You can’t help but feel inspired and empowered as a female when you talk to Iris Slappendel. Her new project, Super Future Females, which explores the grey area between activism and fashion, firmly cements her place as a super current female.
Just in case you don’t know, ex-pro cyclist Iris is a co-founder of The Cyclists’ Alliance, an organisation run by former and current pros, to provide holistic support to female cyclists during and after their career. They strive for fairness, aiming to level the playing field and bring equality to professional cycling. Iris also owns her own design company IRIS, creating beautiful cycling kit for women.
Every time I speak to her, I come away with a new lease of life. Her infectious enthusiasm for making cycling a better place for women stirs something up deep inside my feminist core. That core is unfortunately buried deep, all too often hidden away by the daily demands of everyday life and work which can lull me into a false sense of security that women are doing all right. When I speak to Iris, all that gets pushed aside and I’m suddenly this ball of fire, riled by inequality and empowered to do something about it.
Iris inspires me to be a better woman.
Five women, five designs, five t-shirts
We may have sat down to chat about t-shirts; simple, everyday item of clothing, but as those t-shirts represent everything Iris is fighting for, that chat, as they always do, turned into something far more profound.
Two months ago, Iris found herself reflecting on the current miserable status quo. With COVID-19 dominating most of people’s headspace and the summer ahead looking very different to normal, she felt compelled to do something fun. For the first time, she saw an opportunity to marry her two biggest passions: activism and design.
Creating change is always at the top of Iris’s agenda, but this is undoubtedly tough work. Although it’s rewarding, it’s also incredibly challenging. Iris tells me, “I have these frustrations. If you’re trying to change things, it feels like you’re always having to fight for it. People are always like ‘oh god it’s Slappendel coming again, she’s always complaining, there’s always something wrong’. That sucks all the energy out of you.”
Iris wanted to take this frustration and do something radical with it, something that was fun. And thus, Super Future Females was born. Iris asked five different artists how they envision the future of women’s cycling. They all came up with an illustration, which now adorn this rocking set of t-shirts.
From left to right;
FREEDOM MACHINE by Sammi Runnels
A powerful t-shirt representing the unrest in the USA over the murder of George Floyd and the ongoing police brutality against the black community. Suffragette Susan B Anthony called the bicycle the ‘freedom machine’. The bicycle has long allowed for personal freedom, yet the cycling community is still not an equal one for either women or people of colour.
LIBERATION by Jeroen Erosie
A representation of the interesting history of the relationship between woman and bike, highlighting how the bicycle was not only a way for women to break through the rigid patriarchal restrictions and literally set out independently, but also a breakthrough for many more taboos and standards, including sexuality and clothing. The dotted line represents a universal frame.
WHEELRUNNING by Kelli Laderer
A flamboyant depiction of an abstract figure, reflecting body language to create a dynamic feel with lots of positive energy and movement. Alongside the circular shapes, which are an abstract reference to wheels.
BREAKAWAY by Sue van Gageldonk
A vision of how women can break away from the status quo and create a better future for themselves and the sport.
A design with powerful women who throw down watts on the pedals and battle it out in the sprint.
All t-shirts are modelled by up and coming female cyclists: Lieke van der Draaij, Leonie Bos, Hanneke de Goeje and Anne van Duuren. They were photographed by female cyclist and photographer Julia Zwaan. For each t-shirt sold, €5 will be donated to TCA.
This is just the start for Super Future Females. Iris is on the lookout for new female artists with the aim of making this a continuous project with another run of t-shirts, bags, or bottles soon.
The power of the t-shirt
The designs have clearly resonated, with over 60% of the limited-edition run being sold in a week. I for one snagged the last large size ‘Freedom Machine’ t-shirt. At the time of writing there remains only 3 in XL left, nothing smaller! That’s the last time I wait until payday to buy something from IRIS. Thankfully, something this cool I can make work, no matter how big. I’m currently tying it up at the front.
The thing is, we all love t-shirts. The simplicity of design, the fact that you can throw them on or off so easily. They’re light, they’re comfortable, but more than anything, we can use them to tell people who we are.
The simple blank canvas beckons to those looking to make a statement and has long been filled by artists who want to tell the world something.
The humble t-shirt is an incredibly powerful piece of clothing. It offers an easy way for us all to show what we believe in. We may not all have the bravery of Iris, to stand up tall and fight for women’s equality, day in day out. But we can all wear a cool t-shirt that shows everyone we’re behind that fight.
Confronting sexism and inequality in new ways
What Iris has done is very clever. I believe it’s not always the big things, that have the biggest impact. Creating change somewhere small can start a snowball effect leading to something big. When fighting as big a battle as sexism, you must start with the low hanging fruit, not just lobbying those in power, but engaging with people on the street. This is what can really help build momentum and seed change.
As Iris says, “people understand the t-shirts. With TCA it’s almost too big and complex to understand in a few sentences”.
Trying to engage people in that conversation can be tough, but Iris is starting to bridge the gap between those that don’t know, with those that do. She explains, “with my brand I have a big following of women who are not interested in the racing at all, so they probably are not even aware of the inequality and therefore it’s a good way to get their attention on TCA.”
A t-shirt undoubtedly widens the amount of people you can engage with. Iris has found they’ve been an amazing conversation starter in her little workshop in Rotterdam. She says, “I’ve made this shop window and a lot more people are coming in when they see the t-shirts. I talk to them about it and bring the conversation onto women’s cycling.”
Iris’s evolution and liberation
Whether you’re male or female, we all have the challenge of balancing our various roles in life; parent, child, employer, employee, partner, friend, cyclist. Iris has more roles than most and at times finds it a challenge to balance them. Particularly as she has always seen TCA and IRIS as very separate entities, with TCA being very serious, and IRIS being more fun.
She tells me, “my biggest hesitation of doing this project was because up until now I’d really tried to keep TCA and my brand separate. But I realised there’s so many parallels between the two.”
Every time I speak to her, I’m amazed by the amount of plates she’s spinning. As time goes on, and she gets further away from her professional cycling career, and more embedded in her current roles as a leader, activist, and designer, you can see how she’s evolving.
Iris tells me about when she started IRIS and how she always thought people had to perceive it as a well-established, large company. She wanted them to respect how seriously she was taking designing very high-quality clothing for female cyclists. She says, “I always said ‘we’ even though it was just me! But now I’ve let go of that because a lot of women want to have the personal touch. They think it’s great that it’s just this woman running this business, because she has this vision.”
Listening to Iris talk of this revelation, and her recognition that being alone is powerful, is fantastic. She says, “It’s something I’ve never really seen before, but now I realise it is a strength and I should not be ashamed of it.”
Iris is an absolute powerhouse. I struggled to believe that she could be ashamed of anything, because to me she is a beacon of strength. It’s therefore comforting and inspiring to know that even those we look up to have things they are unsure of. For Iris this revelation has allowed the business to evolve, liberating her to communicate her message in different ways.
We’ve all been through these challenges, balancing what you think other people want you to be and who you are. We all know how scary it is being honest and saying this is me. But ultimately, we all know that this is when we’re at our best.
This collection, I believe, is where Iris is at her best. She’s engaging everyone in the conversation, putting positivity into the world, and getting it back. She tells me “it’s very inspiring getting messages from people saying they really love it. It’s been really fun. It confirms what I’m trying to do at IRIS and what we’re trying to do with TCA. There is this big movement. Sometimes it’s stronger than other times but you must hold onto the fact that in general there’s an upward movement.”
Onwards and upwards she goes…and so do we.
To find out more about The Cyclists’ Alliance visit www.cyclistsalliance.org There’s loads of really interesting articles that will help you understand the challenges women’s cycling faces. You can become a supporter for just €35 and enjoy the fact that you’re supporting a great cause, and bag yourself some goodies like an awesome limited-edition cycling cap. I’m a very proud supporter of the organisation and I occasionally write for them, which I have to say is probably the work I enjoy most.
To find out more about Iris, see the full IRIS collection, and browse through her wonderful lookbooks visit www.i-ris.cc now.