YORK Athletics | Co-Founder Mark McGarry
McGarry came from the footwear industry, most recently as PUMA's global head of lifestyle footwear. When he left the corporate world to start a product and design consultancy with his wife Elizabeth, now creative director for YORK Athletics, he found himself at a crossroad. "I got into boxing and started thinking more about my mental and physical health…but as a skateboarder who turned to training, I struggled to connect with the conventional brand messaging & product offering in the performance."
Co-founder Travis York was in a similar space. But as it may be, the industry was in his blood. York’s grandfather started Indian Head Shoe Company in 1946 outside of Boston. The company was one of the first performance footwear brands at the time, making cleats for NFL players and professional athletes. York used the family name to carry the legacy of the brand in performance footwear.
"It's a family affair," says McGarry. "We're a three-generation family owned business in the performance footwear space. That doesn't happen too often these days."
YORK Athletics was built off a hybrid of identities: the skater, the artist, the health and wellness activist, the fighter, the photographer, the trainer. McGarry puts it simply: "We're down for the black sheep who need to fight and just work harder than everyone else."
YORK Athletics is amongst this new generation of entrepreneurs: finding a niche, developing a product, and closely guarding the creation on all levels.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Co-Founder Mark McGarry and talk about the story behind the brand, the initial steps in getting it from idea to creation, and where they hope to go from here: day one.
Where were you before you decided to start YORK Athletics Mfg.? What’s the story of bringing this idea to fruition and who was involved in bringing it to life?
I left my seat at PUMA as global head of lifestyle footwear and started MCGARRY&sons with my wife Elizabeth. We started consulting with new ventures in the sportswear space with product strategy & design services. During this transition and leap of faith, I got into boxing and started thinking a lot more about my mental and physical health. As a skateboarder who turned to training, I struggled to connect with the conventional brand messaging & product offering in the performance space, and started dreaming up the original vision for YORK Athletics. That was, and still is, a true performance footwear brand for the black sheep and the fighters out there. My co-founder, Travis York, and I also wanted to maintain a small family vibe and aligned our values to his grandfather’s original performance sneaker manufacturing business, Indian Head Shoe Company, which was founded in 1946 in Manchester, New Hampshire. It was sick, they used to make custom footwear for professional athletes, including NFL Hall-of-Famer Johnny Unitas. My wife joined as our Creative Director, so it's totally a family affair and people have been stoked to learn we're a 3rd generation family owned business in the performance footwear space. That doesn't happen too often these days.
How were you able to fund the initial steps as a start-up? Crowdsourcing, investors, etc.?
We raised just under $1M in our seed round to get this thing started from friends and family. Our experience at the big brands like Nike, Reebok & Puma helped us secure funding but it’s rad, I think our investors and advisors all identified with our fighter and underdog mentality that we stand for and that we're not following the conventional path into the performance footwear space. We see ourselves as more of a black sheep health & wellness company than a traditional footwear brand. Also, we're a D2C model and we're only working with a few select retailers on a more strategic basis to maintain full control of our brand and customer experience.
Why footwear? What point of difference do you see YORK bringing to the market?
Footwear was the obvious choice for us, it was what our community asked for, and behind the scenes we liked that it authenticated the family heritage aspect of the brand. For our crew of misfit boxers and training enthusiasts we just couldn't identify with the 'pounding your chest' messaging from the big brands. It's obnoxious and un-relatable to us. If I had to boil it down, our main point of difference would be offering a new point of view in the wellness space by inspiring people to tap into their inner fight and use it to become more self-motivated and live a healthier life. We want to share this mindset and lace up our extended family with credible performance training sneakers that are unbranded and void of unnecessary BS.
You mentioned the YORK customer is someone who “lives with intention.” Can you touch on how YORK is speaking to this unique crossover consumer – the skateboarder, the runner, the artist, the musician, the fighter. How did these identities evolve when conceptualizing the brand?
It’s pretty simple, we stand for a certain mindset at the end of day. We're all fighters, true individuals and pride ourselves on carving out our own paths in life. That's what unites all of us and the fact that we're all thinking more about our mental & physical health these days. More people are living healthier lives, which is awesome, but there was a disconnect for our people that came up as skaters, artists, boxers, musicians, etc. Now we're like, we got you…it's okay you don't have to shed your skin to go work out. That's where YORK Athletics Mfg. fits in. We're not trying to speak to everyone – there's lots of other brands for that. We're down for the black sheep who need to fight and just work harder than everyone else.
Who are the ambassadors? Why this group of individuals?
Our misfit crew of ambassadors all share our values and our mindset, they’ve put in the time and have overcome so much to get where they are today. Their stories are worth sharing, they're real, relatable and inspiring.
Kevin Cobbs (Boston) – professional boxer and trainer
Jay Kelly (Boston) – professional boxer
Eddie Wall (Venice Beach) – professional snowboarder and training advocate
Taylor Ramsdel (LA) – trainer and owner of Chain Fitness in LA
Jon Humphries (Portland, OR) – skateboarder and photographer
Marilyn Rondon (Miami) – trainer and artist
Lynn Gunn (Boston) – singer / songwriter for PVRIS and women's rights advocate
Lindsey Byrnes (LA) – photographer and wellness advocate
What’s the Out Of Step journal? What are some of the pieces we can check out on the blog?
This is where we feature our ambassador stories, provide healthy living ideas and entertain our community. It's our platform to drive a new point of view into the wellness space. The current info out there is soft and done in a way where it’s a repellent to our community, it's just not relatable. This is where we want them to feel inspired and comfortable knowing that our content is built just for them, by folks just like them.
We just posted a piece on Jay Kelly on how meditation has helped him become a better fighter and creative person.
York Athletics Mgt. Men’s & Women’s Product
What will this first collection look like? What products can we expect?
All black, unbranded mid and low-performance trainers. The Henry is our signature model. The mid is cut below the ankle, has 2 way stretch internal stability bands and is perfect for outdoor or in the gym cross training activity. The low is a responsive neutral 'pacer' running sneaker with a breathable open mesh upper, TPU welded seams and compression molded EVA midsole. For the nerds out there, it’s a 9mm heel to toe drop.
We also have performance accessories available; arch compression 'pull up' socks, breathable mesh 5-panel hat, beanie, cotton blend tee's and duffel.
What is the retail plan for the initial launch? Do you plan to do limited distribution with smaller, taste-maker boutiques? If so, what does the product segmentation look like?
We're launching exclusively with our friends over here at Bodega in Boston and online at www.yorkathleticsmfg.com.
Will you do any pop-up shops, activations, or retail partnerships? Will there be an e-commerce platform?
Yep, we just did a pop-up event here in Boston in partnership with Bodega and the Rock On Foundation, our non-profit partner. We had an art auction to raise money for the Somerville Boxing Club's youth development program. We're planning on doing more activations like this soon in other cities.
What was the process like producing the initial product? Did you do wear tests and what was the reaction?
The process was a very similar yet very different to producing footwear like we've been doing for the last 15 years of our career. So much more time was invested in the leg work and relationship building with our vendors and factory partners. When you're the new guy without a big logo at your back, you have to work a little harder to get stuff done. Our wear test process went very smooth, thankfully. I brought on my friend and industry pro, Gary Siriano, as our footwear developer. He was a world-class distance runner and US Olympian Marathon trials finalist back in the day. He's been developing performance footwear for over 30 years at Nike, Asics, New Balance and Puma so no question he was our man to tackle this.
Gary worked closely with our boxers, trainers and marathon runners on a diligent wear test process to ensure these things are comfortable, credible and bomb-proof.