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The launch of Brooklyn-based running apparel company Only Atoms was a long time in the making—not when you compare it to billions of years that lapsed between the Big Bang and the birth of our solar system—but, still. The label's founder, Beth Weinstein, spent eight years developing her line of functional, affordable gear.
Back in 2006, Weinstein was working in product development at Rebecca Taylor and waking up at the crack of dawn every morning to squeeze in a quick run before her commute. And while her workout clothes got her from Point A to Point B just fine, they were missing some crucial details. Like waistbands that didn't need to be folded to sit comfortably at mid-hip, and pockets for debit cards (essential for days when your sprint ends at an endless-mimosa brunch).
So, inspired by the running apparel industry's shortcomings (and by Only Atoms' unofficial patron saint Neil DeGrasse Tyson) Weinstein set to work on turning her marathon outfit wish list into a reality. "We're all made of these very same atoms," she says "So I want to put everyone on the same plane, where the person who has never run for longer than 15 minutes can feel just as good as the person in the Olympics."
We sat down with the entrepreneur to talk about her locally-produced line (available at OnlyAtoms.com), her favorite hidden running route in New York City, and why you should never wear yoga clothes on a run.
Only Atoms came about because you were frustrated with mass market running apparel. What are some functional features that set your line apart?
The necklines of women's running clothes have bothered me for years—they tend to be really high. First of all, it's not flattering, but more importantly it makes you really hot. You want less fabric that will allow sweat to just drip down. And of course you also want to look cute and be able to show off the work you put into your upper body. So I lowered the necklines so that they were appropriate and the tops looked like ones you could wear anywhere.
And then the waistlines—I've made the capris a little lower-waisted. You still see girls at the gym folding down their clothes, trying to make them fit the right way, and that's something I am really out to change.
Also, I've never been able to find a pair of running shorts that fits a metro card. I've been working in the fashion industry for 15 years and I know for a fact it wouldn't cost brands much more to increase standard pocket sizes by a quarter inch. It's such a minor thing, honestly, but when you're living in a city, you have to depend on things like pockets.
You have a very strong no-yoga-clothes-while-running stance.
You see people out there running in yoga clothes, because, well, yoga clothes today are really stylish. But running is extremely different from yoga. You can't go run a marathon in yoga clothes. I mean, you physically can, but the functionality is just so different; the chaffing, the wicking, the fits. The fits are really important.
You produce everything in NYC, and all of your items are under $75. Tell us, how much are some of the bigger activewear labels who manufacture their clothing overseas overcharging?
I've been affected by the changing fashion industry myself. I've lost my job two or three times now, and I've seen how things have shifted. As long as I can afford to do it and still be able to maintain some standard of living (I've chosen to take a lower margin for the first few years) then, yeah, I want to do it down the street. The reality is, I know how much it costs some major activewear brands to produce, and I know the margins they're taking. Do they need to charge so much for a top? No.
However, I think the whole industry will change if we change the conversation to buying things that are made in a more sustainable manner, not buying things made in huge quantities where a majority of the products get marked down and go into off-pricing and then into landfills. I don't believe in that. My model is about only producing that which we can sell. The factory workers in New York City need to be paid well, and I know that they are, because the factory I work with is very transparent.
New York City is the future for many brands. This is where consumers will pay $9 for a bar of chocolate, $6 for a jar of pickles, because they know the product is better quality and made by a company with a real stance behind it.
Why is it so important to you that the line isn't just produced in New York City, it's produced for New York City runners, specifically?
A huge part of the brand is to have fun and get out there, even in a city that can be as intimidating as New York. For years, I've had friends say to me that they were afraid to run. And I think it's because athletic brands make it seem really hard with pushing the whole getting stronger, running faster thing. But in reality, most of us are out there to have fun, connect with others, and feel good about ourselves. We're not out there to be professional runners.
There are Neil DeGrasse Tyson quotes all over the Only Atoms site. Was the line inspired by him?
It's obvious, the name doesn't sound like a running brand—that was intentional! I can get really deep on this, but basically we're all connected in this world we're living in, as humans. There is this thing when you're running races—I've even experienced it just running in different countries where I don't speak the language—when you're running alongside a complete stranger and you have this sense of knowing what they're feeling, you have this connection.
So I couldn't stop thinking about this connection; trying to figure out what it's all about. And what it really comes down to is that with all matter in the universe there is nothing that actually sits alone. Even if you break down an atom to its smallest particles they have never been known to be separated. And we're all made of these very same atoms, so I want to put everyone on the same plane where the person who has never run for longer than 15 minutes can feel just as good as the person in the Olympics
What's your advice for people who want to get into the sport, but are intimidated? Training to run a marathon can seem so daunting!
Running, be it a marathon or a 5k, has served as a metaphor for my life, and I see this with a lot of people I run with. We were all once at that point where we couldn't run more than 20 minutes, but we pushed through, we put our minds to it, we began to plan, and join running groups. You start to realize you can do this—actually, you can do anything. This is really important not only to business, but to life, and it's why I think it's really important to get all people out and running.
What's your favorite hidden New York City running route?
There's a bridge by JFK airport that connects Broad Channel to the Rockaways—The Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge. At sunset, running over the water, the views of the city are amazing and it leads you to a waterside bar in the Rockaways.
What's the city's most challenging route?
Jehovah's Hill in Brooklyn Heights! That's not the official name, but since the hill is near the Jehovah's Witness building, that's what I call it. Sure, it's a short hill, but it's one of the steepest in New York City —great for hill repeats. —by Ellen Thompson
· Only Atoms [Official Site]
· Feel the Burn [Racked NY]
· So You Want to Run the NYC Marathon? Here's Where to Start [Racked NY]