Five niche apparel brands presenting distinctive goods to running retailers.
By Daniel P. Smith
Matthew Rosetti can only shake his head when it comes to a discussion about running specialty stores and apparel.
“Aside from Nike and the screening of private label pieces with creative local branding, most running shops can’t move apparel,” Rosetti says. “That’s because, unlike footwear, there’s no differentiating element to [apparel].”
That reality, in fact, sparked Rosetti and his crew at the Brooklyn Running Company to launch RunBK Apparel in 2016. Rosetti calls RunBK his team’s attempt to create functional, fashionable apparel that allows running stores like his to present tops, shorts, pants and other apparel selections beyond the ubiquitous and mainstream.
“A boutique brand offering is how shops should be differentiating on the apparel side,” Rosetti contends.
Much like niche footwear brands such as Altra or On give footwear walls a differentiated selection beyond the conventional players, niche apparel brands provide retailers an avenue to ensure run specialty remains special.
These five upstart apparel brands blend a unique point of view with a specific interest in the run specialty channel.
The result of Monica DeVreese’s experience in the running industry – she’s the co-owner of two Santa Barbara Running stores in California – and Jill Deering’s unabashed perfectionism, rabbit apparel aims to be something better. Neither complicated nor fussy, rabbit touts a full line up of men’s and women’s apparel that includes shorts, tees, sports bras and pants.
Available in about 75 run specialty doors across the U.S., rabbit apparel is manufactured in Los Angeles, roughly 100 miles south of rabbit’s Santa Barbara headquarters. This proximity allows rabbit leadership to monitor all aspects of production, to quickly bring compelling products to market and to ensure the fair treatment of workers.
“We make running apparel that we want to wear and we do it in a way that we can feel good about,” rabbit PR manager Jeff Stern says.
Focused on listening to the voices of its run specialty partners and customers, rabbit brings an assortment of colors, styles and designs to market each season and recently debuted a looser fit “freedom” line for women as well as its rabbitTRAIL line.
INKnBurn apparel is not designed for those content to blend into the crowd. From its Santa Ana, CA, headquarters, the artist-driven company founded by Megan Tsuyuki and her husband, Rob, in 2008 offers technical men’s and women’s apparel that is unapologetically bold and artistic.
“We’re about the art and that’s what our audience really appreciates,” Tsuyuki says.
Powered by a team of in-house artists, INKnBURN makes its entire collection of small-batch apparel inside its Santa Ana warehouse. The company nails down a design and accepts pre-orders before closing the ordering window and heading into production, where runs typically range from 500-1000 units.
The ever-revolving nature of INKnBURN’s designs allows its select running store partners – the Ultra Running Company in Charlotte and the three-door Running Center in California among them – to bring vibrant, exclusive gear into their stores on a near weekly basis.
And, it’s worth noting, there’s a fanatical following for some INKnBURN gear. Its “holiday sweaters,” technical performance pieces that resemble a knitted sweater, have become collectibles in some corners, while one INKnBURN jacket even sold for $1400 on the secondary market.
The husband-and-wife team of Terry and Jennifer Leonard established Raw Threads on a straightforward formula: pair eco-friendly apparel with winning designs.
To the first point, Raw Threads uses a lightweight bamboo fabric Jennifer Leonard calls “addictive” and “cashmere-like.” The fabric offers 50+ UPF for long workouts and outdoor runs.
That fabric provides a high-quality canvas for the Florida-based company to unleash an assortment of witty, fun and artistic designs, both of its own making as well as those featuring beloved characters like Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Cinderella and Garfield through licensing agreements.
“Our customers thrive on our storytelling while experiencing the quality and function of our clothes,” Leonard says, adding that Raw Threads will soon be adding Pixar characters to its portfolio. Men’s and women’s apparel as well as accessories such as arm sleeves, headbands and patches are currently available on Raw Threads’ website as well as in run specialty stores such as Orlando’s Track Shack and Fit2Run locations across Florida.
Territory Run Co.
Brett Farrell founded Territory Run Co. as a niche trail running brand committed to recognizing running as a beautiful, pleasant experience, not as the sweaty, grimacing effort so prevalent in contemporary culture.
“We take our cue from surfing brands who have long celebrated the beauty of that activity as opposed to the hardship,” Farrell says of his Portland, OR-based company.
Currently in about 15 run specialty doors, Territory’s limited-batch products are typically favored by trail running enthusiasts who want a more laid back, casual style that doesn’t feel “overly athletic.”
“We’re offering people a way to identify themselves as trail runners,” Farrell says.
Since its 2014 founding, Farrell has broadened Territory’s assortment beyond graphic tees to include hats, the company’s most in-demand product category, sweatshirts, pants and tees, including the popular All Day tee made from recycled coffee grounds. On the heels of unveiling Mileage Supply, a custom branding outfit aimed at producing unique goods for races and retailers, Territory is also readying the debut of its first short this summer, a made-in-Oregon product.
RunBK’s men’s apparel features a sleek, modern and decidedly urban vibe that Rosetti considers perfect for those fatigued by the status quo and eager to find a more distinctive, sharper look.
“RunBK presents that unique opportunity for a runner to gear up in pieces that are both fashionable and functional,” Rosetti says, adding that all RunBK pieces are tested “ad nauseam [by runners] before they go into production.”
Conscious of not overburdening its select group of running retail partners with abundant inventory, RunBK has been uber-intentional with its product assortment.
The three-year-old company offers only a handful of SKUs per seasonal capsule and prioritizes unique takes on its most popular products, namely the popular five-inch WillyB short that’s currently available in three different colors.
“We believe in the importance and sustainability of brick-and-mortar retail … [and recognize] we are nothing without the shops who are curating our brand,” Rosetti says.