Wasn't 2016 meant to be the miserable one?
The year when a whole raft of much-loved superstars died to an outpouring of international grief and there was a nasty whiff of 'who-next?' morbid fragility in the air.
We lost David Bowie, Prince, Terry Wogan and Paul Daniels. Ronnie Corbett, Victoria Wood and Jo Cox all went. And losing the ever more self-parodical Fidel Castro seemed like small fry alongside the character we 'gained' North of the Mexico border.
But this year, the pervasive vibe amongst society as a whole feels all the more glum and deeper rooted. Trump, Brexit and all their associations have driven temporary wedges through the UK and the world.
Antipathy between politically polarised tribes is more intense than we could ever have feared as recently as those heady days of the 2012 London Olympics.
Environmental concerns are finally reaching fever pitch, but still there is little coordination between states to sort things out.
And it's all laid even more bare by the anonymous aggression so prevalent across social media.
More recently, it seems you can't move for talk of the woes of the retail sector. If you're to believe the press, Brexit uncertainties have paralysed the consumer to such an extent that the economy's been siezed by a retail perma-sale, with everything everywhere reduced by 50% or more.
The high street is nothing but coffee chains, charity shops and vaping establishments. Even ultra-cheap online brands like ASOS and BooHoo, with their £2 t-shirts and £5 dresses, are finally finding that - ingenious and admirable as their business model has been until now - the throwaway fashion model has its limitations when consumers start to consider wearing clothes a second time.
It can sometimes feel like an uphill battle against much larger beasts
So are there any crumbs of comfort for a tiny, family-run firm like VeloVixen? Surely we tick all the wrong boxes - don't we?
After all, we're in a highly competitive market, competing with massive multi-nationals who are discounting themselves into the ground. We're battling against rising costs and selling clothing that in many cases comes from Europe and is made of non-natural fibres. Surely, there's no hope?
Fortunately there is. In fact, going into 2019 we feel rather buoyant.
Well, here's why:
1. A shared passion
If you're a cyclist, there's every chance you're as passionate about it as us.
Our customers love cycling and everything it does for them. The independence, the empowerment, the massive health benefits (physical and mental), the camaraderie, the weight loss. The extraordinary places it takes you in every sense.
If you've read this far, you'll know that once you get the cycling bug, it's hard to shake.
At VeloVixen we have the same passion. We specialise in it - the female angle on cycling - like nobody else. We all ride, have done lots of it, and continue to love it. Which is why people who love cycling seem to appreciate what we do.
2. Quality products
Our customers are intelligent. They recognise quality.
That's why our most popular product of 2018 has been padded cycling pants that cost £39. Yes, that may be 3 times more than the 'equivalent' from a discount supermarket, but if the reviews are any guide, you get what you pay for: proper comfort, more style and better designs.
3. Environmentally friendly products
Quality products last - in most cases for years of riding. As Anna Glowinski, designer of our amazing Anna's Legs cycling leggings, is fond of saying: 'buy cheap, buy twice'.
So whilst much of what we sell is made from technical fabrics rather than natural fibres, this is not cycling kit that you need to throw away after 3 or 4 rides. It should last for several seasons and dozens of washes.
And of course, whenever you're riding your bike, you're not driving your car.
4. A family company
If you've been to see us at our Oxfordshire base, or met us at a show, you'll know we're small but perfectly formed as a firm! With the possible exception of Phil, our CEO, who's 6'6".
We like to think we run a well-coordinated ship, with service that's both efficient and - crucially - personal.
And yet on a busy day there might be only 4 of us at VeloVixen. Often, there are just a couple of us doing everything from dealing with customer enquiries, processing orders for the postman and creating blogs and social media, to buying in stock, working with investors, making the coffee and putting out the rubbish!
It's everything you imagine from a small business - non-stop, exhausting and rewarding in equal measure. There's a lot of laughter and occasional tears. It's very, very heartfelt.
Fortunately, for every issue with a software update or a rogue package that's arrived late in Singapore, there are a dozen kindred spirits - customers who tell us they truly understand what we are trying to achieve: to be a genuine force for good in women's cycling, offering products, advice, service, knowledge and community
Things that larger, more generic firms can struggle to achieve. Things that we can achieve whilst retaining our passion for cycling.
Could there be light at the end of the tunnel?
So we like to think that with disillusionment around more traditional retail behemoths, we still play a useful role in many people's lives.
After all, if there's one thing we all need in this era of gloom and introspection, it's a good bike ride.
If there's one thing that can buck the trend of voice command gadgets, echo chamber social media misery and texting your neighbour rather than knocking on their door, it's pedalling until senses are alive, your lungs want to burst and your cheeks are glowing.
Cycling remains - in our humble opinion - the most achievable yet thrilling pursuit you can keep at through all weathers, ages, sizes and political climates.
If the world's wheels are wobbling a little, bike wheels will still offer support. Roads and trails will still welcome us and fresh air will still exhilarate us.
And that surely justifies some decent kit.
Here's to a great 2019 of cycling and positivity - and a HUGE thank you for all your support this year.
Liz, Phil and the Vixens
Unit 28, Wheatley Business Park, Old London Road, Wheatley, Oxford OX33 1XW // firstname.lastname@example.org // +44 (0) 1302 249 323