Born of innovation

The new Special Edition Reflective Crew Neck, knitted with a retroreflective yarn, is one of Rapha’s most innovative products yet. Designer Alistair Smith explains the technological advances behind the product.

When Alistair Smith and the design team at Rapha set about creating the Special Edition Reflective Crew Neck there was one fundamental desire, to keep the hi-vis elements “under the hood.” But why hide the very feature that makes your product stand out? Because what connects the knitwear products in the new City collection is the idea that functional features should be seen when you need them and hidden when you don’t. The Special Edition Reflective Crew Neck is a bold step for Rapha; only 75 have been produced, making it the most limited release of the collection.

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Born of innovation

Overseeing the project from start to finish introduced Alistair to new technology and new ideas. “Reflectivity in cycling clothing has, up until now, largely been about safety. The idea that you can use reflective fabrics to create functional, yet stylish, pieces is an entirely different proposition.”

Reflective materials are used throughout Rapha’s performance collections, particularly in Brevet but also in footwear and accessories, such as the Reflective Climber’s Shoes and Small Reflective Backpack. To create these products Rapha works with a small French partner that specialises in developing and using specialist retroreflective materials. (Retroreflection is when light rays are returned in the direction from which they came. Cheaper reflective materials return less light to the source and scatter light as it hits a surface, rather than bouncing it back.)

“The technology that underpins the jumper is very new and, as such, comes at a high price” says Alistair. “In the past when you wanted to create reflective yarn you had to take a sheet of reflective fabric and cut it into thin, flat strips. But this left you with something like a tape, which had a sharp edge,” he continues. “To create something with a softer edge our partner uses a unique process whereby a cylindrical yarn is heated and then embedded with millions of glass microbeads. It’s the beads in combination with the colour of the yarn underneath that make it reflective.”

Smart wearables

Pull the Special Edition Reflective Crew Neck over your head and you’ll soon realise that there’s more to the product than simply visibility and stopping traffic. “To create something that’s warm, soft and truly wearable we knew we needed more than just the reflective yarn, which on its own is still a little coarse. Merino has natural warming and anti-bacterial properties and so we developed the idea of twisting a merino yarn with the reflective yarn, to create something like a DNA helix. This is then used to knit the jumper. We also added some pure merino stripes as a design element and to give it movement and make it soft to the touch,” says Alistair.

As with all Rapha’s City products, the Special Edition Reflective Crew Neck was developed using principles of craftsmanship and tailoring alongside knowledge gathered from creation of on-bike performance ranges. “The City collection is intended to be a blend of sportswear performance and comfort, tailored for all day use.”