Watch Out, Nike

This Direct-to-Consumer Apparel Brand Is Exactly What Running Needs


Sports and Outdoors : Sports By Photo by PATH PROJECTS

O
f all fitness undertakings, if exercise were to have a single, identifying emblem, it would be running. Running has been a sport forever, or at least since the first Olympic games took place in Ancient Greece in 776 BC (the single event was a sprint). But it wasn’t until the 1960s that running as a form of casual, everyday training began to catch on. And when that happened, running apparel entered the mainstream.

Running gear peaked soon thereafter. Spandex had just been invented, Nike had just been founded and a gradual shortening of running shorts’ inseam that occurred throughout the 19th and 20th centuries reached its terminus (although to be fair, the Ancient Greeks had this beat; they ran naked). Materials and designs have changed since the ’60s and ’70s, but not much.

Until now. Running apparel is once again experiencing a renaissance. A new class of smaller brands is taking on corporate companies with gear that’s thoughtful, design-forward and not plastered with flashy neon colors. Tracksmith does it with trademark New England panache, and Satisfy does it with an experimental, fashion-forward purview, to name a few.

The gear these brands are producing is excellent, but it isn’t cheap; premium materials and designs come with premium prices. And somehow, that doesn’t seem right. After all, running has no barrier to entry; it’s popular because anyone can do it. Luckily, Scott Bailey, the man who helped found skateboard brands KR3W and SUPRA, wants to change this. Bailey has been fed up with the ubiquity of sub-par running clothing for a while now, and last year he decided to do something about it. He decided to make his own brand, with two rules in mind: it had to be made with the best materials, and it had to be affordable — thus, PATH Projects was born. Below, we chat with Bailey about how he went from skateboarding to running, his favorite direct-to-consumer brands and how to make the perfect running shorts.

Q:
How did PATH PROJECTS start?
A:
I had been trying to find a short that I liked that worked well for long distances and extreme conditions. I searched far and wide and I couldn’t find a short that I thought was good, and it really frustrated me and it kind of became a mission to try and find that short. It kind of surprised me that in outerwear and all these other really technical garments there were companies that are really focused on amazing materials and function and, indeed the price points would be higher, but I just couldn’t believe that nobody was doing that in running, something that took such a technical product to really perform well.

It was born out of frustration.

I realized there was really no place to sell a higher-end, more advanced product. Because at retail the sporting goods store wouldn’t really understand it. Most of the [merchandise] buyers don’t even run so they don’t know what makes a good running short, and most of the people selling it probably don’t run. And so, because I had started businesses before I realized that just because there’s a need or hole in the market doesn’t mean you can do it if you don’t have anywhere to sell it. I started to see these consumer direct companies pop up that were doing some really amazing stuff in other markets. They were really making a great product and building real brands. That was kind of my “aha” moment — that if I did this, and take that consumer-direct route, I could not only make amazing product, and really focus on what we’re doing, but really I could offer it at a price that would be competitive with the athletic brands that were really making what I thought was really sub-par product. It was born out of frustration.

Q:
Were there any specific direct to consumer brands that inspired you?
A:
There were two. One was KUIU, an extreme hunting brand. I think that they really changed the game in hunting apparel. I don’t hunt but I have friends that had told me about how amazing it was and I had the opportunity to meet with Jason [Hairston, KUIU’s CEO,] and see what he was doing and how he was doing it. We developed a good friendship and working relationship. His customers are so passionate about what he does. Also with Kitsbow, which is a mountain biking brand. I just love their voice and the way they’re so authentic, which to me is the same way I feel about trail running. It’s more of a partnership with their customers rather than smoke and mirrors marketing.

Q:
Describe your business background.
A:
I grew up in a very small, rural town, and I was really into skateboarding, BMX, anything outdoors. I went to school for engineering, did that for about seven or eight years and had a friend that started an apparel company in the action sports/skateboarding category and he needed help, and I started helping him. It was called Split, and it was one of the first action sports companies that was multisport: skate, surf, snowboarding, BMX, freestyle motocross. We built a brand around that and I ended up becoming a partner with him and becoming the president of the brand. We had that company for 12 years and then from there I started another company called One Distribution and the first brand we started was KR3W, which was an apparel brand. We kind of made the guy in skinny jeans that skateboards. Then from there, we started SUPRA, the footwear brand, which became a world recognized brand in the sneaker market. It was really again mixing function and high-quality product and building a really authentic brand that had its own point of view. We ended up selling One Distribution back in June 2015 and I pretty much started the idea for PATH two weeks after that.

Q:
How did you get into running from the skateboarding industry? Was it always a part of your life?
A:
It started about 12 years ago. As you get older you always want to stay in shape and for me, I tended to be traveling a lot and I just started running because basically it was easy to bring a pair of shoes and it was a good way to see wherever I was. It started with a challenge from a friend to do a half marathon, which took a lot longer [and a lot] more difficult training than I thought. But once I discovered running outdoors and running trail, everything changed for me. That was about six years ago. That whole mix of being out by myself and hunkering up for a long run and seeing things — that excitement is a little bit like skateboarding and other things where there’s a little bit of fear and unknown with what you’re doing. And mixing that with a physical challenge kind of clicked for me.

Q:
You mentioned running shorts led your desire for better clothing. What was it about shorts/running gear that you thought needed to be fixed?
A:
It started, which is kind of strange, with the pockets. Most shorts have one zip pocket, and you put multiple things in and you’re reaching for food and your key falls out, or something else. Or everything’s banging together while you’re running, or it’s just too much weight in one spot. So that was one thing that was like, ‘well, why can’t I have shorts that have multiple pockets that are zipped, that are balanced,’ you know?

I just couldn’t find anything that I thought was actually made well.

The second thing was the liner configuration. Whether it was a basket type liner that left you rashed after a couple hours or chafed; or the way the stitching was just an overlock in a bad area where there’s friction. It was also just the materials in general. They would use really cheap nylon with spandex and it absorbs water and breaks down really quickly.

I just couldn’t find anything that I thought was actually made well. I was trying to find that perfect liner. I wanted a liner that was more like a brief that breathed really well, that was light, that functioned really well. I would think in summer that I had found the perfect material but then in winter I would run and it was different circumstances and it wouldn’t work as well. We started breaking out the liner form the short so that we could test them separately and I had this aha moment where there’s no reason why the liner should be sewn in, it works so much better when they’re separate.

It eliminated multiple problems. If you go running in different conditions, then you want different materials and different lengths. You have that flexibility to wear that in your base liner. The second thing is that if your short is bouncing around and you have things in your pockets then that’s not tugging on your liner. We developed these liners that have a little bit higher elastic, so your short actually sits on the elastic and your short is moving with your body but it’s never touching your skin. We moved all the drawstrings, all the points on the short to the outside that have any friction, so you’ve got a smooth short on the inside and a smooth base liner on your body and you’re getting zero friction. If you’re wearing a snowboarding jacket you don’t wear it with a sewn-in t-shirt liner, you want to be able to change with the conditions.

Q:
In seeking these designs that you really wanted, was it difficult to find the materials that satisfied you?
A:
For the shorts it really took going to Japan and working with Toray. Toray, I feel, makes some of the best materials in the world. They don’t use spandex or lycra in their stretch, they use a mechanical stretch, which is a process of spiraling a yarn so you get the stretch without having to add lycra or spandex. It makes your short lighter because the spandex and lycra are heavier materials, so you get a lighter weight fabric, you get a stronger fabric, and it doesn’t absorb water like lycra and spandex.

Q:
Why go consumer direct?
A:
For us, the ability to put these much more expensive materials in the product, whether it’s having better high-quality fabrics or just the trims and zippers we use, all those things add up and this consumer direct model allows us to cut that second markup. So we can put a lot more money and a lot more resources into our product itself and there’s only a one-time markup. We can make it really affordable, which to me is really exciting.

Q:
Why no bright colors?
A:
We don’t use big logos, we wanted the color palette that you could wear all the time and not feel like you’re jumping out of some ’80s snowboarding look. When I run sometimes I stop and get food… [if you’re] just this neon striped weird thing, it’s just not my aesthetic.

Q:
What’s your go-to run?
A:
I’m in Southern California and I have a wetlands area right next to my house that allows me to run anywhere from six to ten miles through the wetlands. It’s beautiful in the mornings, it’s foggy and there are birds. It’s kind of my getaway start-the-day run. I had the opportunity to run in Iceland this summer and that was like another planet. It was probably the Holy Grail of trail running. I just want to go back.

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