Like many stories, ours begins with Once upon a time and takes us back nearly 70 years – to tell the tale of how one father’s passion and dedication led to a major international brand of highly innovative cycling clothing. But unlike many stories, this isn’t a fairytale of make-believe. It is the tale of a man’s life and how he used it to change the world of cycling. The year was 1950, the place Tokyo, Japan. Kinzi Shimizu spent over three decades riding his bike back and forth as he delivered clothing to his customers in a nearby village. Little did Kinji know that his relationship with clothing would not only become a lot more personal, but would one day make an impact on a global scale.
Kinji’s son, Hiro, was a promising racer who in 1964, participated in the Asian Cycling Championships as part of the Japanese national team. After the event, Hiro was the fortunate team member to win a lucky draw – a cycling jersey from Italy that was unlike anything Kinji had ever seen. The 100% nylon Italian jersey was a source of inspiration for Kinji, who was only familiar with the cotton cycling kits Hiro wore. Kinji designed his first kit as a gift for his son, using the new knowledge he had acquired. Luckily for the cycling world, this was not the end of Kinji’s foray into the world of bicycle gear. The father discovered a passion that bred an obsession with innovation. He went on to spend years doing research on all kinds of fabrics and how they could be manipulated to enhance a cyclist’s performance. He also studied the intricacies of the human body as it moved, an exercise that would eventually help bridge the gap between cyclist and gear. Kinji’s drive and exploration led to half a century of high- performance, innovative clothing that now forms the world-class, progressive foundation of Pearl Izumi.
Pearl Izumi US began distributing the brand in 1981, bringing Japan’s unprecedented innovations to its own shores. The brand really started taking off in 1989, when the then owners crossed oceans to visit the Shimano family in Japan. The purpose of the trip? A request from the parent company to have the legal rights to trade as Pearl Izumi in America. This relationship was the turning point for the business, which went on to sponsor several big names in sport, namely Angela Naeth (triathlete), Brian Lopes (mountain biker), and even the US Olympic team of 1984 (who won 9 gold medals). But the honors and accolades don’t stop there. Spurred by the never- ending passion to be a leader in innovation and technology for bike clothing, Pearl Izumi continues to take names in the cycling industry. In 2017, the brand became the official and exclusive training apparel and cycling footwear sponsor for the USA Triathlon, and in the same year the company formed their Ambador Team – brand ambassadors made up of road cyclists, amateur and pro mountain bikers, as well as triathletes. After many decades of impressive growth, the owners of Pearl Izumi US were given rights to begin distributing the brand internationally, and was acquired by Shimano in 2008 for a cool $70M.
Having had several decades to assert itself as a leading brand in the cycling industry in the US, when Pearl Izumi finally hit the global stage it was to uproarious applause. Now it would be so much easier to be pervasive in its impact on the sport of cycling through superior engineering and high quality biking apparel. From Tokyo, Japan to the United States, the United Kingdom, and now 14 other countries around the world, Pearl Izumi has become synonymous with high- performance, high-technology cycle gear. In 1985, the brand came to South Africa and now, just over 30 years later, there are 18 Pearl Izumi stores in the Western Cape alone, with 6 other distribution centers throughout the rest of the country. With its loyal following of Izumi consumers around the world, and with countless new converts taking their first Izumi step to cycling greatness every day, it seems the brand’s story is still far from ending.