Rapha + Byborre

Our Limited Edition Transfer collection takes rest and recovery to a new level in collaboration with renowned Dutch textile innovators Byborre. Founder Borre Akkersdijk explains the engineered knit technology behind the new range.

30 September 2019


Conceptual designer and founder of the label that bears his name, Borre is renowned for experimenting with textile production. He has pioneered engineered knitting techniques which harness computing power and carefully selected yarns to create innovative knitting patterns and higher performance materials.

What is your background in design?

I first studied industrial design before enrolling at the Eindhoven Design Academy where the schooling was very much focussed on product design. After graduating, I took a year out to go to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York too and then moved to Paris to work as an intern at Trend Union, a trend forecasting agency run by Lidewij Edelkoort. It was while I was working there I began developing my first textiles, eleven years ago.

How did you get started in engineered knit technology?

I first had the chance to experiment with industrial knitting machines while studying in Eindhoven. I noticed that in most commercial settings these machines are forced to run at top speed to maximise production. There is little room for innovation and testing. Around the same time, it became apparent to me that every good product starts with a very good base material. If you don’t understand how you can source, create and develop base fabrics, you can design the most beautiful objects and still end up with a substandard product.

It was this that made me want to play around with textile machines, to hack the software, change the hardware and take full control. Only when you are able to change the knitting machines do you have full control of your fabric.

What made you want to hack textile machines? How are they deficient?

It was not so much deficiencies as possibilities that got me thinking about hacking machines. I came across circular knitting machines used in the production of mattresses and thought, ‘I would love to use this in apparel.’

At the time, that was not possible because of the bulk and the thickness so I said to myself, ‘how can I change the software to create textiles that are thinner?’ The more I started pushing those boundaries and changing the software, the more I saw that I could create objects that were completely unique. Not on the market, previously impossible to manufacture.

We have hacked machines to create new possibilities in textiles but we have also hacked the established way of working. Byborre is a textile company with its own label but we have also created a series of building blocks – from yarn to the end consumer – that can be used by other companies.

How do you decide which other brands to work with?

We like to work with brands who understand their end consumer perfectly. This understanding allows you to be precise about the functionality you need from a garment. Once you are sure of the functionality, you can decide which yarns and construction techniques to use. Then, the final question is: ‘what is the DNA of the material?’ For Rapha, this was the easy part. Each garment in the collection takes its design cues from Marco Pantani’s favourite climb, Monte Carpegna. The lines that we’ve knitting into the material plot the varying gradient of the ascent and the design becomes something very personal to all Rapha riders.

Yarn. Construction. DNA. The ultimate piece for the Rapha rider.

How are the yarns and the construction used in the collection tailored to cyclists?

The Limited Edition Transfer collection is designed to keep you comfortable before and after a race and includes fully reversible garments. Using nylon, cotton and woollen yarns, the idea is that on one side we have a fabric designed to conserve body heat while warming up. On the other, there’s a fabric made for post-race, with added merino wool to wick moisture away from the skin and nylon to transport it to the surface of the fabric where it evaporates. The fabric as a whole has a 3D construction which is like a warm hug for the athlete, it’s also fully anti-bacterial and anti-odour. Aesthetically too, the reversibility of the garments provides a point of difference – functionality and expression combined.

Tell us a bit about your facility. What’s special about it?

Our textile innovation studio is located in Amsterdam and is spread over two storeys. Downstairs is the lab, upstairs is our workshop area and a showroom. In the lab we have all of our circular knitting machines – like those I mentioned earlier – that range from single-layer jersey production to double-layer jersey and even some that can produce materials as thick as those used in mattresses.

Over the years I’ve seen that the supply chain is broken up. Product developers work with textile companies but they have no control over which yarns are used in the textile. In this scenario, you are already one step behind in terms of creativity. What we said was that we wanted to have the full supply chain – from yarn to textile construction to aesthetically forming and colouring the materials – in our studio. We’ve even incorporated the next step of creating the garment with our in-house atelier.

What are the advantages of having the full supply chain all under one roof?

Normally, you make a textile on a machine and send it away to a facility to be tested and sampled. Only once it gets there does someone know for sure, ‘oh shit, the material needs to be a little bit thicker or thinner.’ The sample is sent back and you start again. This process alone costs you a week and if you really want to develop something from scratch and test all the yarn compositions, like we did for Rapha, it can take years. With everything under one roof, we can very rapidly prototype and develop products.

Have you always had an interest in cycling?

The thing is when you are Dutch, you are born a cyclist. In the Netherlands, the moment you can walk, you are put on a bike. Cycling is our culture. I ride 35 minutes to work and back everyday, as do many other people. You grow up with the Tour de France. On every summer camping trip, the race is always on TV, often with a Dutch hero. Even if you don’t cycle in competition, it is something that is very close to all Dutch people, and to me.

For this reason, the opportunity to work with Rapha was not one I could miss.