Donkey Label was born in Minneapolis in 2013. The high-end cycling apparel brand has gone from promising to proven by cranking out American-made kits as good as any on the market.
This winter, I put a jersey, bibs, merino socks and chamois balm from Donkey Label to the test during a two-week trip in Northern California. I found myself loathing the thought of wearing something else when it was inevitably laundry time.
Back home in Minnesota, I caught up with Donkey Label founder Paul Krumrich. He gave GearJunkie an inside look at the brand and assured me I wasn’t alone in my “It doesn’t smell that bad” test.
What was your inspiration to start Donkey Label?
There were two big turning points back in 2012. I really wanted a Rapha cross top for my birthday. It was like $200+, but I knew it was made in the UK, and I’d heard good things. My wife got it for me, and it was super detailed and nice, but it didn’t fit me very well, and as I was investigating some of the hidden pockets I found a “made in china” sticker.
That same year I was starting to get into road racing. There was a group training ride that I bonked super hard on and had to take public transportation part of the way home. I was wearing a local team kit that a friend had given me. As I was sulking on the train with my head down, some teenager goes, “Hey man, are you sponsored? You look like a nascar!” I’d never wanted a subtle kit more than at that moment.
What was your first move with the brand?
I started with the lone objective of making a jersey that I loved, and one that I’d wear dirty out of my bin before grabbing any jersey clean from my closet. I needed it to be visually clean, with a dialed, riding fit. It took nine prototypes, 18 months, and some savings, but I did it. And that jersey is still my favorite to wear dirty out of the bin.
What are three ways that DL stands out?
Style – I design our stuff so that you can recognize our jersey from afar without any logos, thanks to subtle things like the arm bands, top stitching with colored thread, and the chest and arm panel.
Fit – Our fit is for a cyclist riding a bike. It might fit funny when you’re waiting for your coffee, but in the drops or on the hoods, it fits great. Our stuff is all designed for cyclists with athletic builds.
Approach – We make the best stuff possible in the US with the best materials available in the world. We’ve never looked at this business from the market perspective (if we could make a jersey for $X, then we can sell it for $Y and fit into this opening in the market where we could sell a bunch…). My approach has always been “I’m going to make the best jersey I can, and whatever it ends up costing is what it costs.”
Our staple jersey is 27 panels with three different fabrics. Most jerseys in the $80 range are eleven panels of the same fabric. Take a step back, and you see that shops pay $40 for the jersey, which forces the brand to make ‘em for $13 to stay in business, and you’re headed down a slippery slope of caring less about quality. People might complain about the Donkey Label price when they’re buying it. We politely listen, knowing full well that after they wear it, it’s worth every penny.
Why does domestic manufacturing matter to you?
Starting out, I knew nothing about making clothing, so I needed major guidance. I found a resource locally that not only helped me with the development but also the production. This setup allows us to have smaller runs and be significantly more nimble. China saves you a ton, but when you get 1,000 jerseys and something is wrong you either have to eat it or sell a product that’s not what you envisioned. I can address production issues quickly and drive over to personally make decisions on products.
I want DL to be a shared success story, not one where we “make it” on the backs of others. I want it to be a collective win. I want our vendors to enjoy taking my phone call and order versus dreading the beating they’ll take to make our product.
How do you dial in the fit of DL kits?
Combination of fabrics is key. The Italian mesh on the side and back keep it snug without being overly tight. I love the bicep-hug and added sun protection of the longer sleeves, which are made of a special spandex with a no-seam edge to make it as smooth as possible.
When we were designing the jersey, I brought my bike and trainer to the fitting sessions and we did all the adjustments and tweaks to the pattern while I was riding so they could better understand how it needed to function on the bike.
The pattern makers weren’t bikers, and I wasn’t a pattern maker, but we all got in the same space and combined experiences to dial it in. It took forever to keep our shorts from riding up the leg without using a gripper, but I was adamant about avoiding sausage casing legs. It was a crazy long process of prototypes and pattern changes, but now our bibs fit great without gripper.
Does DL have any plans to do women’s specific gear?
Yep, we’re several rounds of prototyping in with the jersey, which is set to hit the market August 1. Design will be done by Portland cyclist and designer Gritchelle Falegson. And we’ll follow the jersey up with bibs for fall/winter.
Our stance with the women’s gear will be the same as the men’s–do whatever it takes to achieve the best fit and aesthetic possible. “Shrink it and pink it” has no place here. Women want bad ass stuff, and we’re eager to deliver.