Long having aspirations to serve runners with performance in mind but aren’t willing to sacrifice style, Heartbreak Hill Running Co. has delivered its first fashion-focused apparel collection.
The idea for “Never Fold,” according to Heartbreak Hill co-owner Dan Fitzgerald, took shape last year on a cross-country trip to record the retailer’s docuseries, dubbed “The Van.” The store’s other co-owner, Justin Burdon, hit the road with Luc Larson, GM of the Chicago store, where the spark came in part from Larson’s desire to make a custom deck of cards.
With the initial idea solidified, Heartbreak evolved the storytelling to take on a deeper meaning.
“Being a runner and getting on the starting line is always a bet on yourself, but ‘Never Fold’ also touches on so many different things about the pandemic, about life,” Fitzgerald said. “We try to touch cultural elements rather than just running cultural elements, stand alongside the biggest things in life and relate them to our sport as much as we can.”
He continued, “You’re not going to be that broad with every collection, but I’m really proud of this one because I thought the product came out great and it also felt meaningful and of the moment.”
The “Never Fold,” collection ranges in price from $12 to $60 and consists of looks for men and women including T-shirts, hats, sweatshirts and more. Additionally, it features accessories synonymous with the theme such as pins and playing cards.
The release of “Never Fold” is just one step in Heartbreak’s journey to define its distinct point of view within run, much like two of Fitzgerald’s favorite brands — Kith and Supreme — have done with style-savvy consumers.
“When I think about Supreme and Kith, they had their own brand identity first, they had strong vendors, evolved to have their own lines alongside the best vendors and then collaborated with the best vendors through their lens,” Fitzgerald said. “The energy of Heartbreak comes through our brand. We’re not just a place that sells the things you read about in Runner’s World. We’re a place that exudes its own culture, which reflects the runners who walk into the store. Some people might walk in and say, ‘What the hell is this?’ and somebody who is into running will say, ‘This is my place’ having never been here.”
Having taken its first step in private label, the retailer is ready to release lines with regularity, although it will steer away from casual and move toward technical apparel.
“We’re working on a complete line of technical running garments, that’ll be tops and bottoms for running,” Fitzgerald said. “Our aspiration is two seasons a year, spring/summer and fall/winter, and then some heat collections like a major marathon collection for our respective cities, Boston and Chicago, we well as other smaller drops and things we think are fun that inspired us along the way.”
He continued, “Maybe we’ll a full athleisure line as well, because it’s just kind of what we wear. We’ve always been in the T-shirt business but maybe we’d like to be in the T-shirt, sweatshirt, jogger sweatshirt business as well. But we’re going to get technical first and then round back to that.”
Although “Never Fold” is new, Heartbreak already has its follow-up collection planned, which will mark a special — and unusual — moment in the fall.
“There’s a once in a generation opportunity that the Olympics and all of the major marathons are jammed into the fall. That’s pretty special,” Fitzgerald said. “We want something that’s as bold as the moment that leans on personal inspirations of mine, that leans on high art and some personal history to create what I think reflects the Olympic spirit, and also looks like a party, something people will be really proud to race in.”
Beyond apparel and accessories, Fitzgerald said Heartbreak also has aspirations to venture into footwear — but it might not be what consumers expect.
“I would love to partner with our vendors to create a unique product with stories that can complement what we’re doing on the apparel side,” Fitzgerald said. “I could see us going sideways with something that’s surprising with footwear side, on the casual side. Maybe a post-run type thing, or a pre-run thing.”