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Matt Taylor x Chris Black

Notes on
Performance and Style

Matt Taylor sat down with style critic, podcast host and runner Chris Black to share the story behind the new Tracksmith Eliot Runner and discuss the intersection of design, technology and performance.

Chris Black: When did the idea to create a Tracksmith shoe come about?

Matt Taylor: The concept of Tracksmith was to build a global lifestyle running brand. Apparel was just the starting point. And frankly, at the time, men's apparel specifically was ripe for disruption, so that was where we started, but the goal has always been to have a running shoe.

It took us a long time to get to this point, with a lot of trial and error along the way. But now we have a team with a lot of great footwear expertise and design talent, and I’m super excited with the results. 

CB: As an outsider, making a shoe seems incredibly difficult.

MT: Yes and no. The basics around how to create a competent, decent ‘standard’ running shoe are well understood by now. But to create something that delivers a new sensation to what already exists on the market was really challenging. There definitely was a lot of learning over the past several years, but there are some ways to accelerate the process. It's a similar approach to the one we took to apparel, which is to just invest in the best raw materials. When you put the best raw materials into the product, you guarantee some level of success. And then there are some essential things around the geometry and shape of a shoe and how the different components work together. But to get to our vision and the sensation we wanted to create, there was just a lot of trial and error. So yes, it is complex. And with the super shoes, specifically on the marathon side, that’s taken things to a whole new level. But the reality is for both committed runners and people who run as part of their fitness regime, our shoe is going to cover 90 or 95 percent of the mileage that you need in a training cycle. So we went for that – that tool that you need day in and day out.

CB: The aesthetic jumps out so obviously: it looks like a Tracksmith product. You have a pretty defined language and that comes through, but also, it doesn't really look like much else out there as far as technical footwear goes.

MT: That was intentional. The way we approach everything at Tracksmith is sort of understated and timeless – you could feel like it was from today or 50 years ago. 

CB: Something we need to talk about is the line between fashion versus performance. There's a little bit of a marriage of that here, but finding that line and also understanding what differentiates those two things is important. 

MT: I don't think you can set out to make a performance shoe that will catch fire on the fashion side. If it was that easy, everyone would do it. But there are some core tenets that give you the best opportunity to work well in both scenarios. For Tracksmith, we have to start with the performance. The shoe has to work. It has to work for committed runners. It has to work on short runs, long runs, fast runs, slow runs. And if we can solve for that, then bring in an aesthetic that also feels great in other settings, and with clothes other than split shorts, then we’re setting ourselves up to be in consideration. 

CB: Is the plan to move forward to introduce more colors? 

MT: You know, we wanted to have a single colorway that felt very Tracksmith at the start, but we'll definitely introduce new colors. 

CB: This shoe to me feels very relatable. As far as design goes, there's nothing that dates it. And that's what Tracksmith feels like as a whole. It doesn't need to be in your face. 

MT: Yeah, it's tried and true. It will work for the largest number of people for the largest amount of their training. The other thing that benefits us is that almost every brand that we're talking about here is driven primarily through wholesale channels. When you go to a shoe wall, you are forced to create a good-better-best in every category, and so designers have to create some forced distinction within all of these shoes that are from the same brand. We just have to create one shoe and not worry about how it competes with all the other shoes. We don’t have to answer, “why is this one going to be $10 more than the other one that's achieving the same thing?” That gives our team such freedom to just make the best product we can. 

CB: How does it feel though as a lifelong runner to run in your own shoes? It's like being a car guy and building a car from scratch. Most people don't get the opportunity.

MT: I haven't really thought about it that way, to be honest. The reality is, I spent a lot of time running in prototypes and some were pretty s*****. You're using substitute materials in horrible colors. That's why I run at six in the morning because half the time I'm in the most ridiculous looking outfit that I can pull together. I don't want anyone to see me. 

"It comes back to performance being the sexiest attribute. That's why fashion looks to sport for inspiration: performance is something that everybody looks for, no matter what."

Chris Black

CB: I didn't know that about prototypes, that's really interesting. It’s not about the look yet. It's about the function. Was there a sensation you were looking to recreate?

MT:  There are certain sensations that are very memorable to me as a runner. There’s a trail near my house that I run most mornings and it’s covered in pine needles. Every time you hit that trail after coming off the pavement, it’s just such a different sensation. If I could run all of my sessions on pine needles I would.

So that is one. The other is, there was an indoor track in Boston called the Armory. There’s a new one that’s modern and fast, but I’m talking about the old one that was made of wood. It was banked and made with wood slats. They just laid a thin track surface on top of it. And it was the only track that we ever ran on that felt like that. There were spots that felt like you hit a trampoline. It was like a video game hitting a turbo boost. It was the craziest sensation.

It was those sensations more than a particular shoe that I wanted to try to recreate. You’ll never nail it exactly, but you get to a point where you feel this little pep as you’re heading down the road.

CB: That's cool. It’s evoking a feeling. Let's switch gears. It's wild to me how much people will complicate something simple. I think about that a lot sometimes stuff that we do now, like the skincare business. It's so crazy how people spend so much money on it, and 50 years ago, people washed their faces with soap and water and it was totally fine. 

But it comes back to performance being the sexiest attribute. That's why fashion looks to sport for inspiration: performance is something that everybody looks for, no matter what. 

Before we end, I just wanted to ask about the sash. That's obviously the hero logo moment, for lack of a better term. it's nice to see something like that, where if you know what Tracksmith is and you're a fan of it you’re excited. It's a cool application of the sash – something you guys have used since your inception.

MT: We certainly wanted that icon on the shoe. And to be honest, that’s the part of the shoe that probably went through the most iterations. There were so many versions of it. Different fabrics, different angles, different placements. But in the end, we landed on frankly, the most simple, straightforward execution of it because it just works. It’s timeless.


Learn more about the Eliot Runner.