When Canada’s national team athletes roll into Tokyo this summer, they will once again be wearing technical clothing from Louis Garneau. Few, if any brands are as deeply connected to Canada’s national program as the Quebec brand. In fact, Louis Garneau was still chasing his own Olympic dream when he founded the brand, back in 1983.
From L.A. to Tokyo
After 38 years, Garneau is an internationally recognized name in the world of professional cycling. While remaining deeply connected to Canada, the brand has sponsored numerous high profile WorldTour teams over the years, and supports numerous Canadian pro riders, like triathlete Lionel Sanders.
Among its current clientele is Mike Woods, who rides in Garneau footwear. And if you can get a former elite runner to trust you with his feet, you’re probably doing something right.
But before all that, Garneau was a garage brand, founded back in 1983 While Louis Garneau was still racing and training for the L.A. Olympics the following year, he started making clothing out of his father’s garage in Quebec City. It was a business born out off a connection to the sport, but also necessity. At the time, the only quality cycling clothing in North America had to be imported from Italy. While a set of Italian bibs could set a rider back $80, Garneau worked out that he could make, and sell a pair of bib shorts himself for $25.
With help from his partner, Monique, he started the brand out of his garage. When he was away racing in Europe, he would send notes on fit and style back to her in Quebec City.
“I was 25 years old. I was afraid of nothing and I had a lot of energy,” Garneau says of those early days during which he and his wife started making bibs not only for himself but also his teammates in the national program. Monique, who had her own full time job as a nurse, would help sew. Together, they were able to make the first run of bib shorts on time for Garneau and his teammates to race them at the 1983 Il Giro d’Italia.
Garneau racing in Canada kit
Starting from a Quebec City garage, Garneau has grown into an international brand
Early days of racing
Lead to serious racing
In 1984, Garneau reached the Olympics for the first time, as an athlete and as a brand. Racing in his own clothing, Louis Garneau finished 33rd in the men’s road race. His teammate, Steve Bauer, rode to Canada’s first ever Olympic medal in road cycling, finishing second.
For Garneau the man, L.A. was the realization and fulfillment of the Olympic dream. He retired from sport to focus on developing his new, and quickly growing company.
For Garneau the brand, the Los Angeles Olympics were just the start. Garneau has supported the Olympic dreams of Canadian riders for decades now. 36 years later, Canadian athletes will ride Garneau again in Tokyo, for everything from road racing to mountain biking.
Custom – for Canada’s best riders
Garneau started with custom orders in his father’s Quebec City garage, and that has continued since.
“Our DNA is a capacity to do one product for one person like it was in my father’s garage when we started,” says Garneau. “We do bicycle custom through to jerseys and helmets.”
A major part of Garneau’s success is the custom market was bringing the process of fabric sublimation to North America back in the 1980s. Following the Olympics they up a small factory in Quebec City, when the brand outgrew the original garage. Garneau made a return to Italy, this time to learn about the then-new fabric printing process instead of to race a bike. After some trial and error back at home, the process was eventually mastered. This allowed Garneau, who also had a degree in fine arts from University of Laval, to add much more expressive designs to his clothing. IT also allowed for small runs of team clothing, tailored to the athletes.
Garneau has become synonymous with Team Canada kit in recent years
Pinning numbers pre-race
Hugo Houle (Can) racing 2019 Road World Championships
Before Rio 2016 Olympics, the brand extended its support of Cycling Canada through the 2020 Olympics, now being held in 2021. The partnership works not just because of Garneau’s continuing connection to his home country, and the aspiring cyclists there, but because the type of custom work required for Olympic athletes is where the brand started. Though the company has expanded to everything from apparel to bikes, custom clothing, made for Canada’s best, remains at the core of the Quebec brand.
It’s not just Canada’s fastest that have access to Garneau’s custom work, though. With a brand new website, it is easier than ever for riders to make their own unique designs. Even one-off custom pieces are possible with the Quick design option. For full custom pieces, the minimum is still impressively small, at just six units. That means, even if you’re not racing for Team Canada in Tokyo this summer, your club can still have cool custom kit. For Garneau, that’s the ways it’s always been.
“Our very first order was for Bicycle Record, a local bike shop near my parent’s house in Quebec City. Whether the customer needed one jersey, twelve or fifty, we would do it,” says Garneau. “Working with clubs, at the grassroots of the sport we love, keeps us involved with youth, organizations and charities, which is invaluable.”
Check out Garneau’s new Custom Kit website and start bringing your team’s dreams to life.