Skid marks and riding fixed gear
This week we caught up with Matija Brlek, co-founder of niche Croatia clothing brand Tire Calligraphy to discuss skid marks, riding fixed gear, playing bike polo and of course the obvious topic of fashion.
Tire Calligraphy started as and still represents the passion for cycling, but gradually reinvented itself into a wider interest and never-ending thirst for the next challenge, being physical as in running and climbing, and being social with collaborations that match their vision of aesthetics and functionality, with every individual in mind.
One thing is for certain, Tire Calligraphy will continue to make a mark and leave a track as they provide support for the community in the best way they know how – create top-quality products for everyday situations, offering solutions built on a DIY principle.
Sticks & Stones: Let’s start with the most obvious question – what does your brand name Tire Calligraphy mean and why/how did you choose it?
Matija of Tire Calligraphy: Good one. Because in the sixth year of the brand most people still don’t know this, but our roots are in bike culture, fixed gear and, later, the bike polo community. This was a conscious decision from the start, not to connect ourselves (Matej and myself – co-founders) to these two still super niche communities. And with this, also our potential audience and buyers. So, no bicycle motifs, that was a firm decision. Hidden elements, yes, because #iykyk, you know how it goes. This was fun for us always. Still is. But to get back to the name. Back in the polo days, Matej coined the phrase Tire Calligraphy, Mallet and Ball. When braking on a fixed-gear bike, one would leave tire tracks on the street. Also, the passion and mission of the brand still is “From the community, for the community”.
Sticks & Stones: Why fashion?
Matija of Tire Calligraphy: I would like to say lifestyle. Fashion is a part of it. Expression through items and actions, so clothes and communities you belong to. Music, sports, urban disciplines, asphalt, or other sports, not to go into too much detail here. A T-Shirt is a perfect canvas, I am sure everybody has read it or heard it somewhere, but I do believe it’s true. Also, a means of communication. We are all in a way communicating something about ourselves with a simple piece of cloth really. You just pick a material, colour and of course, cut and you take it from there. The same applies for long sleeves, shirts, jackets and pants, sneakers and accessories. You want to belong, or you want to be unique and stand out, it never happens by accident. It happens through fashion because nowadays almost everything is or can be at least associated with fashion. But in a nutshell, because it offers possibilities.
Sticks & Stones: What was the first piece of clothing you ever made?
Matija of Tire Calligraphy: For the brand it was actually two pieces; a black T- Shirt and a baby pink crewneck that shared the same motif of a moth. This was a visual for the branding for that year’s international bike polo tournament we were organising, which is something we had been running for years. On this particular year each contestant received a T-Shirt in their goodie bag. This was an ongoing thing we decided to do for each tournament as a gift for our guest players and a memento for us. Adding merch to the goodie bags served as a launch for the brand as well. We purchased these pieces as blanks from Gildan which a lot of bands use for merch so we knew they were of good quality. This was a strategic move, to be conscious of our costs of production, to be risk aware, so to say, but also, we still wanted to provide a product with a good shape and feel. Then we would add the motif, which was always created by Matej. From there we grew to cut-n-sew items.
And if you meant me personally, I made two bootleg T-Shirts as my imagined merch from the bands I loved at that time- ‘Deftones’ and ‘Team Sleep’. This was in my third year of college. Right about that time I was reading magazines like Complex, GQ and Nylon cover to cover. I desperately wanted to make my “T-Shirt brand”. Actually, it didn’t last long since I didn’t know anything about having a t-shirt brand at that time. Btw, I still have those two T-Shirts kept away nicely at my Moms place.
Sticks & Stones: How would you describe your own style?
Matija of Tire Calligraphy: I like it comfortable and functional, meaning the cuts and the materials. It can be a basic pair of pants and a shirt or a T-shirt and a hoodie, but it all needs to fit just right. Waterproof, light, packable jackets are preferred. And then I stick with them for years. Also, I’m constantly switching between colours and basics, like black and grey. I think it’s seasonable, more colours on sunnier days… but I do like it minimal with a certain pop. This would usually be the shoes. You could say that I’m sneaker obsessed, have been since my high school days. But I wouldn’t say I have a lot of sneakers, I’m just super critical and demanding when it comes to decision time. I run, so I approach footwear the same way as clothing, even more so. The sneaker doesn’t have to be a performance shoe or a runner for that matter, but needs to feel light and again, super comfortable. I do try to be reasonable and by this I hope somewhat sustainable, even though I think the term is really overused these days. I do own more than a few items which are over 10 years old, and I am happy with my decision about it. This is how we approach every new item that we create. Both of us need to want to own it and wear it a lot, and hope, others will as well.
Sticks & Stones: If you could only save one item of clothing in the midst of a natural disaster what would it be?
Matija of Tire Calligraphy: Interesting… I do like my clothes, and I don’t mean just TC stuff, but I am in a way almost connected to each piece. I try to “work” each one to the fullest, every piece already has a history so this is a hard one. But I must conclude, it is my Uniqlo jacket. Blocketch Jacket is the name, or something similar. Not that it would matter in a midst of a natural disaster, but the jacket looks really nice, almost fashion, but mostly function. It’s waterproof, has a hood and is really light. It is also a wind stopper, so in the midst of disaster might do the job. The jacket is a decent all-rounder I have been wearing for 8 or so years now. The reason for this choice is, that it’s versatile, I could and am wearing it to work, after my training sessions, on my bike. Sporty chic you might say, not that I was going for it. But it does have a clean cut, is minimal in design, one colour, or should I say no “colour”, as it’s black. Zippered pockets which I appreciate because of the functionality. This is the approach I take when envisioning a completely new product, it must serve you well, more functions is a must, also needs to be wearable in different occasions, even to be appropriate for both genders 100% equally, one would just need to choose the right size.
Sticks & Stones: Why is fashion important? How does your style impact your own life?
Matija of Tire Calligraphy: Well, I honestly don’t know if it is important at all, or why. Maybe to some. I do like making “things”, even though it wasn’t my formal education. I’m not a designer, graphic artist or product designer. I did not finish art school. I do not consider myself a designer now that I own a brand and create clothing. I like doing it, it is a process. I am surrounded by a group of highly skilled people and I love the end result, the item itself because I envisioned it and it came out the way I wanted it to, but the process is what amuses me. It is in the end that makes us grow. So in this way, if one wants to conclude I am in “fashion”, then it is important because I am constantly re-thinking my possibilities. Does all of this, my style, impact my life and if so how; I could say I evolve with the brand and the brand evolves with me. My interests in lifestyle in general and visual expression of an individual has a great part in it.
Sticks & Stones: What star sign are you & do you identify with it? How?
Matija of Tire Calligraphy: I’m an Aries. I really don’t pay attention or care for that matter for Zodiac, personal compatibility of couples and other relationships, or whatever goes with it. But what I do know from others, Aries does seem to fit just right. Tbh, I don’t even know all of the characteristics, but yeah some fit. Stubborn, and I like to think, in a good way, motivated, passionate, to name a few. Could also work for the “negative” ones, but as I said, I don’t really care.
Sticks & Stones: Tell us an interesting fact about yourself that we can’t read on the internet.
Matija of Tire Calligraphy: If I tell you, you’ll be able to read it on the internet. 😛 But here’s one. Tire Calligraphy was never supposed to be a brand, not a clothing line for sure.
Sticks & Stones: What were you like at school? Did your teachers like you?
Matija of Tire Calligraphy: I was a good kid at home so the same applied at school. My parents brought me up well. So, I would conclude, a dorky nerdy introverted kid could not be an issue for teachers.
Sticks & Stones: Bringing it back to fashion, What do you enjoy about the industry & what would you change?
Matija of Tire Calligraphy: Tough one. Well, I still need to find my place(s) in it even after six years. As an active participant with the brand, but also as a part of an audience and some target group and in the end a consumer. I do for sure appreciate the vast number of possibilities which the digital age, e-commerce and the Internet in general have provided. On the other hand, with that it is equally big of a challenge bringing it back to the brand. Interesting times. But I will always prefer “analog”, I need to feel the fabric, try a few items on before I decide what I like. I highly appreciate experiences, such as a retail space. I do follow and research the changes happening so fast these days, and I experiment with a hybrid approach, so also digital, but analog will always be first for me. Hopefully I reach people who will appreciate it. I really wouldn’t change a thing. I’m an 80’s kid, I grew up without a computer and a mobile phone, but I also really appreciate the possibilities of today.