So why do it?
“We are an international business and did some £85 million turnover, so there’s an opportunity for a more strategic investor who can take us to the next phase,” Mottram said.
RZC is not a classic private equity firm like Active Partners; it has no website or other public face, and that’s an important detail. RZC is “a shareholder with deeper pockets, there for a longer term,” said Mottram. “They offered something different in that, because they’re not a private-equity house, they’re not looking to flip the investment in a few years.”
When Mottram and cofounder Luke Scheybeler started Rapha in 2004, Mottram said he did not have a specific monetary goal for the company. “The business had financial roadmaps, but they were written to support what I wanted to do,” he said. Mottram is a self-described “brand guy” whose pre-Rapha career included advising luxury brands like Burberry. “Rapha is the first and only thing I’ve done on my own,” he said. “My ambition was to create a brand that encapsulated what cycling was to me and build an enduring company. That was what was most important, not to be a £10 or £100 million business.”
But Rapha did grow very quickly—in large part because it was successful at creating something different. Mottram wanted to create a clothing aesthetic that was different from what he saw in cycling at the time, but he wasn’t creating a cycling company. “I didn’t want to talk about being part of the cycling market,” he said. “We’re consumer-direct and don’t use the normal sales channels, and we don’t buy traditional media.”
In some ways, Rapha’s rise confounded traditional clothing companies. As Rapha expanded rapidly and entered the US market in the late 2000s, I spoke with representatives from several established clothing companies who were confused by Rapha’s reputation. When they compared features, fit, and fabric, Rapha wasn’t clearly better. So why the devotion? I responded that the clothing was secondary; Rapha created an image of cycling that cyclists responded to.
In the years since, it’s also produced its share of parody and backlash against the Rapha aesthetic of high-grain, black-and-white photos of serious roadies staring into the middle distance while suffering up rainy climbs or sipping perfect espresso pulls. But a key…