Bill Byrne pulls up beside me in a rather dashing van, the Iffley Road logo stamped on one side. Byrne and his wife Claire Kent started the running-wear brand back in 2012, and since Lucia van der Post first wrote about the marque for How To Spend It in 2013, it has upped its game further still – and developed a cult following.
As Byrne and I start on a slow jog into Richmond Park, he explains that, like the ambitions behind many start-ups, their aim was born out of frustration – in this case at being unable to find anything to run in that they actually wanted to wear. “Everything was either skintight or shapeless, and frequently in bright, neon colours,” says Byrne. “We wanted subtler clothing – kit you’d happily wear in a coffee shop afterwards, but with the same technical performance.”
Runners have always had several brands to choose from, and a surfeit of product releases every year. But the aesthetic is usually the same: brights or blacks, with fairly prominent branding. While Iffley Road kit does come in black, the other options include damson or sky-blue, with the logo in the same colour.
As dusk begins to descend, Bill switches on his torch to guide us through the wood below Richmond Gate. “We wanted something that had a soft, lived-in feel, but the same breathability as any technical jersey,” he says. “The solution was a material from a branded supplier – drirelease – but in a unique, piqué weave.”
More unusually still, a new addition is the long-sleeved jersey (£110), made in a merino-wool piqué. I’ve long been a convert to merino for cycling: wool retains heat when wet better than any other material, making it great for long distances in the saddle. But I would have thought it would be too heavy for running.
“We found this merino at the end of a long day at [industry fabric show] Premier Vision in Paris,” remembers Byrne. “It was being shown by an Italian company that specialises in suitings, but we ordered a few metres to try it out and it performed very well.”
We prove the point as we up the pace for the final stretch to Sheen Gate, both wearing the long-sleeved tops – mine in damson, Bill’s in black. With the neck unzipped, air flows freely. But zip it up and loop your thumbs through the fold-down cuffs, and the wool retains much-needed body heat.
Kent is waiting at the van. As we get our breath back, she explains Iffley Road’s expansion plans. “While there is less to improve in some areas – there isn’t much you can do with leggings, except make them light and comfortable, for example – there is still plenty of kit that needs that same subtle, mature approach to design.”
A couple of handshakes and a glug of water, and the two of them disappear round the corner in the van. I zip up my top and set off for home, thankful again for the surprisingly insulating properties of wool piqué.