- Associated Press - Sunday, February 15, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Nick Drombosky wants to make bicycle safety cool.

But try telling teenagers or twenty-somethings that they should wear not only a helmet but a reflective orange vest on their way to a party or bar.

“I think you shouldn’t have to look like a construction worker to be seen (at night),” Drombosky said.

That’s the challenge Drombosky took on since starting his company, Fiks Reflective, in late 2011. His East Liberty-based company sells reflective clothing and adhesive bike strips around the world, from Japan to Europe, and is carving out a niche in the estimated $2.8 billion global market for bike apparel.

Drombosky, 27, of Friendship is the founder and sole employee of Fiks, which he started by raising $10,000 through the crowd-funding website Kickstarter. He declined to give annual revenue figures, but he said his sales have increased 250 percent every year and are split evenly between domestic and foreign business.

Drombosky studied mechanical engineering and economics at University of Pittsburgh but dropped out before his senior year to pursue a business opportunity as co-owner of an automotive retail store. He left that company in 2011 with ideas of doing something different.

Drombosky rode his first bicycle in college and hopes to seize on the rising interest in cycling. The number of bike commuters nationwide grew 62 percent since 2000 - and even more so in Pittsburgh, which ranks as the third-fastest-growing metro market for bike commuters in the United States, according to an annual report from advocacy group League of American Bicyclists.

More cyclists on the road means more safety risks and thus opportunities for equipment companies to serve bicyclists. In addition to helmets, reflective gear is promoted by cycling groups to prevent accidents, said Ngani Ndimbie, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Bike Pittsburgh.

“We want as many people as possible putting on reflective stickers,” she said. “Unlike lights, your reflective stickers aren’t going to die.”

Anybody can buy reflective tape and stick it on a bike. But Fiks stickers are brighter, more durable and have the advantage over competitors’ stickers of being stylish, said John Denson, CEO of Torcano Industries, a California-based distributor of bike equipment and accessories that is in discussions with Drombosky to take on Fiks products.

Fiks’ subtle designs set it apart, Denson said: cut to fit along narrow wheels and in a range of colors to match a bicycle. Style points are important in the cycling industry, Denson said.

“Bikes today are not cheap, and they continue to get more and more expensive,” Denson said. “A lot of cyclists will spend $1,000 or $2,000 for a wheel set. (Fiks) has created tapes that blend in with the bike. It doesn’t look like I’m standing out until light hits it and then it’s like, ‘Whoa, what is that?’ “

Lately, Fiks apparel has become a hot item. Working with a Los Angeles-based clothing supplier, Drombosky designed and printed a line of reflective hooded sweat shirts and T-shirts that image-conscious cyclists have embraced as gear that they can wear to social events.

“You want it to look like, ‘I can go into a pub, talk to the hot blonde and not look like a geek,’ ” Denson said. “It’s fashion with safety incorporated in.”

Drombosky prints the clothing in his East Liberty shop using a proprietary process that allows the reflective material to adhere through dozens of washes. The reflective patterns and letters blend with the material, which can be any color, including black; the product looks like any other branded sweat shirt sold in a Gap or J.Crew store. But when light hits it, the apparel takes on an iridescent glow.

The clothes are not inexpensive: T-shirts retail for $45; hooded sweat shirts, $85. The challenge is not finding buyers, though. It’s trying to keep up with orders.

Fiks’ fall/winter apparel line sold out in June, and Drombosky will start pre-selling the spring/summer line this week.

It should be gone in a month, he said: “I think the market is starved.”





Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, https://pghtrib.com

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