Words: Lou Boyd
Sport and creativity are often seen as incompatible attributes in a person.
Maybe it comes from the division of subjects at school, but to many, art and sport don’t mix.
Of course, this is rubbish. Look at the amazing lines that surfers and skaters create and the imagination that climbers put into their routes. Most action sports take at the very least imagination and mostly boundless creativity.
One person who shows how perfectly sport and creativity can blend together is Hazel Wakefield, champion mountain biker and product designer, working in the past for companies such as Howies and BlueSeventy.
Winning countless competitions over the last decade and designing rad clothing, it’s clear that Hazel doesn’t lack skills in sport or creativity, but which interest came first?
“I always knew I wanted to do something creative job wise, but it took me a long time to realise what I wanted to do" says Hazel.
“My grassroots start off with cyclo cross. It was the normal little sister thing that my brother was going off and riding bikes and I just wanted to do whatever he was doing."
“My mum and dad entered me for a local cyclo cross event when I was 12. I turned up in my oversized sweat bag of a jacket and had a go. I think I got lapped about 50 times but something stayed with me from that day. I’ve basically ridden near enough every week now from then till now. I’m 32 now, so by this point - it's in my blood."
I'm an outdoor person, I just love being outside and these clothes that fitted my personality
Just because most of Hazel’s time now goes into designing clothes for sports, it doesn't mean she doesn't get to do them herself.
“I’m so lucky to live in Swansea because I have just the most amazing mountain bike trails on my doorstep. I tend to go, if the weathers good, three to four times a week after work and every weekend. I do lots of other things like swimming and yoga as well.
“Generally I have to be active, I can’t sit down. I’m not one of those people who can just do nothing. Generally, I'm always up and about doing something. I have to do sport, I’d be a nightmare otherwise."
“I surf all year round and I absolutely love it because it is so different to riding. It something new to learn and the feeling you get when you carve along a wave is just addictive."
Without her involvement in the world of mountain biking and action sports, Hazel probably would not have found her interest and passion for the design of sportswear.
“I’d see people off dirt jumping and they looked amazing. They had clothes that fitted that purpose and that lifestyle. That’s what I aspired to and wanted to be. I'm an outdoor person, I just love being outside and these clothes that fitted my personality."
It wasn’t till her mid-twenties however, that Hazel decided to go do a degree in performance sportswear design at Falmouth University and put the two passions together, setting her eye on a position on the design team at clothing company Howies.
“I basically badgered them until they gave me a job. I started a blog, I sent letters - even an embroidered letter in a bottle saying how much I liked them and asking them to look at my blog!"
“I actually embroided the bloody URL on there and then put something like, ‘I also love drinking tea’ and the embroidered a tea cup. I sent it in a bike bottle as well. I don't know where the inspiration for that came from, but it certainly worked!"
Nowadays, instead of sending in the applications, Hazel is receiving them. So does she encourage all budding sportswear designers to start embroidering tea on their applications?
“Just get a really good blog and portfolio - and don't give up," she says. “You need to keep ploughing on. I didn't get a job just because I sent in my application form. I’d put in a lot of hard work beforehand. I'd set up a blog. I kept letting them know what was going on, I invited them to my fashion show."
“On the other hand, we get a lot of students who just email in saying, 'Do you have any jobs?' It’s like well, it’s an email, it’s really impersonal. You’re doing a creative course, show us your creativity. Think outside the box and make us want to know more."
How about people who want to follow in her mountain biking footsteps? What’s the best way to get started as a mountain bike novice?
“Wales is definitely a mecca spot for mountain biking. We've got so many great places and a lot of trail centres. The new centre that’s opened in Merthyr, Bike Park Wales, is amazing. It’s such a good set up."
“There’s a lot of women specific days that I see popping up. They've done one at the Forest of Dean. Just go to a trail centre, hire a bike, take your sandwiches, try out some blue trails and have a good time!"