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Bold, Fearless, and Colorful: The Vision Behind IRIS with Iris Slappendel

By Megan Flottorp

When it comes to women’s cycling apparel, a landscape often dominated by uninspired designs and cookie-cutter styles, several brands stand out as the exception. IRIS is one such example; it’s a celebration of individuality, creativity, and the unbridled spirit of cycling. Founded by former Dutch National Road Champion, Iris Slappendel, IRIS has come to serve as something of a manifesto—a declaration of freedom and self-expression on two wheels.

In 2016, after an accomplished 12-year professional cycling career, Slappendel embarked on a new journey fueled by her passion for design and a desire to improve the cycling apparel industry. Collaborating with various brands throughout her racing career, Slappendel recognised a glaring gap in the market—a lack of women-designed gear that truly fit the bill. Determined to fill this void, she set out to create something different, something daring, something distinctly IRIS.

For Slappendel, IRIS is a labour of love—an opportunity to own the process from start to finish, ensuring that every aspect, from materials to fit to design, met her exacting standards of performance and style. With an extensive sizing chart that caters to riders of all shapes and sizes, IRIS empowers women cyclists to embrace their uniqueness and ride with colourful confidence.

Today, we are delighted to share our interview with Slappendel and dive into the story behind IRIS and the woman who brought it to life. Beyond the colourful jerseys and eye-catching prints lies a journey of passion, determination, and a quest for authenticity.

IRIS Jersey
For Slappendel, IRIS is a labour of love.

Thanks for joining us, Iris! So, in addition to your work in cycling advocacy, what motivated you to start IRIS after retiring from your professional cycling career?

My journey as a professional cyclist spanned over a decade, during which I witnessed firsthand the evolution, and at times, the lack thereof, in cycling apparel. I have also pursued studies in product design and engineering. Even during my racing years, I dabbled in creating my own clothing. While collaborating with various brands and designing the Olympic suit for the Netherlands in Rio, I realised I wanted more control over the entire process – from fabric selection to design and colour schemes.

So, when the time came to transition from racing, I knew I wanted to carve my path, free from the limitations of existing brands. Starting small with just a hundred jerseys and bib shorts, I sought to create something different that truly represented the essence of cycling for women. Thus, IRIS was born, a brand where I could shape every aspect, ensuring quality, style, and functionality were never compromised.

So, well done! It has been growing year on year. How has the vision and ethos for IRIS evolved?

My initial vision for IRIS was twofold – to fill a gap in the market for high-quality cycling apparel designed specifically for women and to empower female riders to embrace cycling with confidence and joy. I recognised that many women, myself included, often felt insecure or excluded by the traditional image of cycling.

With IRIS, I aimed to break down those barriers and create a brand that celebrates diversity, individuality, and colourful confidence. Central to our ethos is the belief that every woman, regardless of size or shape, deserves access to apparel that fits well and makes her feel fantastic on the bike. Starting with comfortable, well-fitted shorts, we wanted to inspire women to ride more and worry less about stereotypes or societal expectations. As the cycling landscape evolves, with gravel riding gaining popularity, our designs reflect a more relaxed and inclusive approach to the sport. Ultimately, IRIS is about fostering a community where women can support and uplift each other, sharing the joy and freedom of cycling.

Your designs are pretty funky. What inspires you?

When it comes to design, I draw inspiration from many sources, but perhaps most importantly, from the women around me who exude confidence and boldness in their style. I’m inspired by the diverse cultures and beauty ideals that shape women’s identities worldwide.

There’s something empowering about seeing women embrace unique and distinctive looks, breaking away from conventional norms. And when I see women wearing IRIS designs and receiving compliments, it reinforces my belief in the transformative power of bold designs. It’s not just about looking good; it’s about feeling good and having fun. Whether on a gravel bikepacking trip or a casual ride with friends, our designs aim to capture that sense of freedom and expression, allowing women to ride with colourful confidence and be unapologetically themselves.

IRIS Jersey
IRIS is a celebration of individuality, creativity, and the unbridled spirit of cycling.

How does your experience with The Cyclists’ Alliance influence your approach to running IRIS as a clothing brand and connect to the larger vision of what you want to accomplish in women’s cycling?

Initially, I kept TCA and IRIS quite separate, viewing them as distinct endeavours. TCA was focused on serious advocacy work, while IRIS was my creative outlet, a space to infuse fun and innovation into cycling apparel.

However, over time, I began to recognise a significant overlap between the two. Through my work with TCA, advocating for cultural change within women’s cycling, I realised the power of disrupting norms and challenging traditional hierarchies. This ethos of breaking barriers and bringing a fresh perspective naturally found its way into the fabric of IRIS. I’ve always had an aversion to rigid hierarchies and stifling rules, and running IRIS allows me to express that ethos through my designs and brand philosophy. As women’s cycling garners more attention and the need for reform becomes increasingly evident, there’s a natural alignment between TCA’s advocacy work and IRIS’s values. Both entities strive to shake up the status quo, make cycling more inclusive and enjoyable for all, and ultimately pave the way for positive change in the sport.

Shake it up indeed! Can you tell us more about the Super Future Females project? How do these initiatives align with the values and mission of IRIS as a brand?

The Super Future Females project is where the worlds of TCA and IRIS converge meaningfully. While TCA focuses on serious advocacy work, sometimes it’s challenging to convey complex issues like unionisation to a broader audience. That’s where the idea for Super Future Females came from—a creative and lighthearted approach to drawing attention to the need for reform in women’s cycling.

By designing cool merchandise like t-shirts, pins, and bottles in collaboration with local artists, we can make advocacy fun and accessible. These initiatives align with IRIS’s values of empowerment, creativity, and inclusivity. We hope to spark conversations, break down barriers, and create a community where everyone feels welcome and supported.

Community is so important. More and more, people want to be able to identify with the brands they support. Could you elaborate on IRIS’s commitment to sustainability and responsible manufacturing practices?

Sustainability has been at the core of IRIS since the beginning. From our design philosophy to manufacturing practices, we prioritise environmental responsibility in our operations. One of our key strategies is to design clothing that transcends trends, ensuring longevity and versatility. Our collections are meticulously curated to allow for seamless mixing and matching across different years, reducing the need for constant consumption. Additionally, we produce in small quantities to minimise waste and avoid overproduction. Our fabrics are sourced from Europe and manufactured responsibly, often incorporating recycled materials like polyester. We’ve also been plastic-free for years, and our commitment extends to innovative initiatives like our repair service and sourcing deadstock fabric to create unique, limited-edition pieces. Sustainability isn’t just a buzzword for us; it’s a fundamental part of who we are and what we stand for.

What are you most proud of regarding your journey with IRIS?

What truly fills me with pride is seeing someone out in the wild, riding in my gear. It’s a reminder that I’m making a difference, however small, in the world of cycling. Despite the challenges of competing with larger brands, I take pride in staying true to myself and my vision for IRIS. I’m not driven by market trends or commercial interests; I create what I believe in and what brings me joy. And that authenticity, that I’m able to maintain a commitment to my values is something I’m grateful for above all else.