Less a brand and more of a mindset, YORK Athletics Mfg. is the newest company to step into the performance footwear ring.
By sharing the stories, trials, and tribulations of like-minded individuals who live their lives doing what they love, YORK is creating a foundation of passionate people who don’t just represent their brand, but live it.
The YORK Athletics Mfg. legacy began as a company back in 1946 as a family owned footwear manufacturing business. Today, in it's third generation, the York family and CEO / Co-Owner Mark McGarry are bringing back the core values of that original brand, but also taking their own contemporary business sense to the forefront of their strategy. They believe that living with intention demands a high level of mental and physical awareness and they promise to provide a steady stream of inspiration to keep you wanting more.
To use or own a YORK Athletics Mfg. product means you become a member of a larger family that shares the same spirit, drive, and passion for what you believe in. Whether skateboarding, running, creative pursuits, or playing in a band, YORK welcomes you to their modern performance family with the goal of sharing your passion through them.
Have a look at their video above, as well as inspiring stories on their OUT OF STEP blog here. I got the opportunity to have a chat with YORK’s creative director, Elizabeth McGarry to get a better understanding of where they are headed. —Greg Cordeiro
Can you give me a bit of history about YORK and what type of products did the brand provide back in 1946?
The company's origins start in 1946, when our co-founders' Travis & Kyle York's grandfather, Henry Spaulding opened a footwear factory in Manchester, New Hampshire. Indian Head Shoe Company made custom footwear for professional athletes alongside their wholesale line for three decades before closing the factory. They prided themselves in offering up the first ever turf shoe. One of our favorite pieces from the archive is a high-top cleat made for football hall-of-fame quarter back, Johnny Unitas. He has an incredibly classic underdog story and we can't wait to pay some homage through our first product release.
Can you give me a bit of a background of yourself, Mark, and Travis and what got you started with pursuing YORK?
I got my start in design working as an assistant for Belgian designer Veronique Branquinho back in 2001. She was just a few years out of school herself, and creating a strong cult following with her menswear-inspired wool pieces and innovative knitwear. It was that year that I really started to shape my own aesthetic, thinking about design in more subtle ways; bending the rules on classic silhouettes and finding new shapes within that. It led me to designing sport heritage collections for brands Jantzen Swimwear and Nike Sportswear once back in my hometown of Portland, OR. and eventually heading up the apparel design team for Reebok Classics in Boston. I was fortunate enough to come into each of those design roles at a time of transition, and given a lot of freedom to help mould the future direction of those collections. I think my love of heritage brands always landed me in the archives, searching for what made these brands unique and bringing that back to my team as a jumping off point.
Meanwhile, Mark was getting his start in the industry through skateboarding. He and his closest friends jump started their car out of his parent's driveway in the suburbs of Boston to drive cross country to Mt Hood, Oregon to work at Vans High Cascade snowboard camp. From there he moved on to Brand Marketing for Savier Skateboarding, which was owned by Nike and the precursor to Nike SB. He also got his hands dirty in the film & video world as a freelancer for Adidas Skate, Norton Motorcycles, and SubPop Records. He moved back to Boston to help Puma build up their lifestyle category, most recently as the Head of Product for the Lifestyle Footwear category.
Mark and I were introduced by a mutual friend when we both lived in Portland and were just getting started in the sportswear industry. (I'll save our love story for another conversation, but it's a pretty good one.) Fast forward ten years or so and we were just getting our Product Design & Strategy studio, MCGARRY&sons off the ground when Mark reconnected with Travis York over some beers. Travis shared the story about his grandfather's footwear manufacturing business and we were kind of like, we need to do something with this.
Travis has been a great mentor for us, he's an entrepreneur in the truest sense of the word. His brother Kyle, who is also a co-founder of the brand brings the financial savvy to the table which has really let us focus on our strengths of building brands & great product.
Is there a general aesthetic direction for the brand that will tell the story of who you are and you are about? i.e. clean modern, vintage inspired, etc.
Our ethos is really about simplicity. We start with something familiar and a bit nostalgic and then pair it down to what is most essential. It's a must that everything is functional and comfortable. Our palette is clean and minimal and adapts to your life as it is. The design of our product really just supports our bigger brand mission to keep people on their own unique path. We aren't trying to change anyone. We aren't trying to make you stand out in the crowd. We hope that our products will become staples in our friends' lives. Just as they are loyal to their Vans or Chucks, their Levis & Hanes tees, YORK will become their go-to for athletic footwear.
What elements of past products from YORK will you be utilizing with your designs for the brand?
In looking through the archive, we were most drawn to the small personal touches that went into each product. Stamping the inside of the heels by hand to mark the size, or hand writing the style numbers on the box. There was a huge sense of pride in assuring quality for each product. We will be running pieces in small batches and personally marking each item once checked for quality in our own studio. Another important feature is the lack of overt branding. I think our people will be really appreciative of just having this blank canvas to wear on their feet. There is a lot of confidence in that.
How will you incorporate all of your brand ambassadors and individuals into the fold of what being a YORK family member means?
Possibly my favorite part of this process has been totally unrelated to product or design. Building YORK has become this vehicle for collaborating with friends and meeting with people who we admire and who inspire us. The only prerequisite for being in the YORK family is that you're living by your own definition of purpose. We're not drawn just to gold medal winners and Instagram following. If you're doing cool shit, making a space for yourself even if it's not the easiest or most popular path, value your mental & physical health, being a good human; we're inspired by that and here to hopefully return the favor by spreading the word of all of these good humans through our digital journal OUT OF STEP.
What type of products can we look forward to seeing out of YORK?
We've been playing a lot, proto-typing our ideas in-house has been a fundamental part of our creative process, and through it all we've learned that we really want to put footwear out there first. It's the foundation of the brand. We all love the simplicity and easy functionality of the older runners so our first footwear model is inspired by a classic 70s era running silhouette that we've built from the ground up, starting with a custom last. It's a neutral, light-weight style and we've stayed clear of the superfluous layers commonly found on performance runners out now. It's super comfortable with a IMEVA midsole, moulded footbed and breathable upper. Also in the mix is a mid-version of our runner, for a unique cross training silhouette that is perfect for the gym or court. We've also been working on some perennial accessories that we all felt we were missing from under our beds.
What does the future look like from a brand perspective and what are your biggest goals as to direction?
I feel like the sky is the limit with YORK. We are setting out from the onset with the vision that good content is just as important as good products. We are having a lot of mushy conversations about life & death & happiness & anxiety & how to be better people. This shared value seems to be surfacing more & more in the studio & in meeting new collaborators & it's almost like, yes of course we are going to make good looking and useful products that our community wants to rock, but we're really motivated to find stories that feed us and share those stories. I was just watching the new Vice x HBO special report 'Breaking the System, and got to thinking, how can we as individuals, a community, ultimately a brand that sells sneakers , have a positive footprint? So that's the big goal. Leaving a positive footprint.
What are some of your favorite brands, people, and artists right now who inspire you in your own work?
I'm still really inspired by the designers who I was exposed to early in my career. Meeting Raf Simons on the sample room floor at 20 years old and following his career all this time has been influential for me. I loved his collaboration with Sterling Ruby last year. How they spoke of the process working together is intriguing to me. The willingness to take something held so sacred as your 'brand' and say there is no you and me, there is just this new thing we are building together and we both have to love every bit of it for it to move forward in the process. Wait, shit. I guess that's like my partnership with Mark huh? In terms of newer brands who I think are doing good work, I love the menswear line OAMC and hoping they will follow in the footsteps of Public School and introduce a women's collection. These are the brands that are helping to evolve what American Sportswear means and it's influence on the streetwear world. Everyone is growing up. My two boys also inspire me everyday to be better at who I am. They're so purely creative and honest. It's easy to feed off of that energy.
The initial launch and early access to YORK will be this Spring 2016. www.yorkathleticsmfg.com