Style: Path Projects’ new model in running apparel

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on November 2, 2017.

Path Projects has opened a web store for the silent majority of runners, neither elite athletes nor beginners. Photos by Bloomberg

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Another start-up is taking a crack at the massive market for running apparel. California-based brand Path Projects has opened a web store for a small collection of shorts, shirts, hats, and base layers designed for the silent majority of runners, neither elite athletes nor beginners. You know, the full-time office drone who just wants a personal record at the local 10K.

It’s the now standard direct-to-consumer economics: e-commerce that promises value by cutting out the middleman and keeping the marketing budget close to zero. Long-distance runners should appreciate this efficiency more than most. Also, the gear is quite good.

The line is perhaps best defined by what it lacks. There is no neon, but only muted greys and black. There are no celebrity endorsements. Items are neither tight nor baggy, and the most expensive product costs US$48 (RM203).

The Rockies three-quarter-sleeve T-shirt has a seam from the collar diagonally to the armpit. It’s a design for baseball players needing shoulder mobility, but it works handsomely for runners. The three models of shorts are ultra-light, breathable, and scattered with discreet zippered pockets, including an iPhone-sized pouch at the small of the back. The company’s base layers come in a range of thicknesses, so runners can adjust for changing temperatures.

“There’s a huge opportunity to disrupt here,” said Path founder Scott Bailey. “The wholesale model is basically selling to people who stifle innovation; the buyers just want what sold well last year.”

Path isn’t alone. It’s among the latest start-ups that say Big Sportswear is missing the majority of the running market. In England, there’s Ashmei and Iffley Road. Denmark has Doxarun, known for its tights and jackets. Isaora sells expensive training gear and parkas out of its New York headquarters. In Boston, there’s Janji, a five-year-old brand, and Tracksmith, which peddles a vintage, Ivy League aesthetic from its new location at Newbury Street.

These brands are popping up with the frequency of craft beers or indie bands. Among certain groups of runners, wearing a full kit from Adidas and Nike is akin to gushing about your affinity for Coors Light or Coldplay.

Make no mistake, nobody in Beaverton, Oregon, or Herzogenaurach, Germany, will be alarmed by this new batch of competitors. With two employees, Path makes just about 30 different garments. It doesn’t have any products designed specifically for women, and it’s financed via credit cards, and not venture capital.

Bailey, meanwhile, had previously surprised the sneaker empires. In 2002, he launched denim-heavy apparel brand KR3W aimed at skaters. Four years later, he followed with Supra, a line of sneakers from street-style high-tops to technical skater models. In 2015, Bailey sold both brands — operating as One Distribution — to K-Swiss Inc for US$100 million.

Tracksmith chief executive officer Matt Taylor is emboldened every time he sees sportswear giants’ advertisements on running, which, he contends, either highlight elite athletes or beginners slogging their way to a 5K finish line. “As long as they keep doing that,” he said, “I’m happy.” — Bloomberg