The Oxford dictionary definition of the word ‘niche’ (when used as an adjective – in this case ‘Niche Market’) is as follows: “Denoting or relating to products, services, or interests that appeal to a small, specialized section of the population”.
You would think that when a brand called Rugby Warfare pitches itself steadfastly to the gym-wear market it is effectively narrowing its market segmentation to the 3 million rugby players worldwide (based on registered players World Rugby 2017) who may-or-may-not frequent the gym and may-or-may-not purchase specific training wear for this?
However, to pigeonhole this young company as being a niche market supplier would be doing its potential a huge disservice. Started in 2015, in the rugby-mad town of Llanelli in West Wales, they describe their clothing range using words such as ‘athleisure’ and ‘lifestyle clothing’ and are a passionate group of (almost inevitably) young rugby players and fans.
They clearly love the game and specifically created this brand to address an issue they felt passionately about. Namely, the lack of decent off-field, rugby specific clothing and the antiquated approach by the “big rugby brands” when it came to trying new designs and different materials for their products. Their mission statement being to move away from the “2003 model” of “unflattering overpriced 100% cotton t-shirt or them[sic] DREADFUL baggy joggers”. So far, so good.
But what is the kit like? I undertook to try the samples they provided (a couple of performance t-shirts, a Spartan Shirt and a pair of Recon shorts) and did so by wearing the kit to the gym, running in it and generally canvassing opinion from other rugby folk on it. I know. Gonzo journalism at its finest eh?
The results are as follows:
The usual caveat applies here, in that I am a 40-year-old, balding, father of two who may not be best placed to judge style aimed, mostly, at a younger generation but I will try my best. The performance t-shirts are simple, just branded across the chest and uncomplicated otherwise. I personally like this approach, which is why the Spartan Shirt style did not particularly appeal to me. With its blue tribal sleeve designs (on a black background) to the graphic-art Spartan character across the torso I found this all a bit too garish and busy for my liking. Perhaps each design feature in isolation would be okay but together it’s a bit too much. The Recon shorts on the other hand are much more understated with a simple panelled grey loom and an embroidered logo on the right leg they are classy and subtle in look. On the whole, no complaints with the style.
I found the sizing to be generally a little on the small side but I assumed this was down to the style of the garments and a desire to make the products tight and well fitted. They have certainly got the proportions of their garment spot-on though. For example, the extra length in the body stops the tops riding up when doing gym work above your head or on the bench (such as skullcrushers, medicine ball crunches and selfies). The short sleeves also show off the guns nicely and the ‘clingy’ fit of the mixed materials is flattering but at the same time breathable. The shorts fit at the waist but give enough room for the thighs and glutes of a typical rugby player to move freely without feeling tight or restrictive, as some other shorts do. Overall the sizing is very much aimed towards a gym going rugby player, which is fine by me. Just. For now.
During my (far from) scientific testing of this kit I stretched it, sweated in it, washed it a few times and took it on holiday to France with me. I am pleased to say, all of it has passed the test with flying colours. There has been no give in the stitching, no loss of shape and/or no peeling of the logos, which are all too regular an occurrence in certain other brands (yes Macron, I’m looking at you). The shorts and Spartan Shirt hold the weight and durability of team wear and the Performance t-shirts behave somewhere between a t-shirt and a base layer. The move towards mixed materials seems to be a winner and Rugby Warfare should be applauded for both its quality and move away from 100% cotton off-field wear.
All-in-all I’m very impressed with Rugby Warfare. For a young company, they have a viable market gap, good quality products and enough enthusiasm to make the brand a success. They have a host of young Welsh professionals to endorse their stuff (including questionable British & Irish Lion – Ross Moriarty) and regularly post blogs on their website about training methods, topical rugby subjects and insightful interviews with various players. Whilst out running on the banks of the Seine recently I was stopped by an achingly cool Parisian hipster who asked where he could get the Rugby Warfare Performance Top I was wearing. This, as much as anything, tells me these Welsh lads have got it right. I look forward to seeing how their move into Ladies and Children’s wear goes this year and watching this brand grow beyond their niche.
Find out more on their website here.