May 6 of this year will mark the 67th anniversary of the first sub-four-minute mile, which was run by Sir Roger Bannister in 1954. To commemorate the event, UK running brand Iffley Road has released a limited-edition vest based on the one worn by Bannister on that historic day.
“Sir Roger Bannister is a source of great inspiration to us,” says Iffley Road co-founder Claire Kent. “He was a full-time doctor when he ran the first sub-four-minute mile, but there was so much more to him than a ‘time.’”
Bannister’s legacy looms large over the brand, which is named after the University of Oxford running track where his record-breaking feat took place. Kent, who’d run recreationally for decades before founding the company with her husband and fellow runner Bill Byrne in 2013, admires Bannister’s status as “the last of the great amateurs.”
“We feel his way of running has been forgotten today,” she says. “Running has become obsessed with the ‘finish line,’ and kit has become over-designed and garish in color.”
Iffley Road’s solution has been to manufacture cleanly designed T-shirts, tights, jackets and more in subdued, solid colors with the occasional retro-inspired detail, like tricolor stripes that reference the mid-century gear worn by England’s Amateur Athletics Association.
“Our aesthetic is classically British, and our design is pared back and functional without redundant features or details,” says Kent. “That’s why we love the athletic kit from the 1950s. It has a timeless appeal—clean and uncluttered.”
The slim-fitting “Lancaster Four Minute Mile” vest is marked by three stripes that adhere to the look of the original, whose colorful nature isn’t properly represented in the black-and-white photography from the record-breaking event. And while the vest’s design may be a throwback, its technical specs are 21st century. It utilizes Iffley Road’s custom Drirelease fabric, which combines the soft hand of cotton with the feather-light weight and quick-drying properties of a performance material.
There are signs that the amateur running culture embodied by Bannister is on the upswing. Iffley Road saw a sharp increase in sales through 2020, as the pandemic put a renewed focus on outdoor exercise. “We hope it continues, not just from a business perspective, but because we are evangelical about the mental health benefits of running,” Kent says of the sport’s recent boom.
And with a little help from Iffley Road, the amateurs of today won’t just be as fit as yesteryear’s—they may look as good, too.