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Tracksmith Interview w/ Matt Taylor, Co-founder & CEO

Like a lot of runners out there, it’s no surprise that we’re big fans of Tracksmith. Their classic and clean design evokes the glory days of running, when all that was needed was truly a pair of shoes and a racing kit to get you from point A to point B.

We recently reviewed some items from the Tracksmith Spring 2020 Collection and wanted to know more about the company’s design process, what inspires them, and what we can expect in the future. So we sat down with Matt Taylor, Tracksmith co-founder and CEO, and got some insight into all of that and more.

BITR: How long have you been with Tracksmith?

MT: We launched Tracksmith in 2014. But the idea had been percolating for probably three years before. I’d been a runner my entire life, worked in the running industry for several years and saw that there was a void in the marketplace when it came to running apparel. At the time, all the best design talent was in footwear. Women’s apparel came next and men’s apparel was an afterthought. Everything looked the same and either spoke to this hyper-elite professional or had been watered down to a general fitness enthusiast. Tracksmith was born from a frustration with the industry status quo and a desire to create quality products that really celebrated running culture.

BITR: From a design standpoint, what inspires you?

MT: Our design process starts from addressing a specific running inspiration– either a problem to solve or a story we love. So for example, this spring we introduced the new Van Cortlandt Grand Shorts. We were addressing a need: a lot of runners love the mesh material we use across the Van Cortlandt Collection but prefer a longer short for training. We were also addressing a specific source material. The silhouette was inspired by a pair of shorts we’ve had in our archives for a while – a straight cut short with contrasting trim worn by George Dole, an Oxford Rhodes Scholar from Maine who raced Roger Bannister in his record-breaking mile in 1954.

Sometimes the inspiration is more utilitarian. Take our Session Shorts for example. The brief for those was to create our most versatile short – the kind of staple you could wear on an easy day, but could also work for speed days. We wanted this short to feel dramatically different from typical running shorts, so we selected a four-way stretch knit made in Italy by a company that’s a master of performance textiles but also produces lingerie fabrics.

Conventional running shorts are usually made from inexpensive woven fabrics that are light, but tend to billow and cling. The fabric we found is a blend of nylon and elastane with an extremely soft and silky feel that fits the body like a second skin, is UV-protective and incredibly breathable. It’s a really unique material and one that works incredibly well across the spectrum of workouts.

BITR: Tracksmith obviously has a classic New England vibe. How do you take that classic aesthetic and make it modern and fresh?

MT: We’re inspired by classic American style and collegiate sportswear. There’s something so compelling about the simplicity and meaning of those pieces. What makes them timeless is the attention to detail and the paired back approach to design – that’s why we tend to use minimal logos and avoid unnecessary trims. Neither of those elements does anything for the runner’s performance, and it’s often the first thing to become dated.

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BITR: A sentence in the Tracksmith Spring 2020 Catalog stood out to me: “There’s anonymity in the grind.” How does the new collection reflect that statement?

MT: Our Spring Collection is designed with the racing season build-up in mind, so you see a lot of products focused towards hard training in unpredictable conditions and colorways that reflect a sort of understated confidence, like avocado and mulberry. The idea is that this is the time to be heads-down working hard, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun with it. And then come race day, it’s time to put on your sash and let loose.

BITR: Can you take us on a short journey on how a new piece goes from an idea to production? (note: insert new piece from the collection)

MT: The new Reggie Half Tights with a liner is a good example of how we create and then iterate on products. We start with a brief or concept, which for the Reggies was to build a supportive half tight that wasn’t overly compressive. At the time half tights were still a little niche, either something reserved for the pros or a compression short dedicated for fitness that wasn’t ideal for mileage. So we wanted to build something that would really work for a long run, not just an 800. The key was to find the right fabric.

We loved this Italian material we were using in our Turnover Tights: it has a smooth face and a really soft brushed back and wanted to test in a half tight silhouette. We had a size set made of those and then we started testing them. There were a few people on the team training for marathons then, running 80-90 miles per week, so they put in the most time in the shorts. We collected their feedback and refined a few things, like the pocketing and inseam length and launched it in Fall 2017.

MT: The Reggie has sold really well for us since we introduced it, but we were also getting a lot of questions about what to wear underneath them. It was a valid question since a) almost all running shorts have a liner and b) half tights were new to a lot of runners. So we wanted to see if we could make these work with a built-in liner. This wasn’t easy– the material in the Reggie is very soft, so there’s not a lot of structure to play with. We tried a half-dozen different liners until we found an option we liked. And then, same thing, we put them on different runners and asked them to log as many miles as possible in them. Lou Serafini, our community manager, probably wore these the most and he ended up running the Olympic Marathon Trials in them. This is a unique example, but it shows the typical journey from a need-based brief to testing, iteration, and commercialization.

BITR: We live in the Mid-Atlantic, where the temperature can swing from 80 degrees one day to 45 degrees the next. How does the apparel adapt to the variable temperatures of spring?  

MT: If you’re anything like me, you probably agree that the best running outfit is a long sleeve and a pair of shorts. It covers you from 45 to probably 65 degrees, so if you’re selecting materials with the right amount of breathability you’ll be in a good spot. We have a lot of Merino wool in the spring collection, which is probably the most versatile performance fabric in this way, in that the fibers naturally keep you warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot.

When it comes to synthetic materials, we tend to look for lighter fabrics that won’t weigh you down as the temperature heats up. Our Twilight Collection is a great example of this – the Twilight Long Sleeve is one of the lightest you’ll find, with this incredible silky hand feel that floats away from your skin. The result is you have the coverage you need for a cooler run, but the material is light enough that it won’t overheat as you start getting warmer.

BITR: How do you separate yourself from other boutique running companies out there (or even major companies)?

MT: It’s less about separating ourselves from others and more about being really confident in who we are and for whom we’re making products. Everything we do revolves around making you fall in love with running and supporting you along the journey. We build products for runners who demand a lot out of their gear because they demand a lot from themselves. They’ve got big goals, they train and race for personal excellence. This mindset ensures we’re really thoughtful about the products we’re making, the problems they seek to solve and the stories and ideas we seek to promote.

BITR: What can we expect to see in the future from Tracksmith?

MT: I often liken building a brand to getting ready for race. You’ve got to get your fitness established first before you can expect to chase a personal record. We’re in a place, five years in, where we’ve built a foundation and know what’s working. We have core product franchises that are best in class, we have a growing community from the Trackhouse and across the globe through our digital channels, and we’ve seen tremendous success in activating our pop-ups at Major Marathons.

Expect to see more of these three elements, just done in bigger and bolder ways. We were really excited about what 2020 had in store for us with the Olympic year. Obviously so much of that is now on hold, so we’re adjusting our mindset and looking forward to activating in a big way in 2021.

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