Exclusive Factory Tour: Pearl Izumi – Louisville, Colorado

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Garmin and Pearl Izumi have since parted ways, and there are no super-rush jobs projects underway on this day. But Barber is kind enough to walk us through the process of creating a custom BMC jersey. After material is cut, we relocate to the bowels of the giant main warehouse where sublimation takes place.

For the uninitiated, sublimation is a process where a solid is turned to a gas without going through a liquid phase. Put another way, it’s how you turn plain white sports apparel fabric into a cool-looking BMC jersey without compromising any of the fiber’s performance characteristics. To do this, special ink is printed on a template (aka a large piece of paper). Fabric is then taped in place on top of the paper, and then the whole arrangement is placed in a transfer press at 390 degrees for 50 seconds.

“The pressure from the transfer press brings the paper and the fabric into really close proximity,” explained Barber. “The temperature vaporizes the ink, and then the ink moves into the fabric, penetrating the fibers of the apparel. This all happens without changing the performance characteristics of the fibers themselves. So it still has the same wicking and breathability. If we did this using heat transfer or screen printing, we would be changing the fabric in a way that we don’t want to have happen. That’s the key to great graphics.”

Pearl Izumi Sublimation Process Demo Video

The final output is a series of printed fabric panels that are then sent back to the Speed Shop to be sewn together. “It’s really amazing that we can do all this in house,” said Barber. “It gives the ability to be really nimble and experiment with different designs and fabrics. We also make a lot of custom pieces for our pro triathletes since we they just need one or two pieces and have very specific needs.”

Custom needs for the rest of us are addressed one floor up in Pearl Izumi’s custom kit design room. After scuttling this portion of its business for a few years back, the company is once again outfitting all manner of club teams, bike shops, and cycling-friendly businesses.

“I think shutting down custom was a real negative,” admits Shaffer, adding that Pearl is also the official supplier of all the leader’s jerseys for the USA Pro Challenge, the 7-day pro road race that crisscrosses Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. “There is no better way to get apparel onto the backs of people then through a custom kit program.”

It also doesn’t hurt that most of the people designing and creating Pearl Izumi product are users themselves. This is evidenced at noon when the pitter patter of keyboards is replaced by the click-clacking of cycling shoes. Indeed, the day’s highly spirited lunch ride numbers at least 30, and Shaffer says only a handful are not Pearl Izumi employees. “Passion for sport is a huge driver here,” said Shaffer. “Just look at the wall of bikes. That’s not some display. That’s who we are.”

Back in the front lobby, just left of the receptionist station, are a series of architectural renderings. The pictured building is what will be Pearl Izumi’s new home, a sleek, modern looking structure that’s already under construction in the sprawling lot across the street from the current building. Scheduled completion date is sometime next fall.

But it’s clear from our time here at Pearl Izumi, these renderings represent more than just bricks and mortar. After admittedly losing its way for several years, there is a company-wide revitalization underway. Or as a prominently displayed slogan on the wall reads, “We are an organization of individuals. Every day each of us helps reinforce our culture and reinvent our company.”

It’s a simple approach. Occam would be proud.

Read the Sneak Peek: Pearl Izumi HQ Tour.

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About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympic Games, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the RoadBikeReview.com / Mtbr.com staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying time with his wife Lisa and daughter Cora.

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  • Eric Huber says:

    Same here. I 1st bought a pair of their bibs years ago. They still work just fine. Their shoes are not half bad either.

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