They found a niche market (singlets) and expanded outward from there.
I still think it is bonkers how hard it is to get a nice singlet from certain manufacturers, particularly with Nike not releasing many of their designs to the public. Saucony is seemingly the only larger manufacturer who consistently puts out new/interesting singlet designs.
As far as Tracksmith is concerned, they make some nice stuff and some wildly overpriced stuff. I have a few of their singlets and my only comment is that I really don't like their 2:09 mesh. While the 2:09 is really comfortable as leisure wear, it is absolutely awful at wicking away moisture. I am very skinny and this still leads to chafing issues on longer runs/hotter days.
I signed up for their AC Hare club this year, which was pretty neat. Pay $125 and get a singlet and then a $100 gift card when you run a PR in their gear. Ended up picking up some shorts and a hat, so that seems about right for the price.
@imnothammer I'm a Hare AC member, too! I will cop to being a customer for many years now, and though it wasn't always the case I am happy to pay a bit more for something made of higher end materials with an athletic yet subdued look. I can invest in something that will look good as it ages, classic and timeless rather than trendy fast fashion. Is it pretentious? I don't know what about little ol' me running in TS gear says "I'm better than you" that doesn't originate within the observer. I have run in a lot of running apparel over the decades, from cheap to nice, and the Brighton baselayer, Session pants, Solomon pants, Session shorts, Twilight tees are among the very best I have ever put on. I don't mean to seem like a shill here, I still happily pull on 50/50 tees, 20 year old Hind drylete tights, and Swiftwick socks for many miles.
I have a hard time seeing any controversy, they make a product for a market demographic and that demo can and will vote with their dollars. I have heard that Rapha is now eschewed among cycling clubs in the UK, apparently for image considerations. TS's marketing certainly can evoke classist sentiments, however it appeals to my senses of the seasons as a long time runner. Enjoying aspects of running through autumn color or frosty mornings or muggy summer mornings or sleeting evenings aren't the exclusive province of New England prep school graduates. If nothing else, I am and always have been a working class recreational runner. In an age of $200+ racing shoes, which also have emotional and classist criticism, it doesn't not make sense for an apparel-only running start-up to go with designs and materials that run counter to the typically undifferentiated running shoe brand apparel choices and to price their wares accordingly in a marketplace of diversified competitors. Their tailoring/styling, materials, and pricing are about in line with Rabbit (who also make nice product), Lululemon (I like their shorts, too), Vuori, Patagonia (another notable target for critics), and are still far more approachable than Satisfy (I admit, I want their LD shorts). On that note, I actually find Satisfy interesting in an amusing sort of way. It's pretty cool that there are start-ups in the running apparel space, like Atreyu. I have lived and run through an era where there was incredible stagnation in innovation in running apparel and shoe tech and few if any fresh influences coming onto and staying on the scene. Even if I'm not typically an early adopter, I am interested in cool, new things.
You pay for the brand, the appearance of being a real runner who doesn’t care about the newest trends from Nike, instead being connected with XC’s university roots. The quality is good, I don’t think it’s good enough to justify the price-especially on their casual wear.
Is it pretentious? Only if the runner who wears the brand is. Nothing wrong with the brand, if you want to drop $50-150 on something you don’t need it’s a good choice. They do make cool things.
As far as the marketing/aesthetics go I think it is smart to carve out a niche in a business that is so competitive from the sheer size of the big players (like Nike/Adidas) to the almost uncountable small players fighting for a share. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but that is literally the point.
Personally I think that all Tracksmith products I’ve had are very well made and comfortable. I love the materials they use as they are extremely comfortable and yet still technical. I think the affordability really depends on the item. For sure you will be paying a crazy premium for a “Greyboy” shirt vs other cotton shirts. However, some items like the Twilight Split Shorts are actually cheaper than most big brands premium lines (like Nike Aeroswift) and are easily comparable in quality. So really just depends on the product.