Cool Runnings: The rise of style-driven running gear

Words: Conan Marshall

We take a look at the running brands that pursue style and visual storytelling along with gear functionality.

Photo by Hunter Bryant

Photo by Hunter Bryant


As running becomes evermore popular among the masses, customers are becoming tired of commercial running apparel. Mainstream sports brands that create vast sums of revenue can sometimes lose sight of their audience, leading to a lack of passion behind the product on sale. This has led to an interest in the numerous style-drive running brands who offer another level of authenticity. These companies are targeting the quiet majority of runners who aren’t elite athletes nor beginners, nonetheless, running has become an integral part of their lifestyle.

If you follow enough running related pages on Instagram, you’ll eventually bear witness to a steady stream of running related promotions as you scroll through your newsfeed. A promotional video titled Born to Run from Satisfy recently popped up on my phone screen. This brand creates ‘premium’ running apparel and it easily caught my attention with its lo-fi retro visuals like that found on a fine-art students Vimeo page.

Satisfy was created by skater Brice Partouche, who didn’t start running until he was in his mid-30s but fell in love with it shortly. In an interview with GQ, he mentioned how he saw a lack of authenticity and artistic flair among running gear. This company has a refreshing take on running and more power to it.

It’s evident that there’s a higher quality of product, but when a pair of running shorts is priced at £235, it’s hard to see this brand attract anyone other than an elite and exclusive clientele.

Despite the pricey nature of the clothing on offer at Satisfy, no doubt there’s a customer base hungry for what’s on offer. And you can’t deny it looks good. There’s a limit to the flashy neon stripes so prevalent in running apparel, with more focus on muted colours and carefully considered design choices.

One running brand that’s on the cheaper side of the spectrum yet offers the same muted, minimalist retro fashion is Tracksmith. The same level of genuine authenticity can be viewed when reading up on their website.

An online journal features stories from real runners and designers collaborating with the clothing company. Everything is of a high quality, including the photography and writing. One article titled Blessed be the Mad Ones, features two Irish brothers who contemplate leaving their city jobs to pursue running. This makes for a great read.

It’s easy to see that Tracksmith aims at attracting runners who are tired of the commercialized and impersonal nature of mainstream brands. Iffley Road is another small running brand that offers an insight into its world via a journal consisting of kit guides, podcasts, book recommendations and much more.

Here’s the recent advertisement from Tracksmith:

It’s not just about the nice visuals. Many of these brands are valuing stories behind running rather than merely showcasing products via a cold celebrity endorsement.

This can best be seen with the iconic outdoor eco-clothing brand, Patagonia, which has built a reputation over the years for its in-depth storytelling and sustainability. Known for their long lasting jackets, they also offer an array of running gear. One great example of Patagonia’s use of storytelling is in their recent short film Ultra Running in Navajo Nation, featuring Ultra-runner Eli Neztsosie.

Founded by Tim Soar, Soar Running aims at having a conscious focus on including style as well as functionality into running gear. This is not surprising knowing that Tim Soar has a background in fashion and design. Despite not having the budget of the bigger brands, Soar makes an effort to engage with their audience through the Soar Mile run.

You won’t struggle to find other running brands on a mission to develop ‘cool’ quality gear. With the likes of Path Projects, Ciele Athletics and Runinrabbit all fitting into the category of ‘niche’ and ‘stylish’. There is no shortage of these smaller stylish brands on the internet. Most, if not all of them feature an online journal giving its customers more than just running gear. It’s fair to say that Nike and Adidas could learn a lot from these companies, especially in terms of sustainability and storytelling.

One must remember the real goal of running, the sense of community and fulfilment it brings to people’s lives, it can be too easy to get carried away with what your wearing while on a jog. This seems to be the main strength of these brands, not the hip nature of the t-shirts but the attempts to make running feel more human through their blogs, journals and quality of product.

Running brands now know the importance of using visual storytelling and real stories to attract a loyal customer base of runners with a willingness to spend big. Many runners are conscious about their lifestyle choices and sit in between professional and beginner, understandably, they’re willing to pay the high price for this stylish running apparel.