Travel & Living

Matt Taylor: The Entrepreneurial Runner

The founder and CEO of Tracksmith talks brand development and community building.
Reading time 8 minutes
Photo courtesy of The Manual

Matt Taylor left his job at sportswear giant Puma and took a chance on a solo venture with the foundation of his own company, Tracksmith, in 2014. Today, the New England-based premium running label flourishes as a glorification of the art of running with stylistic designs and signature silhouettes. Tracksmith was born in Boston, where its flagship store now resides, and continues to grow as a monument of the culture and heritage of exercise. We spoke with Taylor about building his brand as he approaches the five-year anniversary of its start. See what he had to tell us below.

 

Yale Breslin: You’re celebrating five years of Tracksmith very soon – since the brand's launch, how has it changed and evolved from the initial idea?

Matt Taylor: Tracksmith launched with the goal of changing the way running was portrayed. At the time, the major players in the industry were either focused on hyper-elite performance or chasing athleisure trends, which neglected the core of the sport – those amateur runners who lived a lifestyle of training and racing. The market as a whole was pretty homogenous and uninspiring. Our founding ambition was to celebrate the amateur spirit and reinvigorate the running lifestyle.

Five years later, running has seen a cultural shift. As so often is the case in periods of uncertainty (think the running boom of the ‘70s), people turn to the sport for its structure and community. Now more than ever, you see running offering an opportunity for people to get offline, connect with others and challenge themselves. The sport has seen renewed energy in cities, with the rise of running crews attracting newcomers, who connect with the promise of community and self-improvement. Ultra-running is growing in terms of participation, competitiveness, and media attention. Women’s running, at both the pro and amateur levels, has never been more competitive. Tech-brands like Peloton and Strava are transforming how people train and engage with other athletes. As a result, we’ve grown alongside these changes, investing in the community with physical activations and products that speak to committed runners. Our goal - to champion the sport’s amateur spirit and racing culture - hasn’t changed, so much as we’re seeing the landscape of running become even more conducive to that message. 

YB: Your approach to building a brand is an interesting one that’s not about following trends. What are some of the key pillars ingrained in your company?

MT: I’m a runner, and have been for most of my life. My approach to brand building is very much informed by my background in the sport - you have to build a strong foundation of fitness before you can start racing. So from the earliest days, we invested deeply in building unique products that are steeped in running culture and supporting them with rich storytelling, photography, and experiences. From the logo to the name and our tone of voice, we’ve been very deliberate about making choices that have gravitas and are deeply ingrained in the sport. A lot of those original choices - for example, identifying New England as a key part of the brand - have helped us remain clear-eyed as we’ve grown. We deliberately don’t chase trends, but rather stay committed to crafting products and telling stories that reflect the running lifestyle.

YB: The name is an attention-grabbing one – and there’s real meaning behind the two words. Can you tell me a little bit about the ideation behind the name?

MT: Naming is hard, but we did a lot of obsessing to find one that reflects the spirit of the brand and what we’re trying to achieve. We wanted a name that communicated our passion for racing and craftsmanship. The “Track” is a sacred place for runners: it’s where you go to put in work and to race and test yourself. “Smith” represents craftsmanship: the care and precision with which we approach everything we do. 

YB: New England is in your roots. What are some of the design aesthetics that you’re constantly tapping into?

MT: We’re inspired by classic New England style - the rich collegiate color palette, the preference for understated silhouettes, and the obsession with durable, quality, and utilitarian pieces. There’s a tremendous amount of running history in the region, as well, which provides endless opportunities for exploration. 

YB: You’re a runner – how have your clothes changed your running experiences?

MT: A good short won’t make you faster, but a bad short can certainly slow you down. Perhaps my most memorable experience was a race that inspired one of the first shorts we introduced: the Longfellow Shorts. I was running the steeplechase at Penn Relays in Philadelphia and for some reason, I thought a pair of long mesh basketball shorts would be appropriate racing attire. The problem is, in the steeplechase, you go through a water jump on every lap, which meant my shorts got water-logged and droopy very fast. The crowd started chanting “Long Shorts” every time I approached the water jump, either as encouragement for me to keep my shorts on or in hopes they’d fall off, who knows. After that race, I vowed to make a pair of long running shorts for running hard in any conditions. 

YB: You’re all about community, which is why you launched The Trackhouse. Can you tell me a little bit about why this is so important to the brand?

MT: We always knew that having a physical space to support runners would be essential to growing the brand. What we love most about running are the shared experiences - the hard workouts, the races, the post-run meals -  and we wanted to provide a space for athletes in Boston to connect through these experiences. There’s something special about putting in a hard effort with other people. Over the past year, we’ve also been investing in ways to connect with more runners globally, whether that’s through communities like our Hare A.C. team or in activations at different races around the world. 

YB: You’ve had an amazing trajectory leading you to Tracksmith. What did your previous positions teach you about launching a business? 

MT: I grew up in Pittsburgh with a family history in the steel and coal industries. When the steel industry declined in the 1980s, my father lost his job. I was very young at the time, but it planted the seed of wanting to have more control over my own career. Around the same time, my mother opened a small store of her own, so I saw firsthand the opportunities and challenges of entrepreneurship. These experiences helped give me perspective on the rollercoaster ride that is building a business. 

As far as career experiences go, it took me a while to really find my footing. But as things progressed, I focused more and more on running - it’s where my passion and expertise overlapped - and had a great opportunity to work at PUMA. While at the time my career path felt a bit meandering, I’ve come to appreciate the way that every working experience is valuable for entrepreneurship. The reality of building a business is you’re constantly trying to learn something new. Whether that’s understanding the nuts and bolts of fundraising or opening our first retail store, it’s a constant learning process. Those early explorations allowed me to understand what I don’t know and where I need support from a team.

YB: What are your thoughts on the "everyone gets a medal" mentality?

MT: To me it’s all about mindset. I believe you should toe the line to race, not just to participate. I don’t care how fast you go, but we get so much more out of running when we challenge ourselves and set goals along the way. Sometimes you’ll achieve them and sometimes you’ll fall short, but either way, you’re learning something about yourself through that process of racing. Those learnings are what help us to grow and progress as human beings.

YB: Your HQ is in Boston. How has that helped or deter the growth of your brand?

MT: Boston is essential to our brand DNA. We're deeply inspired by our Boston roots and aim to celebrate the local running culture. The changing seasons, the legendary races, and the amateur ideals of the region's college and club teams are all reflected in our brand and our ethos. We’re also in good company: New Balance, Saucony, Asics, Reebok and more all operate from here, so there’s a wealth of talent and experience in Boston. I can’t imagine building this brand anywhere else.

Tags

related posts

Recommended posts for you