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The Shirt Whisperer

Stijn Dossche designs incredible pro cycling team jersey concepts

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Just when you thought a particular pro team jersey was cool, along comes Stijn Dossche to throw you for a loop. He takes what exists and makes it better with a twist and a tweak or smashes and mashes multiple brands together to create a shirt that’s so far out, that it somehow makes sense. He’s truly a great designer because the response is often “Yep! that really works well.” He nails it every time in our book.

stijn dossche

Interview: Tim Schamber

Stijn, give our readers an in-depth look at your background. 

I grew up in Deinze, a city near Ghent in Belgium. Lived there my whole childhood and loved living there. We lived in a calm neighborhood where everybody knew each other. After trying different sports, volleyball was the sport I ended up with. Loved the team spirit and high-intensity rallies. The other thing I loved, and still love to do, is being a deejay, Cultivar is the name. We are with three on the stage, two deejays and one MC. It’s fun when you’re standing there with two of your best friends, playing the music you like. This is on the backburner right now, but we achieved some cool things! Like playing on national radio, and on some of the best venues in Ghent (my hometown now).

Growing up in Belgium, you must have been a big cycling fan. 

When my dad got into cycling I obviously did too. After a while, when he was stepping up his level, we had our weekly visit at Fietsen Godefroot; this name will ring a bell, I guess. Fietsen Godefroot was one of the main hubs for the T-Mobile team back then, so naturally this made me a fan of them. [Steffen] Wesemann, [Erik] Zabel, [Michael] Rogers, [Marcus] Burghardt…. One of the best presents ever was a signed shirt from their 2005 Tour de France team; all the riders signed it. Next to that I had lots of riders I loved, too many to sum up. Back then, Ghent-Wevelgem started where I lived, so that was my yearly autograph hunt. I remember having a Davitamon-Lotto cap with the signature of Nico Mattan.

through your younger school

Through your younger school years, were you interested in design and if so what type of design intrigued you the most? 

Funny thing is, as a kid, I already started drawing/creating cycling shirts and teams. This was basic, because color pencils and paper were all I used. But it went from the shirt to the bike and the team’s car fleet. I’m still trying to find these drawings; they’re hidden somewhere but I can’t seem to find them. Apart from that, I really got into design when I got those classes in high school.

What is it about the cycling jersey that drew you to doing designs and redesigns of existing team jerseys? 

It was the pandemic! Due to the pandemic, I lost my first job (event manager at Flanders Classics) and I needed something to do whilst looking for a new job. At first, I just kept them for myself. But after a while I started posting them on Twitter. Instagram followed a while later. I thought it would be a shame to just let them gather dust on my laptop. I always had a strong opinion regarding cycling shirts, so this was an ideal way to show the world how I’d design them (not having the rules of sponsors, etcetera). It’s super-cool now that people are sending me DMs for example to say that they love what I do or even give me ideas.

going back through your instagram

Going back through your Instagram feed, the first post is the Aperol jersey. Pretty straightforward and on brand, as was the Belgian team jersey. And the Trek jersey has a coffee stain. At this point, were you just messing around and having fun with it? 

These were my first ideas, little twists on existing shirts or just use a well-known brand and go from there. It was fun to have carte blanche on those brands. Aperol Belgium gave me a shoutout back then; those were the things I needed to gain some more traction, as they were my first steps on Instagram. I was dipping my toes in the water, looking at how people would react. Secretly, I was hoping these things would lead to something. Little did I know.

Then there’s NTT, Groupama and Jumbo-Visma with some added design elements mixed in with some non-cycling brands like Chevron, Gulf and Sipsmith [gin] among others. What was going through your design mind as to where you were going with things? 

After my first few designs, I noticed people loved it when it got a little more out of the box. Certainly, when it included a professional team. That’s why I went a little bolder; still, not a lot in comparison with what I do today. The other ones you see (from random brands) when you scroll all the way down are from the same batch as the Aperol one, using existing companies and give them a branded cycling jersey. One of the goals back then was to convince those companies to use my design for a shirt, which did not happen.

In the next post after NTT-Patagonia you comment that it was a crazy week of coverage for you. Was it the NTT-Patagonia or just in general, you think? 

Following the EF-Palace collaboration in the 2020 Giro, I decided to give the whole peloton a new co-sponsor that was also the fashion industry (like Palace, the famous skate brand). It was a big personal project, which was a lot of fun to do. I just randomly assigned a fashion brand with a team. This way we clocked on 20 shirts, which I posted on Twitter first. I’ve posted it on Sunday evening, and it went viral, something I couldn’t imagine. Next day when I woke up, I saw a headlined post from Belgian’s biggest sport media brand regarding my shirts: Sporza. Things only got more and more out of hand. I got featured from Japan to France to the USA and suddenly people wanted me to design their cycling jerseys, which is my focus till today.

it seems after that your imagination

It seems after that your imagination just starts running wild with more mashups and refinements of existing jerseys including the unique approach you took with the EF Education First and the Nippo jerseys. 

Whenever I’m doing some EF-related designs, I know I can get crazy with them. Their smoke-design was kind of a reinvention of the cycling shirt in my eyes. Keeping it clean for a WT team, with a unique twist. The world of cycling this day can be so conservative. You have all the teams wanting to highlight their sponsor(s), so you want to have something that makes noise, right? The EF-Palace collab was something the world spoke about; that’s what you want. Even UCI couldn’t stop them with all the fines. I think Palace still has benefits from that collab till today. It’s sad that UCI was trying to hold this back. Without wanting to be offensive or anything, I do think the UCI is holding back modernization at times. Just let the shirts be wild. I know I’m just a small fish, but I really want to try and get people on board of the “wild kits” train.

process for you when coming

What’s the process for you when coming up with different designs? Do you use a generic white jersey, or do you use the current jersey design of a team? 

The process depends. Sometimes I start completely blank, other times I recreate the team’s jersey and go from there. I don’t have a specific workflow; it all depends on how the vibe is that moment.

As a designer, this isn’t the only thing you do. Give us some insight of other projects you do or have done. 

Well, right now, it is! The world of cycling is my niche, and I want to be the guy people come to if they want an out-of-the-box design—that’s my goal. Next to shirts I designed the bottles of Gazprom-RusVelo. There’s also another cool collab coming up, cycling related, but I can’t say much about it now. Only other thing I did was the design and production for a friend’s soccer team.

As someone with an eye for design, what is the best-looking existing jersey design and worst design in the pro peloton (men’s or women’s)? 

That’s a tough one, I don’t like to state them like that (certainly worst) because you’re limited due to sponsor restrictions. I can do things freely on my feed, but when it comes to creating a pro peloton shirt, there are so many people that must agree on one design. You know what, I’ll give you some of the best non-WT shirts. For me, Delko is one of the best out there. It’s so underrated, it’s a shame. Stepping away from the traditional peloton you also have Tekkerz, Legion of LA, Butcherbox Cycling (which I designed, but their previous also stood out) for example. Looking at the women’s peloton, Massi-Tactic and Roxsolt Liv SRAM are vibrant shirts that really stand out for me.

With all these interesting designs, have any teams inquired or made comments regarding your art? 

Occasionally I get some reactions from teams. Some of the most promising projects with some big names were the ones that didn’t go through. But there’s still good contact, so who knows what the future holds!

Finally, what projects do you have coming up or in progress right now? 

Can’t really say much about the collabs I have with teams right now; you’ll have to keep checking my feed for that! What I can say is that I’m looking to manufacture some of my designs or some unreleased ideas! The designs are only the beginning; there’s more to come!

Behind The Designs

ineos grenadiers arsenal

01: INEOS GRENADIERS/ARSENAL

This was a fun one! Tao Geoghegan Hart just won the Giro and I knew he’s a Gunner (an Arsenal fan, British soccer team). He’s a nice guy, so why not give it a shot is what I thought! They have the famous Bruised Banana retro kit, and the pattern matched perfectly with the “A” from Grenadiers.

haribo fdj

02: HARIBO/FDJ

This is a combo with a double layer. FDJ is a French team sponsor and Haribo is one of the Tour sponsors, throwing candy to the fans. So, 1+1=2. When the gummy bears melt, they get sticky and the “gelly thing” gets more fluid, so that’s why the colors are melting into each other.

bora lego

03: BORA/LEGO

 Well, I’m a fan of retro shirts as you might’ve seen on my feed (not just cycling-related). So, when I started this one I wanted to recreate the infamous Mapei-vibe using the Lego-bricks. The black BORA logo without the green influence from Hansgrohe gave me carte blanche.

ag2r nutella

04: AG2R/NUTELLA

Since AG2R made the big switch, design-wise, I thought everything would be possible for them. A while ago, I ran a poll on Instagram asking which sponsors they would love to see in the peloton. Nutella emerged multiple times. So, when I was designating the sponsors to the teams, this was a no-brainer. And in the back of my head, I remembered Oliver Naesen saying all the criticasters are way too harsh and calling them a papzak—a Dutch saying for lazy people who just spend their days in the couch watching the races. Nutella goes along with that image, doesn’t it?

astana borat

05: ASTANA/BORAT

I had the Borat concept ready for a while, never seeing the right time to post it. So, when Astana released the news that their co-sponsor would leave the team, it was the perfect time to get Kazakhstan’s most famous person to the team. It was great success, very nice!

canyon sram

06: CANYON/SRAM

Undoubtedly the best shirt in the women’s peloton last year. Due to the vibrant colors, it’s a cool shirt to redesign. This is one of the shirts that have put me on the map. The team even gave it a shoutout on their Twitter page, which was nice.

vans canyon sram

07: VANS/CANYON/SRAM

This was one from the “fashion x cycling collab,” following EF and Palace. Again, the vibrant colors and the checkered design from Vans was a gift to work with! I love the fact that women’s cycling is expanding; it’s booming right now! So, when I made all those different shirts, I wanted to make sure there was some feminine influence as well. The fact that this was one of the best-received ones, only makes it better.

Instagram: @stycle.design

From issue 106, get your copy at pelotonshop.com