When most people think about buying a new pair of running shoes or running shorts, a few billion-dollar brands come to mind: Nike, Adidas, Brooks, and New Balance, to name a few. Sure, you might think, if pros use this gear to win races, won’t it help me run faster? The truth is that it probably won’t—that’s up to your legs. In full transparency, I’m hoping to dispel the myth that big corporations make the best running gear. By most metrics, they don’t.
Start with the obvious evidence to the contrary. Have you ever noticed that every pair of running tights looks the same? Black and shiny with the same pocket layout. Or that running stores have walls of shoes that all look the same? That’s because big brands stagnate, shying away from innovation that’s deemed risky. This creates homogenous shapes, cuts, and colors across the industry.
So, before you become a Nike clone walking around the Swoosh Death Star, take a look at this list of gear from small, independent running brands. These folks focus on you, the runner, the weirdo, the pioneer, the unique runner. Some make flashy and fun apparel; others produce subtle, performance-driven gear—and all of them bring creativity and innovation.
Unless you live in Brooklyn, odds are you haven’t heard of Bandit. Let us introduce you to New York City’s premiere community-driven running brand. Founded in October 2020 by Tim West, Bandit’s mission is to “Evolve the full experience of running.” The team plans to do that with premium products that live at the intersection of style and design (Ardith Singh, Bandit’s co-founder and chief design officer, was previously the SVP of Design at Bandier), unique storytelling, races, celebrations, and more. It all started with socks and hats, but the brand will begin rolling out limited performance and leisurewear drops come June. Subscribe to B-Mail and check Instagram for updates (by subscribing, you’ll secure your position on the waitlist for the membership).
A Boston-based startup that’s committed to giving 5 percent of its profits to international clean water projects, Janji will help you look good on the trail while you feel good about how you spend your money. Bright colors and whimsical patterns are trademarks of its design, which Janji collaborates on with artists and weavers around the world.Learn More
This Paris-based running brand is all about luxury technical running apparel. (Yes, this is a moth-eaten shirt. It’s a hallmark of the brand. Stay with us.) Founder Brice Partouche is all about textiles and isn’t shy about sourcing the most premium fabrics (albeit at a premium price). The brand releases drops inspired by everything from American rock band Sonic Youth to Stonehenge.Learn More
The female founders of Rabbit saw a problem and started the company because they said (their words, not mine), “running shorts were too complicated, too fussy, and downright ugly.” Taking pride in Southern California roots, Rabbit products are manufactured in Los Angeles. Warm colors and baby-soft fabrics help Rabbit gear stand out.Learn More
When Ciele started out, it only made running caps, most of them color blocked in clever patterns. Based in Montreal, our neighbors to the north discovered a hat niche and quickly became the premium brand for stylish, quick-wicking hats. They realized—and you should, too—that baseball caps suck for running. It’s time to upgrade to a GOCap.
Smack-dab in the middle of Ivy League fashion and the Boston Marathon pursuit of excellence, you’ll find Tracksmith, a brand obsessed with New England heritage. Tracksmith offers a classic look paired with high-performance wicking materials. While most brands look toward the future for inspiration, Tracksmith goes the other way.Learn More
Three friends came together to make a new style of running shoe, and 10 years later it’s one of the world’s fastest-growing footwear brands. Born in the Swiss Alps, On set out to revolutionize the feeling of running, primarily by focusing on soft landings. The shape and sole design of On shoes make them stand out in a lineup; the explosive rebound stands out on the road and trail.Learn More
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