After 15 years of creating performance product for mainstream athletic brands, 37-year-old Mark McGarry has stepped out on his own with York Athletics Mfg. His goal? To cater to the counterculture athlete.
The Boston-based brand’s customer, according to McGarry, is a 30-something physical- and mental-health enthusiast — immersed in action sports and the arts — who might not identify with conventional brands such as Nike, Adidas or Under Armour.
For its debut, the brand recently introduced two iterations of its Henry shoe, a low and a mid, built for a tempo run and cross-training workouts, respectively.
The shoes feature a toned-down color palette, atypical to the bold hues used in athletic footwear.
Just as unconventional as its target consumer is its sales approach: You’re not going to find York’s product offerings in brick-and-mortar stores.
The brand has adopted a strict direct-to-consumer sales focus. “We didn’t want to be anchored to wholesale, and [we wanted to] have full control of our brand as we get going,” McGarry said.
“Our brand and our purpose is so meaningful to us that I don’t want to rely on this sitting on a shelf next to a Nike shoe or an Adidas shoe and have people say, ‘I’ve never heard of them,’ and move on.”
Matt Powell, sports industry analyst with the NPD Group, said York’s direct-to-consumer approach makes growing tough, but not impossible, and comes with its benefits.
“They’ve got to have a robust social network with people buying [the message] and talking about it on their Facebook page and tweeting about it,” he said. “It’s a lot harder to market that way than it would be to have a store in Soho. But it’s a lot less expensive.”
Although it won’t be featured on shelves everywhere, York has joined forces with one retailer: Boston-based boutique Bodega.
“It gives them instant credibility when you’re in a retailer like that. Bodega is known worldwide as a real tastemaker,” Powell said.
Although McGarry is sticking to his guns with a direct-to-consumer sales approach, he hasn’t ruled out moving the brand into more doors. In fact, he — along with co-founders Travis and Kyle York — hope to employ retail partners on a case-by-case basis surrounding future activations.
The brand partnered with a new retailer in late March, West Coast-based online store Huckberry, for the release of the “Concrete” colorway of its Henry low and mid shoes.
York also partnered in mid-March with Marathon Sports in Cambridge, Mass., to host a free evening group run, offering pairs of the Henrys for runners to try out.
Highlighting its misfit athlete core are brand ambassadors as well as its sports and entertainment talent, which includes pro boxers Kevin Cobbs and Jason Kelly, snowboarder Eddie Wall, Miami-based fitness instructor and model Marilyn Rondon, and singer Lynn Gunn of the pop-punk band Paris.
McGarry said York would continue to advance its Henry silhouettes for upcoming seasons, introducing an all-black iteration with Dri-lex moisture management fabric for the summer, a breathable update for fall and a winter version for 2017.
While York has many more apparel and accessory options than footwear, McGarry expects roughly 97 percent of the brand’s sales to come from sneakers.