Interview/images: James Startt
Giorgio, you have spent much of your life in the States, so how did you get involved in cycling? I left Italy when I was 19 in 1970. First I went to Canada. I was still racing bikes and when spring came I saw there wasn’t much going on, and I thought immediately that there might be a need for good cycling equipment in Canada, because it was hard to find good frames and good clothes. On my next trip back home, I started buying equipment and then selling it to the shops in Canada. That’s how I started…bringing in frames, accessories, clothing.
The first bike I brought in was Grandis, a frame builder from here in Verona. I remember going to the owner, Selvino, and he was like, “Why would I sell bikes to you to take to Canada. I’m already selling enough here!” Finally he sold me the frames, but he wouldn’t paint them for me so I had to get them painted by someone else!
Generally, because I was an active cyclist, I could tell what was needed in Canada—and, soon enough, the U.S. I’ll never forget going to my first bike show in the New York Coliseum. Everybody was smoking cigars. Boy was that a different world!
How did you come up with the name Giordana? Well, first we had Gita, our distribution company. I came up with that name with my wife—we took the two first letters of my first name and two last letters of my last name. And that was a particularly appropriate, because gita is an Italian name for a tour; a gita turistica is a tour in the country. And then, about the time we started producing and designing our own line of clothing, my daughter Giordana was born. I just loved the name and thought that it was also a good name for clothing. In addition, she was born in December and is a Sagittarius, a good sign I thought for cycling clothing, because the symbol is an archer on horseback: an image of strength and speed.
It’s interesting because, while there are many great brands of Italian cycling gear, Giordana is probably the only one known more in North America than in Europe…. Well, Giordana was always made in Italy, but it was started in the United States and our biggest market was the U.S. and Canada. We went to Europe, but first we were in North America. The first team we had was with Michael Fatka’s U.S. team, [Keetschmer’s] Wheat Germ, that later became Levi’s-Raleigh. That’s where we started, and there were many others—Bud Light, Alfa Romeo, the U.S. national team. It was only after all of that that I came back to Italy. It was funny, because everyone thought Giordana was an American company!
Despite the fact that a large part of your market is American, you’ve always maintained your Italian connections and always produced all of your clothing in Italy. I’m sure it would have been easier or cheaper to farm the production out, perhaps to Asia…but you are committed to producing your products in Italy.Well, this is where my roots are and I know what these people can do. I was born here in the Veneto region and I know it well, and 90 percent of the Italian cycling industry is here or in regions close to here. In addition, this region has always produced a lot of textiles. I’ve traveled the world and studied samples from everywhere to see if we can reproduce the same quality for less money. But in my mind, it’s not the same. It may look the same. It may feel kind of the same. But it’s not the same. It doesn’t perform the same. It doesn’t last the same. Here you have people that have done this all of their life. They know what they are doing. They care about what they are doing and they care about the product they put out. That’s what makes this place so special.
As the founder of Gita Sporting Goods, you were a pioneer in bringing top-flight Italian bike racing equipment, including great brands like Diadora and Pinarello, but you specialized in clothing. Why clothing? Well, there is a lot to do in clothing. There is so much you can produce, especially in this area of Italy, where there are so many manufacturers of high-quality fabrics. As a result, it is ideal for creating what you want to do. You don’t have to make humongous quantities either. Here I can get new material and make cuts that are different from the others very easily, very quickly. And that is attractive to me. I can go from prototype to product in a short period, compared to some bike equipment, and that is very satisfying.
Giorgio, you’ve been producing cycling clothing for decades. What are some of the biggest changes that you’ve witnessed in the industry? Well, the biggest changes came from the 1970s to the 1980s when the sport went from wool to Lycra. In the early days we had wool jerseys with three front pockets with buttons. Wool is a great thing, but it itches like crazy. And then there is that little detail, where if you get caught in the rain, and then caught in the sun, it just shrinks up! Plus I remember that, when it rained, the front pockets would get weighted down and sag open. That’s not great for aerodynamics! And don’t forget the wool shorts that used to hike up your leg. Remember you used to have to wear them with suspenders!
The other big evolution was to go from embroidering to sublimating. We were one of the first to develop sublimated printing in cycling and that was a big thing. Embroidering was heavy and the stitching on the interior was not comfortable. Sublimation made a huge difference in comfort and aerodynamics. Today’s clothing is just amazing. It is so much lighter and performs so well. There are just so many things that make clothing so much better today!
You’ve produced clothing for a lot of great teams over the years—Motorola, the U.S. national team, not to mention the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. Looking back, do you have a favorite jersey design that stands out? Well, I still love the Levi’s-Raleigh jersey. It just really stood out at the time. That was a great design with the vertical stripes. And the three colors that were so visible in the peloton because, basically, you had, bright yellow, black and red. I’ll never forget…Michael Fatka loved to fly. And he went up in a plane to study the colors that best stood out. And he came back saying, “You’ve got to have bright yellow, like school buses, black and red!” And the other was a jersey we did as a special venture with Disney. We had these jerseys with figures from cartoons like “Looney Tunes” that just sold unbelievably well.
You’ve worked closely with a lot of cyclists over the years. Are there any particular riders that have really played a role in the evolution of your products? Well, there is one, Lance Armstrong. He was always looking for the best. We gave him a lot and he gave us a lot of feedback. As a matter of fact there are a lot of things he asked for that we are still using today. The longer shorts, for example, and the high socks. People asked what was going on, but Lance always wanted long shorts, down to the knee, and high socks, up to the calf. Why long shorts and high socks? Because the best thing you can give an athlete is to keep those muscles compressed. Not too much, but enough that they get support against the vibrations of the road and to keep the blood circulation flowing to the muscles.
For years cycling clothing seemed to be driven by pro team designs, jerseys filled with words and stripes. But now there is a whole new generation of cyclists that prefer more stripped-down designs, inspired as much by street fashion. Yeah, it’s really changing. In the 1970s, ’80s and even the early ’90s there were a lot of pro-team replicas being made. But now cycling is looking at what fashion is doing, but within its own way. People have been looking for a different look. That’s what is interesting for me. Cyclists are always looking for a new look, a new cut, new material, a different chamois…you name it. Today you put on a pair of bib shorts and you barely even feel it. In addition, the whole evolution of compression fabrics really makes today’s clothing comfortable and supportive. Today you can do a thousand things with polyester. There is microfiber, double woven—so many things that make the material better. There is just so much you can do.
You’ve recently launched a new company with a new factory here in Italy. Tell us a bit about that and where you hope to take Giordana in the future. Yes, well we recently created GO Sport. Actually we created it one year ago today [April 19, 2015]. That stands for Giordana Original and we make 100 percent of our clothing inside this place. We have bought all of our own machines, cutting, sewing, sublimation…you name it. And so now we really have no limits. We are changing our entire line from the beginning to the end. Basically I am thinking, “How many different kinds of cyclists are out there and how do they ride their bike.” I want to make something for everyone that feels better than it did before. There is always room to evolve. You always wonder, “How can I make this better?” But when you use it, you see there is always something you can do to improve!
From issue 54. Buy it here.