Located at the halfway mark of the Boston Marathon is something new and exciting: Tracksmith Apparel, a premium performance running brand that reveres the sport and is on a quest to restore it to its former glory. I’d like to to share their story.
Matt Taylor connected with Luke Scheybeler co-founder of Rapha and they formed Tracksmith, then together they have set out to overcome the slow pace of the running industry, its cheaply-made products, and the “everyone gets a medal” mentality. Something about this sentiment strikes deep within me these days as running culture becomes more popular, and somewhat lost in cheap events, tourism, and brands. What the USA has over Australasia is a deep rooted running history that spans many decades and which Tracksmith appears to be deeply connected with. Connected to the beginning of New England running culture, with an aesthetic that reflects the ‘better times’. Tracksmith are inspired by the races and an elite amateur ideal upheld by old school tradition, and has developed into something refreshing amongst the ‘just do it’ mentality which surrounds us. Let’s find out more from co-founder Matt Taylor.
Tracksmith is all about making great clothing, but from my view so much more than that. Can you tell us what Tracksmith is really all about?
Tracksmith is style and culture for serious runners. We craft luxury performance apparel, inspiring publications and distinct running events. And we do these things so that runners can indulge in this activity that deem an integral part of their lifestyle.
What’s with the name Tracksmith? Does it have any special meaning or connection for you?
First, we wanted a name that felt substantial, as if the brand could have been around for some time. And second, we wanted it to speak to what we were trying to achieve. “Track” is a very serious and committed side of running. If you’re running on a track, you’re likely quite serious in your pursuit to get better. And “smith” speaks to the craftsmanship and quality of everything we do.
So many companies today call themselves lifestyle brands. How would you define Tracksmith and how are you different?
Lifestyle is such a dangerous word within the industry. To many it means “casual” or “not performance.” But we view the word lifestyle as all the elements that go into the pursuit of running faster – training, racing, motivation, travel, history, and so on. The lifestyle surrounding race culture is our domain.
So you you went to Yale and were a competitive Ivy League runner. Can you explain what Ivy League running actually is, and what was that experience like?
I ran four years of cross country and track at Yale. Like most runners, I always felt that I could run faster, but I ran well in the mile (4:10) and steeplechase (8:57), my preferred events. Running is the most pure sport in the world, and the pursuit of getting fitter and faster is simultaneously grueling and massively rewarding. What’s unique about running in the Ivy League is that there are no athletic scholarships, so everyone is running for the purity of competition. And that provides an incredible atmosphere at the league championships, unlike most any other collegiate conference in the country.
How have your early days of running influenced the Tracksmith brand and it’s direction?
I worked in the running industry for many years and became frustrated with how slowly things moved and how great concepts never make it to market. What would start as an incredible idea with smart details would get stripped down as it went through the development process, the end product becoming just a shell of it’s original concept. It’s also frustrating to see how afraid brands are to alienate “fitness joggers.” The result is very watered down messaging.
So combining my lifelong passion for the sport and it’s legacy of competition with a growing frustration – I guess it was the perfect storm for motivating me to start Tracksmith.
It seems like Tracksmith is uncovering a rich, deep running culture, with a retro filmic vibe and ‘old school’ competition. Why did you decide to go towards this aesthetic direction and why do we need to keep looking to the past?
Tracksmith’s designs gravitate towards the timeless and understated styles of New England, whether that’s through classic menswear brands or collegiate styles. Every detail in our designs, from our brand logo to the four gold safety pins that come with singlets, is a nod to the culture of elite amateur running. The bold diagonal stripe on our singlets is influenced by the sashing ceremony of Cornell University’s track team dating back to the late 1800s. Our products are rooted in tradition, which actually makes us stand out aesthetically given the current running apparel offerings out there that typically focus on bright colours and futuristic designs.
Instead of inspiring legends, we are left with soulless stats.
You’ve been in the industry for 15+ years (and spent 4 years as Puma’s “Head of Marketing in Training, Running & Fitness”) so we guess it’s safe to assume you know a thing or two about ‘how the industry ticks’. What’s your personal experiences of the industry playing a role in ‘running culture’ during these years?
I’ve always been a champion of great storytelling as a way to celebrate running culture. Prior to PUMA I worked on a number of projects that dove much deeper into the lives of top athletes. And at PUMA we had the great fortune of working with Usain Bolt. I think he brought athletics to the fore, if only for fleeting moments a few times each year. And that helped push the sport forward.
I read that Tracksmith feels running has lost it’s way. What does this actually mean?
Running as an industry is at an all time high. Participation is through the roof. More people run now than ever before. But running as a sport is at an all time low. Racing, once the province of heroes, is now the waste ground of cheaters and lab rats. Every aspect has been diluted – the races, the style, the community. Instead of inspiring legends, we are left with soulless stats.
And that breaks our heart. But also motivates and guides us every day. We believe that the race is sacred. And our purpose is to inspire runners everywhere to share in our passion for racing and the culture surrounding it.
Tracksmith is a classic ‘Made in America’ brand with manufacturing on US soil. What inspired you to take this approach?
It was really important in the beginning from an operational standpoint. We wanted to be close to the process, to iterate quickly, to learn as we went. And so being close geographically gave us an advantage. However, as we’ve continued to grow and expand our product offering, we’ve been partnering with manufacturers all over the world. We’re building a network of partners with very specific capabilities that can help us achieve our high standards.
We recently featured the amazing Emily Maye who seems to be the main shooter at Tracksmith. Can you tell us how you guys connected? Also why a natural documentary style atheistic is important to the Tracksmith brand and direction?
Emily is a incredible photographer and has helped us create the visual photographic style you see in our branding. She had worked with my co-founder previously and seemed like a natural fit for Tracksmith. The sport doesn’t need more overly-styled, awkwardly-posed running photography. There’s enough of that already. With Emily we take our athletes on mini training camps and she captures everything that transpires in a natural and authentic way.
Can you talk to us about the models you use for Tracksmith campaigns? Are they local talent? Real runners? What’s the story behind the faces of Tracksmith?
We only work with real runners. Most of them fit that “elite amateur” mould – still trying to compete at a very high level, but also working a full-time job with serious career ambitions. For example, one of our athletes has broken 4:00 in the mile. But what’s incredible is that he did it while working crazy hours at an investment bank. Those are the types of athletes we love working with as a brand.
One aspect of the running industry that is a taboo topic is the size and weight of it’s participants. Tracksmith seems to reflect like the majority of the industry that ‘real runners’ are thin. Does Tracksmith have any plans to work more inline with ‘larger’ models and athletes or feel indifferent to it?
We’re pretty indifferent to be honest. We don’t chose are athletes based on size or weight. We choose them based on fitting the criteria I mentioned above – serious, elite amateurs. By nature most of those folks have a specific body type from years of training.
What does running mean to you personally? Is it for fitness, to compete, to connect or something else. What’s your motivation?
Running is just a part of my life. It’s not more complicated than that. I self-identify as a runner and I’m passionate about the sport. My fitness level comes and goes (I have two young children; that combined with starting a company create some challenges to serious training), but I’m always working towards a race. Last year I ran every day and plan to again this year. I’m also approaching my 40th birthday, so I have some plans for Masters racing.
I have three priorities in my life – family, Tracksmith, and running…
How has running in a team shaped you as a runner and as a person? Do you feel more aligned ‘mentally’ running in a group or solo?
I think running is extremely powerful in both instances. For your health, happiness, focus, even intelligence. And for most adults running is a solo endeavour. But there is something really unique about running with a group. The banter, the post-run coffee or beer – it creates little memories, little moments in time, that you remember for a long time. You don’t get that running by yourself.
Technology and digital burnout is prevalent in our sport. How do you feel about the ‘Strava generation’ and always competing. Do you feel stats and data help runner, or mere comparative digital noise?
It’s a fascinating time and we’re only at the beginning. There are so many wearables hitting the market and runners can get almost any data they want. But ultimately I think it’s a personal preference. Some people love data and tracking. Some people just like to run and rely on their bodies to give them guidance. The data isn’t going away, so ultimately people will learn what’s valuable and what’s not. And that means there are going to be a few big winners in that space.
Do you get a runners high? If so what does it feel like to you?
Of course! But it’s elusive and very hard to predict when you’ll get it. But when it does hit, it’s an incredible feeling of complete ease. Everything – mind, body, spirit – are working as one well-oiled machine.
As co-founder of Tracksmith, we imagine you have far more on your plate than the average runner. How they manage being so busy, training, and being involved with so many projects. So, how to you manage work life balance and burnout?
I’ve made it very simple on myself. I have three priorities in my life – family, Tracksmith, and running – and when you eliminate everything else, there’s plenty of time for the important things.
What makes you tick outside of Tracksmith and running? What are you inspired by? What else do you love to do? What about people or places?
I’m a homebody and absolutely love spending time with my wife and two kids (ages 5 and 3). So outside of Tracksmith and running, we just love exploring everything New England has to offer.
Giving back to community is close to our hearts at Good People Run and it is different to every runner. How is Tracksmith giving back to runners, the culture and community?
Racing. It’s a relationship between the races themselves and the racers who experience them. The two combine in a lifestyle that forms a culture. This culture has roots, a history, a legacy. This legacy has stalled, but it’s ready to find it’s way forward and reap the richness of it’s past, while lighting the fire of the future. We promise to be the stewards of this culture, serving it, lifting it up, and empowering the day-in-day-out true citizens of the sport who feel it’s power but have had no nation.
We will passionately explore and support the best this emerging culture has to offer — provoking where necessary, celebrating when discovered.
METER magazine. What a great looking publication. Can you tell us more about this and how it came about?
We created METER to share great stories and celebrate the competitive spirit of the sport. Exactly as you say, we wanted to give running culture its own voice because it doesn’t currently have one. We realized pretty quickly that we aren’t the only ones craving this type of content. So we use words and beautiful photography to capture the intensity and beauty of running at its finest while paying respect to its heritage.
Do you have any advice on how people find out more about the heritage and traditions of the sport (particularly track and field that seems quite elusive)?
One way is to pick up a copy of METER Magazine. We created METER to share great stories and celebrate the competitive spirit of the sport. The other way is to immerse yourself in the community. The great thing about running is that a subculture does exists, but unlike some other sports, it’s very welcoming and humble. Join a club. Join a crew.
Where will we see Tracksmith in five years from now?
I can’t think that far ahead! We’re still so new that our main focus is to keep building the brand the right way. We have such a clear vision of what we want Tracksmith to be; it just takes time to do it. So our main focus this year is to continue building the foundation of the brand by making great products and telling culturally relevant stories. But I hope one day we’ll look back and see that Tracksmith really changed the way running is presented and perceived.
Where do you see Matt Taylor in five years from now?
Wow, same thing. That’s hard to predict. I sure hope I’m still leading Tracksmith and we’ve started to have a serious impact on the sport. I also hope I’m winning some local Master’s races and still able to break 4:30 in the mile!