Ciovita Cycling Kit Manufacturer
Ciovita was founded in 2015, born from Andrew Gold’s passion for cycling and experience of the clothing industry. “I was watching the Giro D’Italia that year and decided that I wanted to make clothes that are meaningful to me,” he remembers.
Early in 2016, the brand produced its first cycling apparel. Derived from the Latin word for “move” – cio – and vita – which is Italian for “life” – Ciovita (life in motion) certainly is a brand in motion. From the 3-person team that produced the first gear, the company now employs 95 staff members. In the last 18 months, it has doubled in size. The high-end cycling gear it designs and manufactures is sold from its outlet in Woodstock, Cape Town, and online across South Africa and internationally to customers in Australia, the UK, the US and Europe.
Given the South African textile industry’s sharp decline in recent years, Ciovita is a remarkable success story. “We are a South African company that aspires to be a global brand that can stand on its own on the world stage,” says Gold. While fabrics and some designs are imported from Italy, all the clothes are made in the Ciovita factory in Cape Town.
The company’s local roots are reflected in its support for local charities. In addition to making cycling outfits free of charge for cyclists who participate in events such as the Cape Epic to raise funds for charitable causes, Ciovita is also a sponsor of the Velokhaya Cycling Academy in Khayelitsha.
Covid-19 stopped Ciovita in its tracks. “When lockdown first started, we naively thought we’d be back by mid-April, but it became evident very soon that it won’t be the case,” says Gold. Frustrated by his inability to access other avenues of support for small business, Gold “fired off” an email application to the Sukuma Fund after hearing about it on the radio. “When I clicked send, I had about 5% faith that I would get a reply.” He was so surprised and overjoyed at the quick and personal response from the team at Business Partners, that he phoned his father in Australia to share the news. “It was such a relief to know that someone was listening on the other side of the internet.”
The first tranche of the soft loan Ciovita received was paid out the day before wages and salaries had to be paid. The money was a huge relief, allowing Gold and his team the breathing space to get back on an even keel: staff paid, stress levels lowered and a working environment restored to its usual positive vibe.
Gold says he remains impressed by the strong controls Sukuma Fund had put in place to ensure that the funding was used as intended. “We have to prove that we have paid our staff before the next tranche is paid. It resonates with me that they are making sure the money is not squandered. For me this confirms that the purpose of the fund is to help the country survive.”
Under lockdown level 3, Ciovita is doing well. There has been a big upswing in online sales, and customers are returning to the Woodstock store. Having introduced split shifts to maintain social distancing, almost all employees are back at work. “It has been tough to run a clothing factory where people usually work closely together,” says Gold. “But we have awesome staff who have embraced the situation. They know it’s not a game; we are working here to keep the business alive.”
Ciovita’s spirit and customer relationships flourished even in the midst of lockdown. The company ran a competition on Facebook, inviting followers to come up with new designs. The response was so overwhelming that instead of one winner, the competition yielded four. The youngest is a 10-year-old girl who did her design in crayon. With a bit of help from the Ciovita design team, her artwork will soon appear on a Ciovita jersey. Another winner submitted a design inspired by #BlackLivesMatter. For every jersey bearing the design that is sold online, Ciovita will donate R200 to the cause.
“ Thanks to our customers and staff, and the Sukuma Fund, we have managed to emerge fairly unscathed from the past three months,” says Gold. “Now we are just hoping that events will start again soon because cycling is a social sport. When cycling gets back to normal, we will get back to normal.”