Emma Silversides: Made in Belgium

Emma Silversides is a professional cyclist for the Lotto Belisol team and is based in Belgium. Here she shares her insight into the continental women’s scene.

I do not like to think that I take things for granted, but I am only human and too often I do. I do appreciate the generosity of sponsors, both team and personal, who have supported me so far in my cycling.

This I guess is more appropriate for me than the majority of readers; I am reliant solely on these sponsors for my cycling- they give me my bike, a helmet, food and drink to fuel the training and also clothing to brave all conditions. None of these items do your wallet any favours. It was always with huge reluctance that I parted with money to buy jerseys and shorts; how could something so simple be so expensive?

However, good clothing goes along way to enhance the enjoyment of a training ride; skimp or get it wrong and you can be in all sorts of trouble! So why do amateurs have to pay so much for their clothing?

This year I rode in Decca clothing. They took the ‘prime’ real estate slot on the kit! I had good contact with the staff so here was an opportunity for me to discover the answer to my question; I would pay a visit to the modest premises in the East Flemish town of Zottegem.

Decca are one of only two Belgian clothing manufacturers who can rightly claim that their cycle clothing is ‘made in Belgium’; that means from start to finish. The base layer cloth is woven from the tread there in the factory before being placed, 40 layers deep, on a huge conveyor. Material for shorts, jerseys, gilets and tights are prepared in a similar fashion. A vacuum sucks out all air to eliminate every wrinkle and kink while a tiny rotary-mounted blade gets to work cutting out every element of the item – sleeves, side, front and back panels, collars, pockets, legs…

The elements were then moved along the line to get some colour on; a process known as sublimation (accruing at 205°c) involving ink on paper being turned into a gas which in turn deposits itself on the material. Then the real labour begins! Central to the factory floor are four columns of 12 sewing machines- yes just the sort your mother used to use, completely manual. Each machinist was personally responsible for, and indeed specifically trained to operate, three or four machines; every machine on the factory floor was calibrated to perform a particular job – collar, sleeve construction, pocket addition.

Along the columns you could see boxes of garments gradually taking shape. One of the hardest sewing constructions I was told was inserting the chamois; “it’s a 3D item going into a 2D piece of Lycra.” I was guilty of taking things for granted!

Machines in rows on the factory floor, never all occupied at the same time but always ready to go. It was truly fascinating wandering round the factory and being able to appreciate just how much work does go into making a jersey.

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