Believe it or not, there once was a world without moisture-wicking fabrics and cooling technologies and it wasn’t that long ago. People went to the gym in old cotton T-shirts, tattered and stained, and no one batted an eyelid. It wasn’t a fashion show.
Today, it’s a different story: Nike has Dri-Fit running tights in loud camo print for men; boys don’t have to worry about B.O. thanks to the anti-odor technology built into Under Armour’s neon fitted tees; and Lululemon is selling workout pants for women categorized by how they want to “feel,” whether it’s “relaxed,” “hugged” or “tight.”
With athleisure continuing its reign on wardrobes the world over and The NPD Group projecting the market to grow to $178 billion by 2019, the line between fitness wear and fashion is one big blur. But how many of these stretch-pants enthusiasts are actually kitting out for sports? And how many running apparel brands are marketing their wares to people who put in the miles? Not a lot. And Matt Taylor is fed up with it.
That’s why he set out to reconnect running to its storied past with Tracksmith, the premium performance apparel brand that he co-founded with Luke Scheybeler to celebrate the style and culture of the sport.
“It was less about the apparel and more out of a frustration with the running industry as a whole. The other brands have lost touch with the sport and its culture,” said Taylor, a former Yale University cross country and track and field athlete, who was previously the global head of marketing for the running, training and fitness categories at Puma. “[Most brands are] more interested in communicating a generic health and wellness message that reaches everyone, but captures the message of no one. Tracksmith aims to make running matter again.”
Since its direct-to-consumer launch in July 2014, the Boston-based brand has added a full women’s line (it focused on men’s styles first), held a pop-up shop at the Boston Marathon and hosted several training camps for elite-amateur athletes. Running is at the core of everything it does.
Taylor added, “It’s not about a personal-best time or a number of miles logged each week—it’s about your mindset. We all lead busy lives, but if you make time in your day and your week to run, and you’re interested in that commitment, then we can be a part of the journey.”
Style is important, too, of course.
“We wanted to create a range of products that stand the test of time—a clean, aesthetic and, compared to the rest of the market, a conservative color palette. Clothing that you’re comfortable wearing during and after a run,” Taylor explained.
Neon is a no-no, basically. Instead, Tracksmith offers a simple selection of singlets, shorts, pants and tees in collegiate colorways (think: maroon, navy, yellow, red and forest green), with a couple of windcheaters thrown in for good measure. “We’ve been sold out of many styles in colors at various time,” he noted. Caps, socks and duffle bags round out the wardrobe.
While every runner needs a top-notch pair of shoes, Tracksmith isn’t adding some anytime soon. “It’s definitely been discussed,” Taylor shared, “But we don’t have any plans at the moment.”
For now, the brand will continue building out a full range of apparel and accessories. Most of its products are made in the U.S.A. but as Taylor pointed out, it’s not easy, especially for a start-up. “Almost all of the domestic factories offer CMT (cut-make-trim) services, whereas overseas factories offer full package services. Basically, that means for domestic manufacturing we’re sourcing and procuring all the raw materials that go into the finished product. But with overseas manufacturing, the factories source the raw goods based on the product needs,” he explained, adding, “Operationally there’s a massive, often underestimated burden to domestic manufacturing.”
To that end, the team sources textiles from all over the globe. “It’s one of the areas behind which we put a lot of effort and take a lot of pride. Because of our price points ($14-$198) we can work with some of the most innovative and incredible textile makers in the world. So we scour the shows and push on our contacts to find truly great fabrics,” he said.
Last month, Tracksmith closed a Series A funding round of $4.1 million, led by Pentland Group, a U.K.-based company that was an early investor in Reebok and owns Speedo, rugby label Canterbury and Mitre, the world’s oldest sports brand. “Pentland is a great long-term financial partner for us. They’re going to help us grow smartly and strategically,” Taylor noted.
The company has raised $5.7 million to date (it raised a seed round last summer) and its plans include developing its product offerings, building an engaged community with physical programs in key markets and creating a core team aligned with its culture.
He added, “Our women’s line is only three months old, so there’s still a lot of room to grow there. And overall, we’re just looking to add a few great products every season.”