In Durham circles, if you don’t know the name Runaway, you at least know DURM. And soon, the t-shirts that popularized the way natives pronounce their hometown will be part of a much larger brand that founders believe has international appeal.
It’s all due to a successful October Kickstarter campaign
, which gives Runaway Clothes
nearly $26,000 to help open its flagship store in the new American Underground @Market and the team led by artist and designer Gabe Eng-Goetz
the flexibility to develop new lines of clothing and forge retail relationships outside the Triangle.
The Durham native’s vision is to build an urban streetwear company with a focus on art and design.
“We want to scale to a level where boutiques across the world are carrying Runaway, and Durham is the launching point,” Eng-Goetz says. “A lot of what we’re doing now is putting Durham on the map as a creative mecca.”
Both Runaway and American Underground recognize the tie between successful startup and small businesses and a unique local culture that the people who work for those companies can embrace and promote. That's why @Market will open in early 2016
with a Beatmaking Lab for kids in the community to learn coding, mixing and other tech skills, as well as the store, which will host events, feature local artists and musicians and sell other locally-made goods. On the upper floors are the fastest-growing companies in American Underground.
American Underground Chief Strategist Adam Klein calls it "scaling deeply," which means creating density and connecting with youth and other populations. He believes that "sets Durham up for a long-term ecosystem and commitment to entrepreneurship."
But Runaway's vision is bigger than local. It wants Durham to become known for its unique culture, and subsequently, the brand of clothing born there. For Eng-Goetz, art is key.
Eng-Goetz has worked as a freelance artist and designer since graduating with a bachelor of fine arts degree in illustration from Syracuse University and moving back to his hometown in 2008. He worked as an art director at a screen printing and promotional products company for several years before deciding to launch his own brand in 2012. He started by selling hats and t-shirts online, but sales took off after he introduced the DURM line.
He brought on NCCU student and Clarion Content writer Justin Laidlaw as a co-founder focused on marketing and events in mid-2014 and the pair has since turned Runaway into a company that seems as much about clothing as it is about creating unique cultural experiences. Its seasonal parties feature models wearing Runaway clothing, as well as music by local DJs and bands, food by the region's chefs and restaurants, drinks by brewers and distillers in town. The pair has made a big effort to make the events open to anyone, from people in the startup and tech communities to students and community leaders. Even the mayor shows up.
Runaway’s work so far mirrors a trend in cities around the nation. As people move back into urban areas to take advantage of the opportunities to live, work and entertain themselves all in the same few city blocks, they have a newfound pride and a desire to showcase it through clothing, jewelry and accessories. Eng-Goetz and Laidlaw admire the brand Only NY, which has received a lot of recognition for representing the different boroughs of New York through apparel. Local pride is even going mainstream. Target hired a designer earlier this year to create city-focused apparel in its stores around the nation. And according to the Wall Street Journal, the big-box retailer is even planner smaller stores with products localized to the city they sit in.
But Runaway's peg is different. It's about Eng-Goetz's unique designs and bringing the people of Durham into the brand, allowing them to tell the story through their creative outlets. It's also deeply engrained in Durham history. An example is its Black Wall Street collection, which celebrates the city's heritage as a center of African American business a century ago.
A store gives them a permanent place to showcase Runaway and other local work. It also should help business—selling direct to consumer returns more money to the bottom line. An existing wholesale strategy is likely to change—while most of the 13 stores that carry Runaway products today will continue to do so, there will be more focus on the flagship store locally and on wholesale outside of the Triangle. Runaway will hire a sales person to build those relationships. Online sales will continue as the product line expands.
The men also plan to expand to cut-and-sew manufacturing, meaning they won't screenprint their designs on other people's shirts and hats but design the items themselves. They're already working with a local textile artist to make samples.
The guys attribute the successful campaign to their supporters in Durham, as well as learnings from a bunch of local companies who have also used Kickstarter to raise money. Kidethnic's Saleem Reshkamwala made their video, and his work has helped propel Cocoa Cinnamon, The Parlour and Blue Coffee Cafe to successful campaigns. A key learning—give supporters a lot of options for their rewards and keep the momentum going by adding new ones throughout the campaign.
In preparation for opening a store, they've leaned on Jennifer Donner, who owns Durham's Dolly's Vintage, Ryan Cocca, a co-founder at Nugget Comfort who started and ran Chapel Hill's Thrill City store for several years, and Bryan Nickellstage of Durham's Ox & Rabbit Soda & Sundries.
Their advice is critical, as local retail stores are notoriously hard to keep in business, and brands can be hard to build. Both Thrill City and Ox & Rabbit have closed.
"The Kickstarter was mainly to take the space where we wanted it to be and to achieve the full vision," Eng-Goetz says. "At the end of the day, this is a really big risk for us. The campaign reduces some of that."