There is road bike kit and there is Pas Normal Studios. Hardly any other brand has influenced the style of the modern road cycling community in recent years as much as the designers from Copenhagen. We met the people behind the brand, learned what they want to do to be more sustainable and what makes the brand so Scandinavian yet so international.
It’s Wednesday morning and we’re standing at a crossroads in the northeast of Copenhagen. The sun is shining, and the city is gearing up for the upcoming Grand Départ of the Tour de France. We’re in the commuter peloton with about 50 other cyclists and wait for the green light – right now, we can’t think of anything more normal than riding a bike. To say that the Danish capital has an affinity for bicycles is an understatement at best. We signal to turn right and stop to meet Peter Lange, CEO of Pas Normal Studios, in front of the label’s brand new flagship store.
Pas Normal. For all the anglophiles amongst us: the name is French and translates to “not normal”. Originally, this was an allusion to how Lance Armstrong described his colleagues that were doping in Tyler Hamilton’s book The Secret Race. But soon the term developed into a mantra of one of the most formative contemporary cycling brands. From the Pas Normal Studios in Copenhagen to the world: making design come alive for all road disciples – and for everyone else too.
From passion to production
Peter leads us through the store, which is ready in time for the start of the tour, making him smile as it reminds him of the early days of the brand. In 2014, the two co-founders Peter Lange and Karl-Oskar Olsen had set themselves the goal of riding the famous La Marmotte Granfondo as quickly as possible – while flaunting their typically Danish style, of course. If you don’t know the race, you should know that the course is tough, spanning 5,000 m of elevation over 177 km. Even more so if you manage to cross the finish line in less than 7 hours. By the way, Danish fashion designer Karl-Oskar Olsen is also one of the brains behind the internationally recognised brand Wood Wood, and co-founder Peter Lange was still working for the beverage manufacturer Vitamin Well at the time. Both were absolutely convinced that their design concept would shake up the bike clothing market. That’s why they each invested € 15,000 in the production of their first collection. Scandinavian minimalism, very sporty cuts, only for men. They deliberately kept their test run small, offering limited choices, and they sold fast.
Today, we’re in their flagship store, which the brand designed in cooperation with the specialists of OEO Studio, also based in Copenhagen. It’s as impressive as it’s well-thought-out. Peter explains: “It was important to us to create a design concept that we could use globally. We don’t have an urgent deadline for completing our 15 stores, but since all furniture and fittings can be built on site and with local suppliers, we can move a lot quicker.” At the time of our conversation, the store in Munich is in the final planning stage, while construction is already in progress in San Francisco.
After its completion, the flagship store in the northeast of the Danish capital will be the main point of contact for all fans of the brand. Its location on one of the main bike paths was very cleverly chosen. If you follow it north, you immediately get to some hotly contested Strava segments along the sea. Speaking of contact points: you won’t just find Pas Normal in their new stores, but also on their long-standing “Destination Everywhere” Summer tours, supporting the international community with events and rides throughout Europe.
Back to Copenhagen: the HQ includes a fully equipped gym for the employees, who – as Peter proudly reports – are mostly passionate cyclists and athletes themselves. It’s no coincidence that about 80% of the workforce takes part in the 200 km long company ride to celebrate the Summer solstice. Our editor Tobi took part himself, accompanying the colourful group at an average speed of 35 km/h. Elimination race and final sprint on the segments north of the city included – it was honour!
The completely converted headquarters are much more home than a store. The Pas Normal HQ will soon also become home to a semi-open office concept, fully deserving to be called a studio. Thanks to their partnership with the traditional German-Danish company VELUX who supply the innovative company headquarters with the appropriate glazing, the offices are flooded with sunlight. Chief designer and co-founder Karl-Oskar describes the design influences of the brand itself as follows: “I think we have a very classic Scandinavian way of thinking in terms of design. It is very subtle and simple, but with clear details or a clear concept. My personal inspiration comes from the Bauhaus movement, especially from Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. The style mustn’t be too rigid or conceptual, it needs a certain balance. I see my approach more as a mixture of the classic ‘less is more’ with contemporary and innovative style. Above all, I try to reflect the time and society in which we live and to design things that I would wear myself.”
The aesthetics of cycling reaches the masses
Today, Pas Normal Studios have over 40 employees spread across the globe. Between Jakarta, Taipei, San Francisco and Copenhagen, the international team have long since outgrown their start-up phase and are expanding in leaps and bounds, or as CEO Peter himself says with a smile: “We’re a real company now. I just got off the phone with my colleagues from the United States. It feels unbelievably good that we’re growing like this.” Although they obviously believed in their brand, they’re still surprised by the speed of their success and growth. Peter attributes it to the fact that they’re fulfilling a demand. Despite all the hype, it is important to the CEOs of Pas Normal that they don’t simply churn out the next line of products. “We’ve got a super engaged community all over the world,” Peter says. “Every time they meet and ride together, Pas Normal Studios come alive – that’s where we’re at. In today’s experience economy, it is not enough to just tout a hollow message. People are looking for more, for a real brand experience and that’s what we want to offer and live with all our rides.”
Real added value. This isn’t just important to Pas Normal when it comes to how you can experience the brand as a cyclist but also with regard to sustainability. For this reason, the Danish brand are in the process of introducing the so-called Higg Index for their products. This is a self-assessment standard of the clothing and footwear industry, which is intended to gauge environmental and social sustainability throughout the supply chain. As of now, a comprehensive report will provide information on how the company is positioned and what measures they will take to further improve the status quo.
“It’s an independent tool that has given us a lot of clarity. We attach a lot of importance to authenticity and aren’t interested in greenwashing. Thanks to the certification, we now know exactly where we stand, and that alone already puts us a big step ahead of the competition. We’re out to prove how good sustainable sporting goods can look,” says Peter. For Pas Normal, it’s not just about using more recycled materials but also extending the life cycles of their products as much as possible. They use high-quality zippers as well as durably dyed fabrics which don’t fade or only fade very, very slowly.
Peter cites another exciting dimension of sustainability: “By continuously strengthening our brand, the value of our products remains stable in the second-hand market, which further adds to their lifespan. We want people to choose quality – in the design, manufacturing and convictions.” We are soon launching an initiative to encourage reselling of our kit online. Initially trialling in Denmark, owners and buyers of Pas Normal Studios kit will be able to enjoy an elevated marketplace experience with the security and confidence of a dedicated online platform. We think this is a super clever and convenient idea! You can already find detailed information about the supply chain and the corresponding certificates here.
Few brands manage to stay true to themselves when they experience such rapid growth. In our opinion, Pas Normal is one of them – after all, we’ve been keeping an eye on the brand for a few years and have now gained first-hand insights into their latest developments. Whether it’s at the next organised ride, in one of the flagship stores or perhaps in the ProTour peloton at some point, we look forward to seeing what the Danish brand will be up to next.
Did you enjoy this article? If so, we would be stoked if you decide to support us with a monthly contribution. By becoming a supporter of GRAN FONDO, you will help secure a sustainable future for high-quality cycling journalism. Click here to learn more.
Words: Benjamin Topf Photos: Adam Katz Sinding