We take a moment today to recognize a Frenchman making bike t-shirts in Detroit. You’re going to want to read this.

Breakaway is a company that makes bike t-shirts. Not generic, random, cliche shirts in brown colors from China. We’re talking some seriously classy threads straight from Detroit Rock City, here. Kacha Azema is a bike-crazy madman whose father grew up watching the likes of Merckx, Hinault and the all the legendary riders in person. Now, Kacha is putting together some of the coolest shirts you’re going to find anywhere, and without the goofy ClipArt bike picture on the front.

The shirts, and there designs, come from good places, both physically and philosophically. There is something inherently good about things from Detroit. There’s a sense of that city being ours, even if we’ve only been there a few times. It’s a big city, it’s a city in rough shape, but it’s our city. That makes the products that much better when it comes from people who really care about the sport, and the state of our sport right here in the Mitten. Here’s an interview from Kacha on the shirts, the sport, and all things Breakaway.

1. Where are these shirts made? Who does the design work?

“Breakaway tees (and any apparel we produce) are made right here in Detroit, just south of the city. I’ve got an amazing partnership with a screenprinting workshop that produces every tee by hand. It’s really important to me that the craftsmanship of these tees is top-notch. We use the best tshirt blanks, the inks are custom-mixed, each screen is pulled by an actual human being that’s committed to quality on every single piece. That might sound like a bunch of fluff, but it’s really not…there’s a lot of crap tshirt production out there, and I want Breakaway to be something that looks and feels the best…and it takes the best people to make that happen.

2.What goes into creating a design? Do you focus on riders and races you like, or what people respond to?

I watch races, I ride, I listen to the chitter-chatter in the cycling social media world…and then I wait for inspiration. If an idea feels like it might be awesome, then I start concepting a new design and message. In fact, “Be awesome” is the Breakaway mission statement. If the new design or message isn’t awesome yet, then it’s not good enough. For example I had the idea for our current TdF “Sprint Hero” tee for a week, and messed around with a lot of designs and messages before I finally landed on the one that felt right—the one that felt like it inspired awesomesauce. Inspiration; that’s what it’s all about.

3.What’s your favorite t-shirt that you’ve ever designed?

That’s like asking which of my kids I like the best! But I do love “The World Champion” tee that I did. It’s a custom illustration of Mark Cavendish killing it as he comes across the line and I feel like the energy of that graphic speaks way more than any words could convey. It’s got this great mostly-silhouette style to it, but then it opens up across the top as the light is coming across him, and he’s in this super-aggressive posture. It truly is one of those where a picture is worth a thousand words.

4. What made you decide to start making bike t-shirts? What’s your attachment, experience with the sport?

 Hmmm…well that’s two completely different questions, so one at a time. First, my attachment to the sport: it’s a bit of family thing, I think. I grew up watching my dad ride his road bike, recreationally, and seeing him follow the Tour de France. Remember, back then watching the TdF in this country meant hoping to catch the highlights on ABC’s Wide World of Sports…I actually still have functioning VCR tapes that he recorded of Lemond racing!

 Some clarification, though. My dad’s from France, and I’m 1st-generation French, myself. So it’s kind of in my blood. My grandfather watched Coppi and that generation race through their hometown of Montpellier, and my dad watched Merckx and his contemporaries race…in person. That’ll leave a mark on a guy, eh? So hearing those stories, and given my heritage, it seems like it’s always just been there in my life. But if I stop to think about it I find that it’s the heroics of riding and racing, of challenging myself to just a little bit better today than I was yesterday, that keep me glued to my TV screen and onto my saddle.

As for deciding to make bike tees, it’s for a lot of the same reasons. I want to be inspired, and I want to call out inspiration when I see it, and I want to inspire others. You’ll see that common thread in my tees. The messages and graphics call out the heroes of our sport…and those heroes could be the pro racers, or they could be YOU, the average guy or girl who’s out there going hard it and leaving it all out on the road or trail. 

There’s a lot of casual cycling apparel out there, but most of it is just, “Hey, I ride a bike.” I don’t want that for Breakaway. I want it to say, “Hey, me and the cycling world are killing it on our bikes; I’m inspired by that and you should be, too.” My messages and graphics are big and bold because that’s what it takes to find your own personal level of awesomeness on the bike.

5. Anything else you’d like to add?

Women. In cycling. Are awesome. You know why? ‘Cause a lot of the time they make us meat-head dudes look like square-pedaling chumps. Riding a bike is a study in fluidity and efficiency. I think that, from a purely physical standpoint, women intuitively get that more than men. Us guys mash the pedals and just try to push it with brute force. Our sisters of the bike finesse it; they combine power with beauty. That’s the inspiration behind my “You Just Got Dropped By A Girl” tshirt: it uses simple iconography to show that she’s effortlessly flying up over this climb while her buddy is hunched over, head dragging, pushing a monster gear and going nowhere. You go, girl(s)!

I’ve got two daughters—they’re 5 and 7 years old. I point out women cyclists to them all the time, hoping that they’ll be inspired by a woman they can look up to who is pushing hard and achieving what she’s worked for. A couple weeks ago I took them to the track races at the Velodrome at Bloomer Park and there were these two women who were killing it. One was a junior that was dropping all the little tween boys on every race, and the other was a woman who was just putting the absolute hurt on the guys in her races. It was great to see my girls cheering for them, and being inspired that it’s NOT a man’s world out there…they can do anything they’re willing to work hard for.

Look forward for Breakaway Tees prizes, competition and news on kolotc.com, and be sure to get the Tour de France shirts before they are gone. Be warned; the “Allez Wiggo” is perhaps the greatest bicycle-related product since chamois cream. Go purchase it. Now.