I am a runner. This fact invites a lot of commentary from my non-runner friends, who wonder why anyone would intentionally inflict breathless, gut-stabbing pain on themselves three or four times a week when they could be sleeping, drinking coffee, or basically doing anything that is not running. Even more baffling: Why would a person PAY MONEY to run for an even longer time in a huge crowd of like-minded crazy people?
The truth—and any runner who tells you differently is a liar—is that we do it for the T-shirts that you get when you participate in any sort of organized race. These T-shirts are splashed with logos, from the logo of the event itself to the logos of the local breweries, sporting goods stores, radio stations, energy drinks, and orthopedic centers that sponsor the race.
I learned recently that it’s possible to get dressed without looking like a walking billboard advertising a half marathon, a minor league baseball team, or whichever athletic gear company happened to make the hat, shirt, pants, underwear, or socks I’m wearing that day.
The Toronto-based sportswear company Athletes Collective is founded on the idea that athletes of all levels should be able to wear clothes without visible branding.
“Our message to the sports world is, it doesn’t matter what sport you play, or how often you do it, you’re still an athlete,” said Adam Mintz, co-founder of the company, along with longtime friend Charlie Friedmann. “You don’t need a logo across your chest to tell you that or to make you better at the sport you play.”
In an environment where athletes of all levels—from elite professionals who sign mega-contracts with Nike or Adidas to weekend warriors who identify with specific companies for whatever reason—the concept of wearing gear that wicks moisture without shouting carefully crafted marketing messages takes some getting used to.
“More than any other part of the fashion industry, sports apparel is extremely tribal, and that’s something that starts with the logo,” Mintz said. “Take away the logo and what are you telling the world? That you don’t care what the world thinks, and that a logo doesn’t represent who you are as an athlete.”
This simple but startling idea has garnered a fair amount of attention, resulting in coverage in media outlets such as the Toronto Star, Trend Hunter, and Run Oregon, among others. Clearly, the idea of not splashing your logo on every available space bucks the trends in the sports gear world right now.
“Some of the biggest changes within established industries started because a company went against the grain and found others who felt the same way,” Mintz said. “We’re hoping to be the movement athletes can relate to.”
It’s not that Athletes Collective doesn’t have a logo, it’s just that it’s not featured prominently on their clothing.
“We like to say that we have a logo, and you’ll find it everywhere but our clothes,” Mintz said. “We make it a point to have as much logo/brand recognition as possible so long as it’s not across the chest of any of our customers.”
The logo, designed by Michelle Barnes Design, features the letters AC interlocking to form a link, reflecting the concept of infinity—or the infinite potential of the athletes wearing the clothing. The brand clearly reflects Barnes’ design philosophies that “less is always more and clean design is timeless.”
Of course, the founders of Athletes Collective are sports fans, and sports fandom is basically glorified brand loyalty, so Mintz and Friedmann have their favorites. “We’re big fans of teams who have stayed true to their roots and stick with tradition,” Mintz said, singling out their hometown Montreal Canadiens, the revamped retro Atlanta Hawks logo, and the old-school logo that their adopted Toronto Blue Jays recently repurposed.
And I had to ask how they felt about the logo-free Cleveland Browns. “We definitely appreciate that they’ve stuck to their guns about not having a logo,” Mintz said.
The idea of not having a logo—or having one and not featuring it prominently—is just disorienting enough that we’re featuring it on a website dedicated to sports logos. It’s possible that the success of Athletes Collective signifies a movement away from obvious branding, and that athletic gear will go the way of, say, tuxedoes or flip flops, where the focus is on fashion or comfort rather than which logo you’re wearing.
And if that trend reaches the organized running race community, you’re going to see a lot of people wondering just why the heck they paid $75 to get up at 5:30 in the morning to run 13 miles in the dark.