How a Fitness Movement Spread From Boston to 8 Countries and Scored a Brooks Sponsorship

The only thing more intense than a November Project workout is the rate at which the nonprofit fitness-focused organization is growing.

Brogan Graham and Bojan Mandaric established November Project eight years ago in Boston. Since then, its quirky yet effective brand of fitness — complete with early-morning high-fives and high-intensity movements — has expanded to eight countries over three continents.

Moving forward, expansion efforts will be backed by running powerhouse Brooks, with the two announcing a multiyear partnership in April. Here, the founders discuss how Brooks will aid their mission to get people fit for free.

Footwear News: How did the partnership with Brooks come about?

Brogan Graham: “We have a group that’s very strong in Seattle where Brooks’ headquarters is and one of our co-leaders, Brian Fischer, is employed by them. He came to us and said, ‘What if we elevate this conversation about bringing these families together?’ He was the original introduction to the powers that be. And Brooks has been coming out to November Project Seattle since the very beginning.”

How does November Project differ from run clubs?

Bojan Mandaric: “Run clubs, everybody kind of gathers in one place and you start running. Pretty quickly the fastest and slowest people separate. But the November Project workouts are purposely designed to be all in the same place, so if you take a snapshot you can’t tell who is winning, you can’t tell who is the fastest and who is the slowest, and that’s the beauty of it.”

What can people expect to see from Brooks and November Project moving forward?

BG: “You’ll see our leaders wearing the brand’s footwear and apparel. Our annual leadership gathering will happen at the Brooks headquarters, and you’re going to see an adjustment to our culture as we start to talk more about run. You’re going to see shared promotions and Brooks speaking about November Project as an opportunity for their community. It also gives our members a piece of notoriety with a real running brand saying, ‘November Project is legit.’”

How does this union differ from your past partnership with The North Face?

BM: “The North Face is focused mostly on outdoor apparel. Brooks specializes in running. That right there is the big differentiation.”

BG: “The North Face does a lot of things well in exploration and climb and snow sports, but their run and training apparel is coming along [and] their run and training footwear isn’t competitive in the places November Project exists. When we announced in New York that we are partnering with Brooks for the next two years there was a nonstop flow of people posting their shoes, they were enthusiastic through the roof. We are running and the people were already wearing Brooks product.”

The organization started organically, without a sponsor. Are you fearful you may lose credibility and the grassroots feel by aligning with another big partner?

BG: “Early on with The North Face, when we were only in 16 cities, it felt very grassroots and we thought our street credibility and name was fragile. We thought being next to a big brand could damage that. We’re in 49 cities now and are much more mature than we were then. We’re hands off with our leaders and hands on with decisions inside the movement, giving [us] the ability to operate on a local level with grassroots community size and an authentic feel. We have rules and understandings on what we think still matters. If you go to November Project on a Wednesday you won’t see a big Brooks banner or a flag or stickers being handed out.”

BM: “We’ve grown to a point where having a corporate backing makes [us] stronger rather than being a disadvantage.”

What are your biggest challenges and opportunities?

BG: “Breaking people out of their norm is a challenge. Unlike a gym, we’re not trying to wrap our arms around our members and say, ‘Only do this, we want you here.’ We think well-rounded athletes are doing lots of different things. And the opportunity no one really talks about is November Project is free.”

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