Ok - that was clickbait, I’m sorry. The caps came out great but the process - well, that was another story. It started with me actually. I have a problem saying no. So when someone, especially a company I really admire and enjoy working with, comes to me with a plan to put together a few hundred caps in a few weeks for a professional cycling event with a hard deadline, what I didn’t say was “no”. What I did say was “of course, let’s do this!”
Then I saw the design.
It was beautiful, it was boundary pushing, it was… Rapha. Classic Rapha brim, black with their script logo in orange, serape-esque sides (Golden Saddle!) in a southwestern hue, à la Tour of Utah, that continue… across… the sides to the center panel and back. Wow, lining up those panels is going to be difficult, but we can do this, right?
Aside from being overzealous about tackling the design, the other issue here was really the timing. The caps were for the Tour of Utah, which was about three weeks away, and the cap had three main elements, all of which were made in different places.
We started with blank fabric and marked where the lines on the front and back of the cap should hit and quickly realized it wasn’t going to be as easy as we thought, basically applying a curved line to a straight side and making sure they line up on the front (left and right) and the back (left and right). With most caps, but especially those as complicated as this, we do a test print on a yard of fabric. With this cap we did seven on one yard just to make sure we had the measurements correct, or as close as we could.
Right off the bat I expressed my concerns to Chris Anderson, the designer at Rapha, who I will say is a dream to work with. He not only was readily available on the phone and via email to talk through the design, but was completely open to changing the design in a way to ensure the execution of the design in time for the event while maintaining his and Rapha’s vision.
We played with using a gradient on the whole center panel and thereby eliminating the need for the stripes to meet exactly, but that looked, in a word: awful. We considered a solid black center panel, which really was our best option were we to abandon the original design, but that was just boring and I’ve never liked designs that are color blocked to match the center panel and the brim, as it makes for a front heavy look. Without a sufficient alternative we decided to wait for the test prints, with the back up plan reluctantly being solid black centers.
The test prints came and the first few were way off, maybe the math was beyond us…. Or maybe not…? The 4th print started to line up, then the 5th, then the 6th started to lose it, the 5th was the one. With the right alignment on the panels we were getting the stripes to line up as close as we could.
In hindsight (spoiler alert) I think our main problem was being fixated on our biggest frustration: we were focused on applying the curved side to the straight center and getting the straight lines in the serape to align. But the serape didn’t need to be straight - by applying a slight curve to the lines on the front and rear of the center panel the curve would match up much more easily and would appear to the eye to be straight. Hindsight is 20/20, but fortunately for us with these caps our test prints had saved us. Arguably, we at Rothera and our friends at Rapha may just be perfectionists to a fault and maybe the first one looked good enough, but then again, “good enough” isn’t what either of us stand behind.
With the design worked out, we got to work with the actual production run of the full order and 2 years later these caps are still one of the most difficult but most satisfying we ever made.
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