Running has gone stale. Since the sport moved from the seclusion of university and professional venues to the mainstream in the 1970s, jogging apparel has become a wardrobe staple for anyone with a regular fitness regimen. Garments have routinely been improved since those early days, leading to advancements in both performance and comfort — but has running’s continual increase in popularity lead to an eventual plateau in the clothing we don when pounding the pavement?
Brice Partouche doesn’t think so. Partouche was born in Grenoble, France, and grew up in the French Alps during the heyday of skateboarding, snowboarding and punk rock. At age 17 he created his first brand, a skateboard clothing line called Biscuit (named after the punk band Gorilla Biscuits) and sold and traded clothing to friends. “I never intended on it becoming anything serious,” says Partouche. But years later, in 2001, he launched April77, a denim brand founded with the same ethos and focus on the youth culture he grew up in. Eventually, April77 expanded and became a music label as well.
Partouche’s entrepreneurial drive was fostered by his background in counter culture, and the no-holds-barred creative spirit that’s endemic to it. In his mind, running, despite its mainstream impression, is ripe for a shakeup. That’s why in mid-2015 Partouche moved forward with his next project: a running-focused apparel brand called Satisfy.
Q: What led you to start Satisfy?
A: I started running five years ago, mostly because I felt the need to step out of my comfort zone. It totally surprised me and I became quickly addicted, running 200km per month. I was never attracted to the culture of running, or running clubs, and even less to the clothes. It simply wasn’t cool in my humble opinion. But I liked the experience. The sense of meditation and quiet ceremony of running alone felt very similar to skateboarding to me, just none of the brands were talking about it this way. If you went into a running store, it was all performance, winning and bravado. I felt there was a need to celebrate the daily ritual of running and that’s how Satisfy was born.
Q: There’s a lot of running clothing out there, and many large companies providing it. How difficult is it to challenge the standards they set?
A: I don’t think it’s difficult for us to challenge these standards because we aren’t imprisoned by the same artificial straight jacket as the large players in the industry. These companies run on mass production scales, which require long lead times, inflexibility and risk aversion. We are catering to a niche, not the masses, which means we can be incredibly flexible and can actually act on the changing demands of the industry and our consumers.
Q: Running clothing needs to be functional, and many people think that’s all it should be. How much room is there in running clothing to get creative?
A: Runners are never just runners. At Satisfy, for example, we come from a variety of industries including design, music, technology and have many other passions outside of running. This multidisciplinary approach to our work is visible throughout the entire process. For example, we might use a wetsuit top as inspiration for a thermal layer or incorporate a woven medical fabric we’ve seen used in medical bandaging as it allows for strong yet breathable construction. Creativity is about more than just the final product — it’s how it’s conceived, designed, produced and finally how it’s sold. We are innovating across all of these.
Q: Is there something unique to running that makes it a good category for experimentation with style?
A: The running industry is ripe for disruption. On one hand, you have a sport built upon the very idea of experimentation and breaking boundaries and on the other, you have an oversized risk-averse industry who is not incentivized to innovate apparel. Take shorts for example — unlike shoes or timing technology, there has been little to no innovation in running shorts since the advent of the sport. Back in the 1970s running legends Steve Prefontaine and Frank Shorter used to rock a pair of silk split shorts on and off the track. It’s time to bring that rebellious energy and style back to the culture of running and improve upon it through modern design and technology.
Q: What’s the starting point for a new piece?
A: One of our guiding principles is that “good design prioritizes function always.” A lot of people are drawn to the brand by our aesthetic and look but this is really only the end result of good execution on utility. Take our signature running shorts for example: Runners love the double waistband and exposed linings — however, these features are designed to solve specific problems, like where to stash a key without it doing that annoying jingle on a long run or where to tuck in loose ties so they don’t rub against the skin. Similarly, we get a lot of comments on our exposed zippers and military flat-locked seams — these are methods that have been used in high-fashion for years to produce sturdier, longer-lasting garments, so it only made sense we employ them in running products which get a fair amount of abuse over the years.
Q: Do you consider Satisfy clothing to be fashion?
A: No. To be honest, I’m pretty ambivalent about the concept of “fashion” these days. Brands used to create next season’s trends in a vacuum for consumers — now the creator and the consumer are one in the same. Good design is no longer enough to sustain a business and brands often shift their identity around the changing desires of consumers. I believe it’s increasingly important to stay authentic to our mission and cater to our community, regardless of how niche it is.