Ivy Style Goes for a Run

Thanks to new sportswear brand Tracksmith, choosing between style and functionality is a thing of the past.

Matt Taylor knows running. After his cross-country career at Yale, the Pennsylvania-native spent the next decade in the endurance industry, working with world-class track stars and watching trends. Over those years, he grew frustrated with major labels’ constant output of generic, poorly-made apparel. He concluded that too many products were styled for professionals and constructed without much consideration for the the average runner. Taylor decided to follow a different path.

The budding entrepreneur teamed up with Luke Scheybeler – co-founder of the acclaimed cycling brand Rapha – to create Tracksmith, a brand that launches today and pays tribute to the sport’s preppy roots. We sat down with the founders to get an inside look at the project.

What made you want to create a new athletic brand?

MT: The idea for Tracksmith has been in my head for quite some time. I’ve worked in the running industry for about a decade and saw an opportunity to do something different from everyone else. Running is a massive industry – It’s sort of recession proof. There are lots of brands but they all seem to be going in the same direction. They all produce apparel that is very similar in style, color, and functionality. So I wanted to set out and do something different.

How did the two of you start a partnership?

MT: I had known about the brand Rapha, which Luke was the co-founder of, and there were a lot of similarities that they had achieved in cycling that I wanted to bring to running. So I called Luke – sort of cold called Luke – and said, ‘Hey, here’s what I want to do, here’s what I’m working on. I’d love to pick your brain.” Luke gave a lot of advice in the early stages and our relationship grew and grew and grew, to the point where we decided to partner up as co-founders and really go 100 percent at bringing Tracksmith to market.

How did you decide on the name ‘Tracksmith?’

LS: Naming is really hard. We just wanted to [name the brand] something that felt ageless and that was relatively straightforward, in that it described what we did. It describes track which is obviously the kind of hardcore part of the running world – if you run on the tracks it’s pretty serious – and smith, which obviously describes craft and sounds established.

Where did you find design inspiration?

LS: Matt was a competitive runner and I’m more of a recreational runner so, in terms of the aesthetic, we draw on lots of different influences from the world of running: classic items from the history of running as well as looking forward to new fabrics and styles. We don’t just like to look back. We like to look forward and back. We’re based in New England and we love the classic American menswear brands here, the kind of Ivy League influence, so [Tracksmith] has a slightly preppy, American style.

The brand feels very East Coast.

I’ve been in New England for 15-16 years, so we draw a lot of influence from here. From a running stand point – Boston specifically – New England is the heart and soul of the running culture in the US. The oldest marathon in the world outside of the actual marathon – the 26.2 mile was created when a guy died at the end of his run. The BAA started the Boston Marathon the next year. Those stories weren’t really being told, so we decided to anchor the brand here and tell those stories as we launch, begin to reveal a bit more about who we are.

What makes Tracksmith different from other sports brands?

LS: I think one way of putting it is the compromise between performance and style. A lot of the time you’re forced to choose between something that supposedly works – or functions or preforms or is technical – and something that looks nice. And that’s mostly because the performance fabrics, the ones that are chosen for mass market sports brands, are very cheap and they don’t feel very nice. So we just up the quality and try to make the style more wearable and a little bit more grown-up, a little bit more classic.

MT: We’re also small and don’t have a lot of products, so we can be extremely conceptual when we start our design and production process. Every product starts with a concept of what we want to achieve and then normally the next step in that process is to find the most appropriate fabric for that need. For example, our Long Fellow Shorts probably has our most technical fabric in our range. It’s very expensive and comes from Switzerland. It repels water, wicks moisture away from your skin, has 4-way stretch, and it’s an incredible fabric. And in that particular short it does what we need it to achieve. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Grey Boy, which is a cotton-rayon blend. Years of marketing from other sportswear brands, consumers believe that polyester is sort of the holy grail of fabrics. But in reality, if you’re going for an easy 30-minute run in Central Park in the morning, a cotton t-shirt works just fine. Most elite and sub-elite runners actually train in cotton shirts regularly, because over time they wear in so well, they become very comfortable and they don’t retain odor. So we sort of look at it on a case by case basis.

Tracksmith officially launched yesterday. How was the actual process of opening for business?

MT: Exhausting.

LS: Matt and I have been working in earnest on this for a year so it is really exciting to see it come to fruition. But the really big moment when I realized that everything had come together and it was going to work, and the stuff was going to be great, was when we finished our photo shoot and we saw the photography. I think that was kind of a watershed moment when it was like ‘right, yes! We’re really onto something. It works.’ Because before that we hadn’t really seen how the stuff looked on real runners. We’d been hellbent on getting the stuff made.