There are many stories of industrial and artisanal success in cycling. And whether the tales are old or new, they often begin inside a gloomy garage. We’ve heard it many times, seen it in documentaries or photographs. We’ve read it in books and magazines. In our imagination, the garage is the humble place where passion and creativity find a home. And that is particularly true for us bicycle enthusiasts. It’s the laboratory of joy, the realm of dust and prototypes, the space where ideas are born and take shape.
It’s the place where experiments can become either catastrophic failures or amazing successes. It’s the kingdom of craftsmanship and doubt, of cigarettes smoked in silence and professional concerns. It’s the place of light and shadow, both literally and metaphorically. The garage is also a space where problems and solutions mix and follow a logic that is not always easy to understand.
“Maybe if our professional adventure had started in a garage in London, New York or Sydney instead of a big kitchen table by Lake Garda, Italy, our story would be cooler to listen to.”
That’s how, with a mix of pride and irony, Giuliano Ragazzi and Yurika Marchetti speak about the beginning of their professional journey.
Partners at work and in their private lives, they’re also the founders of La Passione Cycling Couture, which they launched in 2015. “I’ve always had a passion for cycling and cycling apparel,” says Giuliano. “As a child, I used to draw riders’ jerseys on sheets of paper: Moser, Saronni, De Vlaeminck, and Visentini. Then I coloured them with markers, cut them out, and glued them on Lego bricks that I played with on the floor of my living room. In my races, my favourite rider, Saronni, always won.”
Transforming your passion into your job — going from a good idea to a successful company — is anything but easy. And it takes unique chemistry between the people leading the project.
“Giuliano and I are complementary to each other,” says Yurika. “He, besides being a cycling enthusiast, is the creative person of the team, the one who leads the way with his ideas and vision. On the other hand, I’m in charge of the execution and the operations, of transforming our work into practical processes and customer services.”
Their background is quite different: Giuliano has always worked in marketing and communication. And since he founded La Passione, he has managed to combine his passion for cycling and his job.
On the other hand, Yurika cultivated a passion for the internet and the digital world.
"It’s a passion that comes from afar and that I still cultivate today,” she says. “I used to work in the security and anti-kidnapping industry, where there is a lot of research in tech and IT.
Bypassing the classic distribution network and reaching consumers directly is written into La Passione’s DNA. It’s this direct-to-consumer business model that helps underpin the couple’s aim to create a quality cycling kit at an affordable price.
“We wanted to produce a premium-quality cycling kit, made according to Italian standards, but featuring modern cuts and colours. Furthermore, we wanted it to be more appealing to international tastes as well. So, we started with a small collection of 17 items, which were seven models with several different colours and accessories. In addition to jerseys and bib-shorts, we had gloves, socks, and hats, and that was it. The collection was well thought out, but minimalist. We took care of all aspects, from the design to fabric selection, from building the website to distribution via express courier.”
It hasn’t been a walk in the park. “We were constantly facing problems and finding solutions to them, one after the other. But the biggest difficulty, the real challenge, was finding investors and convincing them that reaching customers on the other side of the planet via the internet, without going through a network of stores or retailers, was the future,” says Yurika.
"'Tè té sì màt' [You’re crazy!]," says Giuliano in his local dialect from Brianza, an area north of Milan. “That was the answer we heard most often. You have to remember in Italy, at that time, internet connections were poor, and even the use of credit cards for online purchases seemed to be taboo.
“Once we prepared the collection, built the website, created a small warehouse, and activated the e-commerce, we finally got to the bottom line. We had a credit card with a €2,500 arranged maximum, and we decided to invest all of it in Facebook and Google ad campaigns. Once we selected our targeted audience, we launched the first campaign."
It’s 2015. Giuliano is lying in his bed, unable to sleep. His mind is racing. Working on the La Passione project is full-on. There are no boundaries between work and private life.
"Our workdays became 20 hours long. And we were always sitting at the famous kitchen table at Yurika’s,” he recalls.
But once they launched the campaign, all that they had to do was to wait for the first customers — if they would ever show up...
"As I stood with my eyes open, all of a sudden, a notification flashed on my smartphone. The phone screen lit up the room, and I couldn’t resist checking: I picked it up, and the Shopify app informed me we had just sold our first kit (jersey and bib-shorts). I figured it was a friend or acquaintance of mine, someone who wanted to encourage me with a purchase of their own. But, instead, it was an Australian cyclist. I couldn’t believe it. Australia was just one of our target markets. There, at that point, I thought our project could work. But I also thought that I could still consider myself satisfied if we didn’t make it because the economic uncertainties were enormous. That was our idea, and it was working."
Investments and outcomes
The first collection sold out. The warehouse needed to be stocked up again, but the company needed more investment to produce them.
“This is the start-up model: the beginnings are not economically sustainable, and there is no linearity between investments and incomes. You need to work and grow, but to do this, you need liquidity. So for us, at that point, it was imperative to find investors because we couldn’t give up when things started to go well.
“We started looking for lenders among our friends and acquaintances. We were asking people to invest in our company, but no one believed in us. At one point, we went to our bank manager to ask for an overdraft or a mortgage. We were looking for a way to move forward, and quite unexpectedly, the manager himself stepped up. He told us that the bank would not help a business as modern as ours based on e-commerce. In Italy, our project was science fiction. But he told us that he would invest in us using his savings. He was a cyclist and the passion for cycling, once again, proved to be the key to our fortune.”
Passione is not only the name of the company. It’s the force underlining their story, the core value upon which all the others are grounded. It’s the brand’s foundation.
“With the first investors, we secured resources for a new production run. Then we moved into promoting our products, and not only online. Until then, product shoots were done by us at home. The big kitchen table was transformed into a photographic set.”
Today La Passione is based in Lugano, Switzerland. Their HQ is a vast and elegant building, where the light bounces off the white walls to illuminate every room. Fresh flowers are placed on a small table in front of Yurika’s desk. Every detail is taken care of. In Manerba del Garda, Italy, the futuristic warehouse can now process and fulfil any order to any country in the world in less than 24 hours. And a cycling kit from La Passione — ordered on a Thursday in New York City — can be worn by the customer on their Sunday morning ride.
“We set up our first photoshoot in Tenerife. We went there with Kristof Ramon, one of the best cycling photographers around. I had contacted him online, and he was excited to work with us. We used some friends as models. Yurika and I, as usual, took care of everything: we booked the plane tickets, and we organised all the logistics, including renting a van and driving it to the island with the collection we needed to shoot. In our work for La Passione, along with the hours spent on planning and organising the company, developing the collection, or looking for investors, we were busy doing many other things. And that’s how it works in start-ups.”
Giuliano and Yurica’s storytelling is exciting, engaging, and authentic. They explain that, in their business, they are engaged in an endless cycle of problem-solving. But within a positive circle, the scale of the investments and their results have been sensational. And underneath the success, their passion has remained genuine since the beginning of their trajectory.
Facing a wider audience
In 2022, the company will enter a new phase of its history and become Team Movistar’s technical partner, the longest-running professional team in both the men’s and women’s UCI WorldTour. Giuliano and Yurika speak enthusiastically about the project, yet are mindful of holding to the brand’s mission of supporting the riders that purchase its clothing.
“Passion is everything. For me, cycling is a metaphor for life and work,” says Giuliano. It’s no coincidence that even their new logo is shaped in one single letter: P for passion, flanked by a dot.
“When we take everything away, and we put the difficulties aside, it is essential to preserve the ability to surprise yourself and enjoy the results you’ve obtained”.
“Tom Boonen has always been one of my sporting idols,” he says. “I have always admired him as a sportsman and as a man. And the fact that he has become a testimonial for our brand and wears our products, the fact that I have the opportunity to ride with him, to have him part of our project, it’s really exciting.”
Giuliano has just returned from Spain, where he spent a few days with Team Movistar for testing and fine-tuning the products for the upcoming season. He tries to give a detached account, but the energy is palpable as he tells the story. Having seen the riders wearing his kit, the thing that has given him even more satisfaction was hearing feedback from Alejandro Valverde — someone who’s used many different brands in his career.
“Alejandro was in front of the mirror. He looked at himself, holding his hands on his chest, skimming the seams and curves of the fabric. At one point, after trying all the pieces, he turned to me and said, ‘Giuliano, me gusta mucho!’”
I ask what the future holds for La Passione. Once again, Giuliano and Yurika seem to have very clear ideas and — above all — a plan.
“The commitment in the world of professional cycling will not distract our attention from the problems we care about: to provide our customers with better products, to reach them with a direct-to-consumer service, and to think of cycling as a new way of living in our cities and staying healthy. In that respect, we’re ready with our first urban collection. Furthermore, we want to focus more on women’s cycling and produce more cycling kit specifically for women. In this sense, the collaboration with Team Movistar will help us a lot.”
A passion for cycling
In the end, the interview turns into a more laid-back and relaxed chat. In addition to the admiration for their professional project, it’s easy to empathise with Giuliano and Yurika. Their battle to create La Passione is something to inspire anyone struggling to realise their dreams. I ask them if there’s anything else they would like to talk about, as I know that the Manerba del Garda's distribution centre is a gem worth discussing in more detail. Yurica had also mentioned that there are currently more than 100,000 products ready to be shipped in the warehouse.“We started with 5,000,” points out Giuliano. “In projects like ours, growth is sudden and not linear. So you need to work hard to be ready at the right time.”
While I put my notebook away, I ask them a final question.
“What did you have to give up to fulfil your dream?”
Giuliano and Yurika look each other in the eyes, and there are a few seconds of silence.
“We worked so hard and gave up time we would have spent with friends, loved ones, and even our parents,” Yurika says. “We gave up dinners, trips, and entertainment. Then, we happened to go on vacation for a week with our parents and found ourselves working the entire time because the sales campaign was doing incredibly well. So we had to provide customer service and put the work in.”
Looking at each other as they talk, it feels like they want to confess to me that they want to move on from that phase. Today, La Passione is a successful company. It keeps growing and makes the investors happy.
The sacrifice of the early years seems to be Giuliano and Yurika’s biggest regret.
“Cycling is a form of language and a metaphor for something else. In our brand storytelling, we need to find a point of contact between us, the professionals who race and we see on TV, and the amateurs who take their bikes for their training or pleasure rides. We must never forget that professional riders, even the best paid and famous — those who seem unreachable — are driven first and foremost by a passion for bikes and cycling. They are people like all of us who work hard and pedal for fun.”
What Giuliano makes is a sort of promise: “From now on, I think we’ll have to tell people more about us and our work, about our efforts to grow and evolve. People need to feel part of a story. Telling our stories means sharing with other people. Passion does not only have to do with successes and results achieved. Above all is sharing those attempts, and the struggle to fulfil our dreams.”