Protective gear with attitude

Harry Cole's business started as a final-year project for his industrial design studies. Seven years on Respro, the company that grew out of his idea for anti-pollution cycling masks, is exporting all over the world and supplying a growing range of related products.

The workforce remains small and Mr Cole is reluctant to discuss financial details of the company that literally started in the front room of his Brixton home. But Respro's distinctive "urban survival" masks and reflective clothing are popular among both cyclists and motorcyclists.

Like most good ideas, this was born from experience. Mr Cole was a motorcyclist who regularly rode across London to college, breathing in more than his fair share of exhaust fumes. Protective masks were available, but he thought he could do better.

Knowing that rival products were often ineffective as well as flimsy and uncomfortable, he researched the constituents of pollution and realised that to be effective a mask had to deal with a variety of pollutants.

The solution was found at the Defence Research Establishment with a filtration system first developed for chemical and biological warfare. Comfort and strength came by making the housing of neoprene, a material more usually associated with diving suits, giving the required close fit while not being too cumbersome.

But Mr Cole, as an industrial designer, is aware of the need for style. Even at a time when people are aware of the dangers of pollution, they will not wear protective equipment if they do not like the look of it.

Likewise, reflective clothing has been inclined - as he puts it - to make its wearer "look like a highway worker". So he has come up with items he thinks people will want to wear - protective gear with attitude, say. The stickers, belts and waistcoats made from 3M's Scotchlite material carry over the bold designs and slogans used on the masks.

"It's style as well as function," says Mr Cole, who says that he is determined to work with the end-user in mind though the designs and slogans are a key part of his marketing strategy.

With a wide range of masks - including some for use in the country where pollen allergies can cause great discomfort for some - and other products now available, Mr Cole is aware that his global market is highly segmented. Sales are split equally between cyclists and motorcyclists, and different markets have different requirements.

For instance, the United States is more of an allergy market, while other countries to which he exports, such as Japan and Indonesia, are more likely to be pollution-led. "Different countries buy the products for different reasons," he says.

Mr Cole keeps tight control over an operation he describes as "small, neat, tidy and as efficient as we can be". Early on, when he won a technology award sponsored by NatWest and BP, he set about obtaining worldwide patent protection.

And, though this caution did create an early setback when one supplier was unable to meet demand, he has taken care to concentrate on his strengths - design, marketing and packaging - which he sees as the key to success. He keeps a close eye on distribution, ensuring that products go to specialist retailers where customers are willing to pay for quality, but he leaves manufacturing to third parties.

And, determined not to be "a cottage industry selling one product", he always looks for new opportunities. Having quickly reached the point where 70 per cent of sales come from overseas, he is concentrating on widening his product portfolio rather than finding new markets.

On top of the X-treme Sports and Urban masks, there are now the cowboy- syle Bandit masks, plus special visors, courier bags and various styles of reflective equipment. There is a collection of clothing aimed at those dedicated to two-wheeled transport. Revisions and new items are constantly appearing.

The complexity of some of the masks - different filters for different conditions, and the like - might seem to take matters a bit far for a product many people will buy for style reasons more than anything else. But Mr Cole maintains that his business is first and foremost about protection. People buy reflective clothing because they do not want to get knocked off, he says. If the masks did not work he and his handful of colleagues would have been out of business long ago.

"It's a growth market, and there's still a lot of potential. We want to be there in the right place, at the head of the game," says Mr Cole.

q Respro equipment can be bought via mail order on 0171-721 7300.

Copyright: IOS & Bloomberg

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
News
videoWatch Lynda Bellingham's tragic final Loose Women appearance
Sport
A view of today's Spanish papers
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The last great picture - Winner 'Black and White' and overall 'Wildlife Photographer of the Year'
art
News
people

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg
music

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

News
The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions
News
news

Powerful images of strays taken moments before being put down

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 pose for Children in Need 2001
music
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
'Right Here' singer Jess Glynne is nominated for Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards 2014
musicExclusive: Jess Glynne hits out at 'ridiculous' criticism of white artists nominated for Mobo Awards
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voices

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Brand has written a book of political analysis called Revolution
books

Review: Witty banalities aside, the comedian has an authentic voice

Arts and Entertainment
Separated at birth? Frank Sivero (left) claims The Simpsons based Mafia character Louie on his Goodfellas character
arts + entsFrank Sivero sues Simpsons studio over allegedly basing mobster character on Frank Carbone
News
Carl Bernstein (left) and Bob Woodward (right) with former 'Washington Post' executive editor Ben Bradlee
people

The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: The SThree group is a world le...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: The SThree group is a world lea...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £Competitive: SThree: SThree Group and have be...

Helpdesk Analyst

£23000 per annum + pension and 22 days holiday: Ashdown Group: An established ...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London