Sometimes the best ideas are borne out of necessity. This is certainly true for Proviz founders Rupert and Anthony Langly-Smith. For years, the brothers had talked of building a business together but it wasn’t until 2008 that they hit upon an idea that looked like it had potential.
Both marine geographers by background, Anthony and Rupert found themselves living and working in London, commuting between their flat and jobs by bike. Like so many other cycling commuters, they did their best to make sure that they were visible to drivers but they still had their fair share of prangs and near-misses.
Rupert explains: “We were wearing all the right gear, but it was clear that we just weren’t being seen. All the high visibility stuff that was out there seemed pretty ineffectual to us. High visibility clothing really meant a bright yellow jacket, but at night bright yellow might as well be black. Some jackets had a bit of reflectivity but not nearly enough to keep cyclists safe. What we were thinking was that the cyclist needed to be the source of light.”
So, with no prior experience in design, manufacturing or retail, they set about creating a small set of highly reflective cycling products, the first of which was the Triviz lighting device. The device used electroluminescent lighting – now commonly found in large advertising billboards – which is essentially dyed phosphorus ink injected into a thin plastic. It had a battery and some simple electronics that made the phosphorus particles bang together and glow. The device went on to win a Red Dot Design award and two years after they had the initial idea, Proviz was receiving its first orders.
Fast forward another seven years, and Proviz is now an international, award-winning sports brand with the largest range of specialist high visibility products for cyclists, runners and fans of the great outdoors, distributed in 40 countries. The brothers have made a name for themselves as champions of high visibility innovation. Not least thanks to the REFLECT360 range. As successful as the Triviz device was, Rupert and Anthony thought they could improve on their idea. “We thought we could make someone’s whole body become the source of light,” says Rupert.
For that, they needed a very special material – an outer shell that incorporates millions of tiny, highly-reflective glass beads. By day, these beads are undetectable and the jacket is an unassuming grey (although you can now buy the Proviz REFLECT360 CRS jackets in a range of colours ). But at night, when picked up by a car’s headlights, or other light source, your entire torso springs to life, giving off a slightly unearthly white glow.
The first REFLECT360 jacket was launched in 2014 and was an instant hit. “We launched it at a trade show,” says Rupert, “and Anthony rang me and said ‘people are loving this!’ We sold out at our main wholesaler and on the website in no time at all.”
The range received rave reviews in the press and inspired both brothers to keep evolving the brand, launching the Switch (reversible jackets, gilets and backpack covers) and PixElite (combining high visibility with performance materials for the pro cyclist) collections in 2015. But it the REFLECT360 range that customers are drawn to most.
“I think people loved the understated nature of the grey,” says Rupert. “Not everyone wants to wear bright yellow or pink, although we have expanded the range for people who do. It was a normal-looking jacket that happened to have this fabulous functionality.”
And it’s not just cyclists who are seeing the benefit. The team recently received an email from a driver explaining that although she was not in the market for a jacket, she wanted to pass on how good she thought the product was.
“I think she lives somewhere rural and had seen this white dot up ahead on the road,” Rupert explains. “When she got closer she realised it was a cyclist and felt compelled to wind her window down and ask him where he’d got his jacket from. She looked us up just to tell us what a difference it had made to her as a driver. That was pretty incredible.”
Today, the REFLECT360 range includes jackets, gilets, trousers, helmet, gloves, backpack and – somewhat unexpectedly – a waterproof dog coat. The coat owes its existence to Proviz customers who wrote in asking for one. “We had all these emails from people who had bought the human jacket and wanted something similar for their dog,” says Rupert. “We weren’t sure at first because it didn’t seem like a core sports product for us, but then we thought ‘why not?’ We launched it in September 2016 and it’s been a huge success.”
Despite the lack of design background, Rupert is involved in the planning and sourcing of every Proviz product and is often the very first to test a new piece. “I’m not an artist, but I can get my point across on a piece of paper,” he says. “I have this idea in my head and going through the process of samples and tweaking to get to that final piece is very satisfying. I love getting to the end product – seeing what was in my head in three dimensions.”
And each product is designed with its end user in mind. What a runner expects from a jacket is usually different from a cycling jacket, or someone who just likes getting outside. “Runners tend to look for lightweight options, which is why we designed the REFLECT360 running jacket to be just 100-150 grams, although we are planning to add a couple of pockets to this year’s design after requests,” says Rupert. “Then we have a lot of commuters who wear our outdoor jacket, which is cut straighter along the bottom and has a hood.” (See the end of this article for Rupert’s tips on what to look out for in a cycling jacket.)
With innovation woven into everything that the brand does, coupled with the rise and rise in popularity of wearable technology, might we one day see a Proviz jacket with built in tech? “I’d love to integrate something like a pedometer or some sort of bat signal that transmits to your phone,” says Rupert. “But it’s a question of time and we’d need to partner up with someone. We’re not in the tech industry but it would be amazing to offer that to our customers one day.”
In the meantime, the brothers, and the team that they have built up around them, continue to adapt their different ranges, blending form with functionality, all while staying one step ahead of the competition.
Pockets: cyclists love pockets. They tend to want places to keep their gloves and their wallet. They might also have a map with them. Our REFLECT360 jackets have two outer chest and one inner chest pockets, plus a large one round the back. The outer pockets are also designed to act as additional vents in warmer months. The Switch range has two side pockets that also offer ample storage.
Waterproofing: this depends on the type of cycling you usually do. Elite cyclists tend to be looking more for breathability and flexibility of fabric which typically means less waterproofing. A commuting cyclist will tend to be out in all weathers and so a fabric that has some waterproofing is usually sensible. On our REFLECT360 jacket even the zip is fully waterproof and reflective.
Cut: Look for a jacket that has a lower tail to it. This will help protect your bum from muddy spray in bad weather. You also want a jacket with a bit more flexibility around the shoulders and chest so that you can lean over your bike with ease.
The reflective capability of our REFLECT360 material helps other road users to identify a runner or cyclist’s position on the road at night.