Like a moth to a flame
Talking design with Jimmi Nicholls of Attacus clothing
Story by Alice Fitzsimons-Quail | GripGrab
Jimmi Nicholls, co-founder of unique UK-based cycling apparel brand Attacus, talks to us about good design, unreasonably long hours, and a childhood penchant for moths. Here at GripGrab we clearly know how important it is to have the right accessories for your sport and style. Jimmi, also the Attacus Sales and Marketing Director, is a Welshman-turned-Londoner who runs the business alongside co-founder Emily. Attacus came into being in 2015, and Jimmi and Emily launched their first collection from their kitchen table whilst both holding down full-time day jobs. They’ve since moved on from the kitchen and had the pleasure of watching their brand grow. But where did the inspiration come from?
How did you first get into cycling?
Jimmi: ‘It’s East London’s fault. Back then there was a bar called The Foundry where every Friday evening London’s couriers would meet and kick back. I was fascinated by them – fixies, massive backpacks, as many women as men, everyone wearing black – they were like cycling rockstars. Not long after I bought my first adult bike; it had one gear.’
‘The second part of the story involves my Scottish best pal Mark Brown. We are furiously competitive with each other, and had both signed up to a supersprint triathlon, each convinced he was faster than the other. I lost on a technicality (not that I’m still bitter!) but that’s definitely when I caught the “bug” for cycling!’
The name Attacus refers to Attacus Atlas, a type of moth. Jimmi had a fascination with moths as a kid (and grown-up…) and the Attacus Atlas is one of the largest in the world. The striped body of the moth helped inspire the design of their first collection, and they liked the philosophy of being bold, different, unafraid to stick out. The logo originated from a friends’ single line drawing of an Attacus moth!
What are you best and worst cycling experiences to date?
‘There have been two real high points. The first was back when I used to race and took the win at a local triathlon, doing the bike leg on a steel racing bike. The other was at the end of last year, Emily and I rode a 70k route near her parents’ place in the North Pennines. This particular day, we had the most perfect, dry, sunny autumnal conditions. The landscape was so vast, desolate and beautiful I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. The snowy photoshoot that accompanies this article was done in the same area and was inspired by that original ride. It was just magical.’
‘In terms of negative experiences… I don’t like to talk about it! I used to train and race for 20-90 minute at a time, so long days in the saddle really made my body fall apart. A big crew of us rode from London to Brighton, and some decided to go for the return leg too… I was persuaded to join them. Very quickly my legs turned to mush and I spent the best part of the 120k return leg in a deep hole.
Attacus originated partly from Jimmi’s frustration at how expensive high-end, quality kit could be, and how elitist and exclusive he found the atmosphere around it. He knew he wanted good quality in cycling gear but felt there was nothing that quite catered for his style off the bike and didn’t leave him bound by ‘stuffy rules and labels’. Meeting Emily three years later, they finally managed to bring this concept into reality.
What challenges have you faced along the journey of bringing Attacus to life?
‘Every single stage of the last few years has been difficult… but it’s not put us off! The main things have been:
I’ve been designing things ever since I can remember, but I never knew how to digitalize – how to get them off the paper and onto the screen. Emily is without doubt 100% the reason we exist – she’s a digital whizz and allowed my sketches to finally make it to the factory, as well as creating and managing our website. We have completely different skill sets, but that’s why it works so well. Plus, we get to learn from each other!
Going full time
We spent a couple of years doing way more hours than could be considered healthy. Getting up a t 5am, doing a few hours work on Attacus, then off to a full day at day job. I’d get home and work the evenings, and the same at weekends. Emily’s regular job was evenings and weekends, so she devoted her days to Attacus. It was constant hard work – but it has meant we haven’t had to take bank loans or have a list of shareholders to answer to – the company is ours and we are in control, which works for us right now. Putting in this much work also meant we haven’t had much time to train! Fingers crossed 2018 is the year we get to ride our bikes again…’
Attacus are about to bring out a new women’s range, and Jimmi and Emily are so happy they’ve finally been able to bring this ambition to life. The new range will be the same as the existing men’s range, except that ‘it’s been developed, tailored and tested over months and months to make sure it performs and fits like a dream for women.’
‘Our society is steeped in patriarchy and cycling culture is no different. Although we have to acknowledge the massive advances that have been made to make the sport more equal, it can be easy to forget the privileges that being a straight white dude affords you. You don’t necessarily always recognize the need to continue to challenge a space to make it more inclusive.’
‘It’s for that reason that in April Emily takes over from me as the Managing Director of Attacus. She now has a solid experience of the men’s cycling industry, as we both feel that she will more naturally direct our vision for Attacus as an inclusive brand.’
And finally, what are your ambitions for the future, as a cyclist and designer?
‘Our goals as a company are 1) to promote women in cycling and create more inclusive cycling spaces so that in the future our customers are a 50:50 split between men and women. And 2) to produce products that have relevant functionality which allows us to keep costs as low as possible.
And what about out of the office and studio? ‘My personal cycling goals are simple – get out on the bike as much as I can, with as many mates as possible, and explore as many beautiful, unique and new areas as possible!’
Photo credits: Emily Childs | Attacus