These days there is little shortage of riders linking up with brands for special edition kits and components, but Iris Slappendel is a rarity. The Dutch former rider has done her fair share of work with some major brands, including her recent work with KASK and helping Bioracer design the Netherlands’ 2016 Olympic kit. But she is also one of the few who has produced her own kit from start to finish.
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With a design degree and 12 years as a professional rider behind her, Slappendel says that it was the idea of being able to create something ‘perfect’ that spurred her on to set up her own apparel company.
“I have done quite a lot of work with different brands. What made me want to do my own brand is that you just have this perfect image in mind,” Slappendel told BikeRadar.
“I think there is this dream that I could develop the perfect kit. I want to try, and I think that I should do it on my own because I didn’t want to be influenced. If you work with a brand they give you the fit and then they just let you do the design. I really wanted to do my own fit.
“At the same time, I think I am also a bit allergic to authority, so this was also a big factor.”
After retiring at the end of 2016, Slappendel began working on her new apparel brand called IRIS -— her name but also an abbreviation of ‘I Ride In Style’.
Slappendel had designed kit before, but this was on a whole other level. Everything was from scratch, and there were regular battles with manufacturers as she tried to make sure that everything was ‘perfect’. Learning to work at a different pace also proved a challenge for the newly retired Slappendel.
“I think that [manufacturers are] the biggest issue. Planning is also a bit of an issue for me because you’re so used to living a very strict schedule,” she said. “For 10 years, you get up, you train, you rest and maybe do some extra work or some social things, then you go to bed and you focus on the race at the weekend and that is it. Now I have different jobs and, at the same, time you are waiting on the manufacturer. Their whole business is not about me, they have other clients too so you’re not the centre anymore. I also have to be flexible and be able to change.
“In the morning, you think ‘I’m going to do this, this and this today’, and then, at the end of the day, you have this other stuff that comes up in between. And then you remember that you didn’t do what you wanted to do… That has been pretty hard for me to let go.”
For Slappendel, equality in sport is important and she was keen to make this more than solely a women’s brand. So her website has designs for both men and women.
Her designs don’t hold back and there are some eye-catching designs. She takes inspiration from everywhere and a trip to Nepal in November last year has left her buzzing with new ideas. Her bright yellow Occhio women’s jersey is one of the best-sellers so far, but, when she showed it to her friends, initially it wasn’t well received.
“I have a yellow jersey with an eye pattern, which is my logo. When I made the design, I showed it to people on the computer and everyone said ‘oh no, I would never wear yellow’,” she laughs. “I just loved it though, so I made it and it’s the best-selling jersey. That gave me the confidence that I should really follow my heart and what I love to do, and then people can decide whether they like it or not.”
“I think the brighter colours are better received. They seem to work the best and the comments I get are really great. You get a lot of satisfaction when you get an email and someone says they really love the jersey or that it fits really well or they’re on their second kit. That’s the best stuff.”
However, Slappendel is not just content with building her own cycling apparel brand from the ground up. The Dutchwoman has taken on a number of other projects, including setting up a women’s rider association — The Cyclists’ Alliance — with fellow riders Carmen Small and Gracie Elvin.
She has worked with KASK on a kit design, commentated with Eurosport, worked with the Dutch Cycling Federation and a whole lot more. After thinking she might just end up twiddling her thumbs following retirement, it’s hard for Slappendel to find time in the day to do everything she wants.
“It’s kind of funny that when I made the decision to retire I thought maybe I might not get any income or work,” she told BikeRadar. “I like lots of stuff so I get enthusiastic about lots of things — I like to do everything! So, within two months, I was working on my own line of apparel, a project to break the world speed record, I did the sports director course, I was part of an athlete development programme in the Netherlands and I was a rider representative for the UCI. I don’t think I have worked as many hours in my life.
“I think I work for 80 hours a week. It’s crazy. I also did commentary at Eurosport. There are so many fun things out there and people should try and experience it. And of course, some things will continue and some things won’t work.”