I first met Nathan as a customer at my shop, he used to come in to talk to a girl I worked with who was deep in the Leeds Fixed Gear scene, I soon learnt who he was, and what he did. Nathan was the man behind Restrap; a bike components company based in the centre of Leeds, where he was hand making everything from pedal straps to bags, as well as clothing. I soon got a set of Restrap diagonal straps, and the quality and attention to detail was incredible to say it was made down the road, and Nathan delivered them to the shop himself. I soon contacted Nathan about getting an interview with him, and finally, in the middle of his ridiculously busy schedule of stitching, sourcing materials, going to trade shows, sorting the accounts of the company and going on as many rides he can, we managed to sit down and have a chat.
Who are you, and what is Restrap?
I’m Nathan hughes, Restrap is a cycling manufacturing company based in Leeds, we make small accessories and bags.
Where did you learn the skills required to manufacture these products yourself?
I studied electrical engineering, so I have always been into engineering, you wouldn’t say technically sewing is engineering, but it sort of just came from that, in terms of product design, and it was something that I was just passionate about. So the sewing side just happened, and I learnt to sew as the business grew.
Was it always your intention to try and use recycled materials for your products?
In some ways yes, and in some ways no. It was just easier to get hold of, so when you are starting a company you can get small quantities of stuff quite easily, I actually found it more of a hassle, as the company grew, trying to get the material in bulk. before I would go to a scrap yard and cut the seat belts out my self, but then that would be one scrap yard, but then I would start needing 500 seat belts a month, and the scrap yards would have about 50 cars coming in a month, so I would have to go to like 10 different scrapyards and still not get enough seat belts.Now luckily I have suppliers for stuff like this. But, I feel if you can do something that use recycled materials its better, and brings that extra selling point to the product.
Do you have an actual team of riders for Restrap?
Yeah, so we have a very loose team, it’s more of a few mates, and people I’ve known for years that do a lot of racing and stuff, and as and when they ask, I can send them some free stuff. It’s not really done for a return, more just to support people I know. they are all over the country, so it’s more of a mutual respect thing, that I can send them stuff, and they might mention us to other people. we make a lot of sales simply from word of mouth.
Restrap has a very Yorkshire image to it, was that a major part of the company when you started Restrap, and do you think it limits you in terms of any North / South divide?
I think that the ‘handmade in Yorkshire’ thing is definitely a big selling point and it’s good to keep manufacturing in the UK. It’s quite rare that that’s the case nowadays, it’s obviously not the cheapest way of doing it and you can understand why people move production abroad, so it’s hard to keep bringing out products that are good quality and at a reasonable price. But I think that’s what people like about us, our products aren’t massively expensive and are handmade locally. I sort of thought there might be an issue with sales outside of Yorkshire, but in the cycling community there isn’t really any rivalry, if you ride any kind of bike, fixed, BMX, mountain bike, or travel anywhere in the country and meet people on bikes, there’s no real rivalry.
Do you think your history in BMX helped you with Restrap in any way?
Yeah, defiantly. I think a lot of the imagery is heavily BMX influenced, I’ve ridden BMX for over 10 years now, and it’s something I will always try to push over to other aspects of cycling. I just think with the BMX market, it’s so flooded with everything, I always wanted to do something in cycling, and you just can’t really do anything new in BMX anymore, so the fixed thing was more a natural progression. It was still quite early days, and there weren’t a lot of products out there at the time.
We keep seeing images of a frame in production with Restrap branding on it, any more information on that?
Basically we’ve got a distributer in China called Factory 5 that’s ran by a guy from Dewsbury and a guy from Canada. They have there own handmade frame manufacturing company, so we’re doing a collaboration with them and they will be distributing our products out there, and we can launch their products over here. so we’re doing a Restrap x Factory 5 frame as a limited edition run. We’re also going to try getting the first 10 manufactured with an actual solid silver head badge, so it should be a nice touch for the first few people to order them. We’ll start with a small, limited batch as it is our first frame, and then maybe change the design and do a slightly larger distribution of them. I’m currently just waiting for the sample frame for us to test, which was shipped 2 weeks ago, so hopefully it will be here soon. It just makes a nice change from always doing soft goods to be able to offer hard-goods as well. It’s good to be working with Factory 5 as well, because they already have their own line of frames, so they know the quality of the build, and they can check each frame in production.
How do you feel about the ‘hipster’ image that seems to be have been associated with fixes recently?
To be honest, I don’t really mind it, you take what you can from it. I understand it, every things had it at some point, Skateboarding, BMX, something has always been a trend for a time, and then it dies off and you are left with the core riders and skaters for instance. But, obviously from a business point of view it’s a good thing, because it’s making the industry grow.
Are there any more products coming out then soon?
Apart from maybe a few more bags, and a bit more clothing, I think I’m going to try pushing the hardware a bit more. The frames, maybe get some sprockets done etc, and then look into a full range of components. It’s just a struggle taking on too many products at once, it’s a small operation here, and I’ve already got about 15 products out there, we sell over 100 pairs of straps a week, so just trying to keep on top of that is a big workload, let alone the accounts and stuff.
How many people actual work for Restrap then?
We have an accountant, but I try to do as much as I can as it can end up being pretty expensive. Then I have a partner who owns a small percentage who comes in sometimes, and Helen, my mother, who does sales. I employ her, which is a strange relationship, but it’s a nice family business and that’s all. It’s very seasonal though, so in summer we have loads of orders for straps etc, but then when the British winter comes, no one touches their bikes for 6 months so we sell more clothing. It’s just about trying to get a level cash flow throughout the year.
You are also organising the Yorkshire bicycle show?
That’s the weekend of the 21st-23rd of September, and it’s going to be mainly a lot of small companies, so small booths, which will be really cheap for the weekend for young companies – which is how we started. They can show their stuff to a lot more people that way. There should be a few frame manufacturers as well, just trying to have quite a UK feel to it. A lot of UK based independent manufacturers, rather than the massive companies, and with the tour de france coming next year, hopefully cycling in general will become even more popular.
The cycling show is going to a non profit thing, so it’s more just to spread the word and make cycling grow, especially in Leeds. It’s a hard thing to achieve in a hilly city, because people don’t really want to ride up hills, you go to manchester or London, and there is about 4 or 5 times more people on bikes. I’d say the fixed gear scene is pretty good in Leeds because of that though, everyone knows each other as it’s the only fixed scene in the city. We do rides every Thursday and then there are the events in the Summer, where we get 150-200 people. I guess no one takes themselves too seriously, we all just ride to the pub and have a few beers. You ride because it’s fun, not everyone in lycra being real serious.