Tracksmith Raises $4.1 Million to Build its Understated Running Apparel Brand

For this start-up, it's all about content and commerce.
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Eliza Brooke
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For this start-up, it's all about content and commerce.
A Tracksmith race kit. Photo: Tracksmith

A Tracksmith race kit. Photo: Tracksmith

In a market full of apparel that skews ever more neon and high-tech, Tracksmith launched a little over a year ago with the aim of providing runners something a little different: simple clothing in classic colors like red, white and muted blue — some of which are fashioned in technical fabrics, and some of which are not. You can buy a $55 cotton-rayon tee made in a 100-year-old mill in Massachusetts because, as Tracksmith founder and longtime runner Matt Taylor explains, even elite athletes train in cotton t-shirts. 

"If you're going for a short run, it works just fine," he adds.

You could say that Tracksmith's old school/new school approach to design mirrors its business model, as well. Like Warby Parker and Everlane, it was born online as a direct-to-consumer company. Also like the Warby Parkers of the world, it pulled its first round of funding — $1.6 million last summer — from a slew of tech-focused venture capital firms, including 14W, Index Ventures and Lerer Hippeau Ventures. Everlane founder Michael Preysman got in on that round, too.

Now Tracksmith has closed a $4.1 million Series A round from, of all things, an investor fully seated within the apparel industry. That would be Pentland Group, a UK-based company that was an early investor in Reebok and owns brands like Speedo, Kangaroos and Boxfresh.

"They have incredible experience in finance and the back end [of building a brand]. I think our strengths are in knowing running culture. We're engrossed in the brand positioning and marketing," Taylor says. "I think they bring a lot of expertise that we wouldn't have been able to get from a tech VC."

And with Pentland's exceptionally firm handle on building athletic apparel brands comes the understanding that you can't build a clothing company overnight — a stark contrast to the rapidly scalable tech products that many venture capitalists are looking at.

"Pentland is a great long-term financial partner for us," Taylor says. 'They're going to help us grow — and grow smart and strategic — and not rush into things because we want to get to the [Series] B round really quickly."

Tracksmith's long-term plans include, among other things, building its international presence. About 20 percent of sales currently come from abroad, with Canada, Australia and the Nordic countries well represented; although the brand doesn't yet ship to Asia, Taylor says there's a solid amount of demand coming in from Japan, Korea and Singapore.

In the shorter term, the brand is working on its content-commerce game to keep shoppers engaged, having launched a quarterly runner's magazine called Meter. 

"It's been an effective customer acquisition tool for us," Taylor says. "We're going to continue with the magazine and do six to eight features quarterly, but we'll expand our footprint online too. We'll use [digital] to have a broader reach and scale it more quickly."

Tracksmith is also working on growing its women's category, which launched in April. Taylor said he expects that within a year, it will comprise half of sales, if not more. 

Update: A previous version of this article misstated Pentland Group's name as Pentland Brands. Pentland Brands is the brand management division, while Pentland Group is the company's investment wing.