who to call.
Our first big machine investments helped us to up production. This is when we got our hands on a Lockstitch and Plain Sewer, an Overlock Machine, and a Seamcover. The 10 of us were all working in this one great big hall, with a few partitions put up for offices.
We moved away from using animal products in the chamois, instead opting for an equivalent from a company called Vyleader. This equivalent came on the roll, so we went from cutting individually to cutting hundreds at a time, boosting efficiency and production.
We created our very first catalogue to keep up with our growing variety of products, no internet in those days. We started to build great relationships with our retail customers, who helped us by giving feedback and developing our products. We owe a lot to these people, and still have the catalogues to remember.
Outgrowing the Jahova Hall, we moved into a single story unit with better workspaces and separate offices - John was excited, and we're still here today. It also gave us the space to expand our machine arsenal, have a stock room, and a canteen to eat.
Our first bicycle trade show in Harrogate gained our introduction to more retail customers. This is where we met Miti and other International Fabric MIlls - including the Roubaix fleece that we turned into winter bib tights. Blown away by the materials that we were introduced to here, we switched from acrylic wool over to lycra. The European pros had been using this for a few seasons at this point. It was magic stuff, more comfortable, supporting, and better aerodynamic performance.
The year that we introduced our line of "Pro Gel" bib shorts. A lycra short, with a brand-new gel chamois. No more foam, no more leather!
The reviews started piling in. Cycling magazines started giving us "Best Buys" for winter jackets and summer bib shorts. Off the back of this, we started to build a reputation for quality with the public and not just the trade.
Going international. During 1998, we opened trade accounts across the world. Moving into Australian and North American markets.
Hit the milestone of 1000 trade accounts in the UK.
We began to get enquiries from UK customers that moved abroad. They loved what they'd bought previously, so wanted to see whether we're able to ship products directly to them. Being trade only up until this point, it was a bit of an eye opener. We began looking into new shipping channels, which resulted in losing the middle man.
Way before it was cool, we began introducing recycled fabrics into the range. We found out that it was only a little more expensive than virgin fabrics, so we thought this was a no-brainer for the environmental benefit.