I was invited on a press trip to Oxford recently, on behalf of premium runwear brand Iffley Road, to take part in a race with a few other invited guests. I thought, why not? Sounds like fun. Although I must confessed I had not ran or jogged anywhere for a good number of years. Well, unless running for the bus counts! I knew I running the risk of setting myself up for an afternoon of embarrassment as I had assumed everyone else joining me would be pretty fit, and boy I was not wrong. At least four of the gents joining me for the race were regular joggers and fit. Super fit. Dear God, what had I done by agreeing to do this?
Iffley Road is created by runners for runners and combines high performance fabrics, precision fit and rigorous attention to detail to deliver a refined capsule collection that seamlessly combines athletics and aesthetics. Forget ill-fitting and unflattering lycra, Iffley Road’s heritage infused pieces offer an elegant solution for runners who want a kit that works equally as well in the park as in the pub. Its products are sold via its own website and has been stocked by Mr Porter since 2014.
On the day of the trip, I had met with the PR, the owners of Iffley Road – Claire Kent and Bill Byrne – and small number of handpicked guests at Paddington Station. From there we had began our train journey to Oxford.
It was at the Roger Bannister running track where we had met James Beckinsale, who was to give us a personalised coaching session. Back in 2012, James coached Gillian Sanders to the Olympic Games in only 18 months and also helped her achieve a silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. We warmed-up and practiced. Then we took part in a race. I picked up some life-changing tips from James which greatly boosted my running stamina. Turns out I had spent my entire life running the wrong way. In fact, most of us (99% of us) run incorrectly and inefficiently. I could not believe how incredibly useful the tips were, and to my great relief I did not do too badly in the race! my worst fears were not realised and my performance was better than I had expected. Whew!
I held a question and answer session with brand owners Claire Kent and Bill Byrne.
What inspired you to start your own brand?
We started Iffley Road because we couldn’t find kit we really loved running in. We met through running in the early 90s so we often run together (albeit at different speeds!). Having worked with luxury goods companies, Claire felt that there was a real lack of beautifully made, high quality running wear which was both minimalist and designed with runners in mind. We make all our kit in Europe, primarily from Italian, French and Portuguese technical fabrics.
Please tell us a bit about your background.
Claire was a luxury goods and retail analyst in the City for 22 years and then became a luxury goods consultant. Bill worked at British Airways in IT and Communication for 17 years and then became Head of Maths in a prep school.
What’s a typical day?
A typical work day starts with a 50 minute run in Richmond park with our black cocker spaniel, Monty. We’re at our desks by about 8.30am and then the day is typically full of meetings – Marketing, Production, Digital etc. We’re both involved in most aspects of the business so it’s difficult to say what time we finish work!
Has it helped to have your products sold through Mr Porter?
Yes definitely. We have a “no compromise” approach to quality but it’s difficult for consumers to really trust us if they haven’t heard of our brand. So being on Mr Porter is great because future customers discover us and trust our quality by having a presence there. In addition, Mr Porter attracts a different customer to us – it’s not necessarily a pure runner who buys us on the Mr Porter website.
Are there any key elements that you carry through all your designs?
Yes – the common theme is that all our designs are minimalist and functional at the same time. We aim for no redundant detail. From the point of view of branding, all our garments have our tri-stripe (which was inspired by the tri-stripe on Roger Bannister’s vest when he broke the 4 minute mile) and our Iffley Road roundel (inspired by the Amateur Athletics Association round badge on his vest).