“IF YOU WANT TO CHANGE YOUR BODY, EXERCISE. IF YOU WANT TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE, BECOME A RUNNER.”
Tracksmith is one of the latest activity specific brands to stem from one of the most beautiful corners of the United States
According to Complex magazine: “New England isn't home to the fashion industry—it's a place for craftsmen who make products as sturdy as their character. You'll find brands who make the finest footwear, leather goods, shirts, sneakers, suits, and more. Hidden within the old world benches and innovators of the modern mail order are also streetwear and skate brands making a name for themselves”. They are spot on.
It’s true to say that some of the most iconic brands the world has ever seen have come out of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. It’s hard to know where to start. The roll call is impressive, with the likes of Johnson Woolen Mills, H.W. Carter & Sons, Sperry Top-Sider, New Balance, J.Press, Alden, Converse and L.L.Bean (to name but a few) all having their genesis in New England. In fact, much of what comes out of New England from a brand point of view today echoes the region’s once-thriving textile industry, even if many of the brands have had to look elsewhere for their production.
Many of them fit for purpose; all of them were (and still are) driven by a single-minded vision to be the best in class in their chosen field of expertise. Times might change, but each and every one of these New England brands remain true to their roots with an unwavering approach of offering unrivalled quality, craftsmanship and generations of their knowledge on to an eager consumer not wanting to buy into ubiquitous high street fodder.
Creating premium performance apparel that celebrates the style and culture of running, Tracksmith is one of the latest activity specific brands to stem from one of the most beautiful corners of the United States. With many running brands taking on a futuristic and florescent approach, Tracksmith designs apparel (and related running paraphernalia) for design-led, athletes who prefer understated kit to DayGlo gear you’re likely to see in the mainstream.
Manufaktur catches up with Matt Taylor, the co-founder (with Luke Scheybeler, who was the co-creator and creative director at British cycling brand Rapha) of Tracksmith, to understand why his frustration with the appearance of almost all running gear out there, led him to start his own direct-to-consumer performance running brand, with a model which allowed for better quality and a more distinctive appearance, for elite amateurs.
Tracksmith is very understated compared to a lot of running brands, not as futuristic. It’s really clean with simple lines and timeless colours
Tell us about how Tracksmith came about?
I’ve been a participant and a consumer of running my whole life. It was always a matter of when, not if, when I would do something of my own in running. Over the last five or ten years, everything has been watered down to a more generic health and wellness message. Nike is out front leading the industry, and all of the other brands have gotten them behind and followed. About three years ago I started looking at the running industry as a whole to see what we could do. Through that process men’s apparel rose to the top of the pile for various reasons. If you look at most brands, footwear has always been (and will always be) king. Men’s running apparel seemed to be at the bottom of the barrel, not getting a lot of attention or resources thrown at it. So it was the decision strategically to enter the market there, as it was the part of the market where we could come in and do something relatively quickly that was distinct from everything else. That would be the starting point; the vision for Tracksmith has always been much grander than that.
Why New England?
The appearance, and the vibe of the Tracksmith stems from the fact that we’re based in New England. The area has a rich running history, and it’s important to tell that story. A lot of the stories consumers have been told are from the West Coast perspective, and get rehashed every four years when the Olympics come around. But, there’s a strong running history here. We draw our inspiration from New England and running in its four seasons. We believe in the elite amateur side of the sport rather than the über-professional model, which has taken sports to a place where it’s win at all costs.
What was your angle for your initial collection?
We had been watching what Bonobos had been doing - they launched in 2007 with a single pair of chinos. We really liked the idea of starting with a single product, getting it right and then evolving things from there. We ended up landing on five products that helped tell the story we had – a race pack (singlet and race shorts), our Longfellow shorts (tailored with four way stretch), Grayboy T-shirt (88% cotton, 12% Rayon blend) and a bag.
How would you describe the Tracksmith’s aesthetic?
Nike has led the industry for a very long time, they lead towards the future and innovation. A lot of other brands follow them. If you go into a running store today and remove the logos from the products, you would have no idea which brand they were from. That helped us push the brand in a certain direction. Lots of people have used the terms retro and vintage, which are labels I don’t particularly like. Tracksmith is very understated compared to a lot of running brands, not as futuristic. It’s really clean with simple lines and timeless colours - the sorts of colours that men and women are used to wearing.
Details are very important to us as a brand. This is where KTC excels
EVERYTHING IN THE COLLECTION LOOKS GREAT BUT EVERYTHING STILL HAS TO PERFORM?
Although we look at the culture of running slightly differently, it doesn’t mean performance is not important, obviously it’s critical. The way we approach it is that every piece is built for a particular purpose, remembering that there’s no bit of running kit that can make you run faster. The great thing about running is that there’s so much variation in what you do. Some days you might just run for 30 minutes and it’s not hot or you can do a two-hour run and it’s freezing cold. The requirements are quite different. On easier days, runners might go for a simple cotton T-shirt, yet if they’re doing a harder run they might reach for something different and more technical.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH KTC?
Lots of people had been talking about KTC in the industry, so we were familiar of what they were capable of. Every brand that had worked with KTC had the same thing to say about them: that the quality was just about the best there was out there. Early on we were playing with a four way stretch woven fabric and we had a hard time finding factories that could sew it to the level we wanted because of its unique properties. They got us and got what we were trying to do from day one. Its understanding of specialist fabrics, from a construction and application point of view was exactly what we needed. We’ve yet to find anyone who gives product the level of attention they do. When it comes to performance running equipment there’s pretty much nothing they can’t engineer.
HOW DOES THE RELATIONSHIP WITH KTC WORK?
Many factories will just take the designs you send them and go through the motions while KTC definitely adds that extra layer on top. Their incredible understanding on the performance side really helps. We’ll have an idea and send them over a tech pack, to which they will respond with further ideas and possible improvements. They’ll send over a mock up of other things they have done and show us examples of possible design details such bonded seams or pocket constructions, which helps to take the products to the next level. These sorts of details are very important to us as a brand. This is where KTC excels.
The negative perception about China is one of the biggest falsehoods that exists
How do you test your products?
When it comes to pro performance and running apparel, it’s all about comfort. You want the garment to almost disappear. You don’t want something that’s going to be pulling at the seams or chafing your nipples. If it’s cold you want to feel warm and if it’s warm you want to cool down. The main thing is that you want to go out for two to three hours and enjoy it. Because we are so deep into the sport and the culture of running, so we have plenty of serious, sub-elite, runners to test the products on and we’ll use their feedback to evolve things.
FOR MANY YEARS ‘MADE IN CHINA’ HAS HAD A NEGATIVE PERCEPTION IN THE WEST? WE BELIEVE THAT ACTIVITY SPECIFIC APPAREL MADE IN CHINA IS THE BEST IN THE WORLD? WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS IN RELATION TO KTC?
When we started we were actually making stuff in Massachusetts as we wanted to be near to the process and learn as much as we could. The negative perception about China is one of the biggest falsehoods that exists. If you look at performance apparel and performance footwear it’s manufacturing some of the best products in the world. We are looking for the best partner possible to achieve the level of products we want. We’ll go all over the world – we don’t look at this country versus that country. Working with someone like KTC ensures the best quality and the best craftsmanship.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUCCESS OF YOUR PARTNERSHIP WITH KTC?
More products and more volume. We want to grow with them and collaborate more closely with to take advantage of their knowledge and R&D input.