IRL Sports feels like one of those fabulous enigmas that come around very rarely -especially in cycling- bringing together a sheer love for sports, zine making, film photography, parody clothing, cycling playlists and even isotonic cigarettes and bringing us fashion collections so we can experience it all together.
Typically cycling is a somewhat inaccessible sport with kit reaching into the thousands and that's just for your weekend ride. Founder SJ Hockett has turned the out of date, possibly ancient view on cycling on its head by turning it into an opportunity to be inclusive and accessible and they give us a fantastic glimpse into that world.
Starting out years ago with by simply being a creative 'nerd' as they say, we now have a perfect embodiment of what can be possible by opening up this insular world. We chatted with SJ about their story.
What is IRL Sports?
"IRL SPORTS is an independent sportswear label, creative & publishing platform with a focus on contemporary cycling culture.
Basically it’s me (SJ Hockett) working on creative projects in cycling, designing kit & apparel, documenting races and occasionally releasing a printed zine called TCOD."
TCOD is their zine that documents and represents SJ's travels throughout the cycling circles and it gives a real taste of what it's like to be behind the scenes on a professional tour. Alongside that they've done a selection of graphic based posters for events at the Rapha store and link up designs that go along with their fashion collections.
Tell us about some of your projects including TCOD.
"TCOD started as a very earnest nerd out about going riding and watching Eurosports, self produced on a risograph at Islington Mill. I’ve always been into DIY culture and making stuff and it was a way to channel some of that energy into cycling.
I was working with Manual For Speed at the time and they invited me out to work with them at the Spring Classics in 2017. I took a 35mm camera and slept on the couch for a week in Belgium. That’s when I started travelling to races and experiencing things more IRL than through a screen and stuff expanded beyond just the printed zine. I’ve done kit with Rapha, worked as press at the Tour de France, Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and most recently at the Giro with EF for the Palace collab."
Images below are from Italia '20, Lee Valley Velodrome, Women's World Championship Road Race 2018, Tour De France 2018 and Giro Of Italy 2018.
Throughout the history of IRL Sports, SJ has worked on loads of fashion pieces, whether they be collaboration kits with Rapha, bootleg graphics of Reebok and Sports Direct or reinventing old jersey graphics.
But the more recent fashion collection is the Amore 7 Vita 97 Collection.
Talk us through your Amore & Vita 97 Collection
Pro Cycling is basically a rolling billboard, the teams are named after their main sponsors and kit design is about optimal positioning of corporate logos. I love that aesthetic and I take old team kits as source material for bootlegs.
The last collection was based on Amoré & Vitas’ ‘97 team kit. I saw the original kit on Vintage Cycle Clothing who’s based here too, it had this goofy anti-smoking cartoon cigarette that I had to borrow.
EF, Palace and Rapha is a whopper of a collaboration, what’s the future of cycling collaborating with fashion brands?
I really don’t know, hopefully that project has opened things up a bit more because the sport can be so insular. There has been some other interesting stuff though Castelli & Supreme, Rapha & Robyn Lynch.
What are your thoughts on modern cycling? And how does it need updating with its ethos, views, participants and art?
I’m particularly involved with road cycling and It’s so fucked, it needs rebuilding, not just updating.
There are huge systemic problems with racism, homophobia, sexism, transphobia and fatphobia (to name a few), which are enforced at the very highest level. It’s a backwards, white, heteronormative, patriarchal culture that needs destroying.
Last year, in all the men’s elite pro teams there were only 5 black riders. There is only 1 openly gay rider (in Cyclocross).
There isn’t (even close to) equal prize money for women’s racing, TV coverage is lacking and Ineos (a men’s team with mad £££) won’t spend a fraction of their budget to start a women’s team.
That culture runs all the way down and at all levels there are so many barriers to entry.
Things are starting to shift and there are tons of amazing people and groups like Ayesha McGowan, Radical Adventure Riders, the Black Cyclist Network, International Elles and Cyclista Zine for example who are speaking out and working to change things for the better.
What Manchester based cycling stuff should we know about?
Vintage Cycle Clothing for kit @vintagecycleclothing
Pop up bikes if you need a mechanic.
Pride Out do club rides for LGBTQ+ folks.
Outdoor Provisions have created an off road route all the way to Glasgow (Second City Divide) if you’re up for it?
What does the future hold for IRL Sports?
Sports bongs and my own brand of energy drink.
Can you recommend us 3 things we should know about in Manchester, whether that be bands, brands, places to eat, writers etc
Watch IMPATV, listen to Lovescene then go ride around all the new coned off cycle routes (the A56 from Deansgate up past Old Trafford is my fav).
Head over to the website to look through their fantastic archive and their even better highlights. So much great stuff to look at you'll be there for an hour!