I met Toby Jones a year ago when the one-man-show behind Art of Tri, a fledgling brand, made a leap of faith by taking a carload of t-shirts stateside from his home in Hong Kong. "Brave," I thought, as the British ex-pat cold-called the Triathlete offices to chat to us. I was impressed equally by a line of nice t-shirts and pullover hoodie sweatshirts.
To be fair, they're not just triathlon t-shirts—if it was just a triathlon shirt, it might end up like a fair bit of mine do, which is as convenient rags to clean my drivetrain. They're not emblazoned with event sponsors, and they don't hang off you like a Hanes Beefy T... that is, like a potato sack. The cut is athletic for both guys and girls tees, the look bright and bold.
The element I think that sets them apart is the design—simple, clean, and either delivering a simple message of inspiration (like "One World/One Sport), or harkening back to the days and locations where our sport was forged. His Mission Bay '74 shirt recalls the location and year of the first triathlon, at Mission Bay's Fiesta Island in San Diego. And Hawaii '78? You'll have to ask Commander Collins what that one's all about.
He's just come out with a new tee for 2008, the '78 down the center stripe of the shirt, again recalling the first Hawaii Ironman. He's got a few other designs he talks about in the video clip interview with Toby to the right, where he talks about the genesis of the brand.
No, there's no tech fabric—there's enough of those tees out there, Jones says. This is more about represnting the sport, with a sense of style that is lacking in a sport where people often find their identity by what they pull on. (And to the French guys in Kona wearing their Beauvais Triathlon Club tees, paired with a pair of Speedos and leather sandals...alright, we get it. You're hardcore, you're a triathlete. Now put on some pants and stop bumming us out.)
Instead of being a piece to show how many races you do, Art of Tri is the stuff you can wear before and after the race, representing the sport, while not looking like the rest of the lemmings in race tees. Toby has been generous to offer several pros (many of them top-five Hawaii finishers) apparel to wear, without asking for an endorsement. It's enough for him to see the athletes wearing the goods, because it's comfortable and looks good.
And as evidenced by the hand-tied Art of Tri hang tags on each piece of apparel (each lovingly tied up by Toby himself), the brand stays true to being a 100 percent organic brand, from sourcing the super-soft cotton to the ink they use to screen on the designs.
Where to check it out? The line is getting picked up in stores primarily on the West Coast of Cali at places like Edge Cyclesports in Laguna Woods, Triathlon Lab in Redondo Beach and Zoom Multisports in San Francisco since thats where he's made his first solo push, as well as TriBuys.com.
But to give it a greater reach across North America, Toby wanted to put out there a special little deal: since you're a loyal Workbench reader and obviously enjoy the finer things in life, Toby wanted to extend all y'all a cut: a 20 percent discount on any gear—tees, hoodies, whatever—at artoftri.com Not a bad offer on some stylee threads. It'll be good through June. When ordering, ender JAY068 in the promo code, and you'll get the discount.
In the land of Zoots, Orcas and 2Xus, I've been impressed by Toby's moxie in promoting his brand. Thankfully, North American consumers can appreciate style elements and design in an apparel line. After all, we're all driving Mercedes and Porsches. (No, wait, that's just John Duke). Well, some of us are driving a CR-V and riding everywhere else.
And hopefully the French and German and Brazilians can figure it out by Kona and put on a cooler shirt—and hopefully some shorts. Until that day, the tragedy of the Underpants Run forges forth...