Interview: David Perry of BLK RBN
KS: The primary thought I took away from today's chat was that BLK RBN is first and foremost a runner's brand. Sure, running was embedded into the brand identity from the beginning, but you seemed like you had a different level of understanding today. Like a fervency around running vs. fashion.
DP: My intention for BLK RBN has always been to keep the product and identity from a runner’s lens. Originally, I wanted the brand to be fashion focused, with running inspiration. When we first collaborated with Empire Green, I was fully immersed in my collegiate running career.
Every day was purposeful around pushing my body to the edge. To win medals, cash checks and snap necks. Just kidding, I really only was out for medals. So when I was in the running scene, I was influenced more to understand the depths of fashion. I was so overwhelmed from the running scene trying to go pro and get paid, that it pushed me away. Running at that level was fucking exhausting mentally, physically, and spiritually.
Fashion was an outlet. A much needed one at that. I was reading the Alexander McQueen Bio. I was on business of fashion every morning. I was writing a thesis in school on LVMH and how the luxury industry gives direction to everything in consumer behavior. This lead me to want to influence those beyond running mainly. I wanted to influence the fashion guys I looked up to and show them athletics through my lens. How it could be an identity for them as well.
Six months later, my belief behind the brand is even stronger. The ethos is just as progressive. The consumer however, is totally the opposite. The runners that I thought wouldn't push out $120 for a tee, were at the door for new products. I had collegiate runners buying one of everything. I had thank you notes from young dudes in high school thanking me for creating a brand to give our sport a voice. Mainly to give them a voice, identity, and prowess of a bad fucking dude. So as the runners were buying, I was stepping away from the sport. My body was broken, and I wanted to live a normal life partying and chasing girls. After months of treating my body like shit, I showed up to the Marathon Olympic Trials in LA to watch the races and pay a store a visit. This was the first time in 6 months I'd watched high level racing. I felt pre race nerves, and I wasn't racing. I found myself sweating when the gun went off. My heart was beating out of my chest watching Galen Rupp crush the last 5k. Watching this level of running again was my push to start running again. More importantly, it was the reminder I needed about why the brand began.
I wanted to build a brand to tell this story. Pursuit for something greater. Guys that truly know what hell feels like; and on the opposite end, what it feels like to look down from the medal stand. This sport has made me a man. It's given me purpose, and understanding of what focus on the process, and not compromising will do for you.
I'm not here to change fashion really. I'm here to change the sport of running forever.
KS: Reiterate why you think running deserves fashion? Why do you think it's important those two worlds collide?
DP: Fashion is a vehicle for expression. Not to be cliche as fuck, but that's the truth. Fashion can help you identify with your story. From Saint Laurent to Ralph Lauren, these brands are a vehicle to tell your story and form your identity.
Until BLK RBN's arrival, no one has EVER done this in running apparel. No one. Maybe Nike or Adi were on this path in the 80's but where are they now? What do they stand for? I get that they make tons of cash, advance the technology for athletes, and pay some runners. But seriously, what do they stand for as a brand?
BLK RBN is a style. Style is the story or temperament that your clothing brings to you and your identity. Style and your demeanor collide to create your fashion and aura. Running deserves a brand that is a vehicle for the story of pursuit. When you're pushing your body to the edge, doubt creeps into your mind.
Am I pushing too hard? Can I handle this? What if I hurt myself? Are these other athletes better than I am? I want these men to feel like a god in their garments. To excel, you can't give a fuck what anyone else is out there doing. Runners deserve the style of BLK RBN because it stands for what they're out there doing every day.
Running hard, being fucking tough, and battling.
I'm in the business of selling armor, not clothing.
KS: How do you personally balance the passion between being an artist vs. a businessman? The former focuses on the raw passion behind a body of work while the latter focuses on the money behind it.
DP: The balance between this is challenging every day. As an artist / creative, that has to be first and foremost the focus. I'm creating a garment that's fucking expensive. Everything around the product ( packaging , copy , social , digital , etc.) has to mirror the level of the product and brand.
The level of product we put out in our Freshman year went above and beyond. I only intend to build on that. From a business perspective, selling a luxury item takes finesse. It also takes time. I'm lucky to have a BA and an MBA in entrepreneurship and strategy, respectively. My approach to an apparel brand is really different than someone who studied fashion.
My brand offerings and areas of value are all strategic. The next five years will show why my education positioned my brand for success.
The raw passion behind BLK RBN keeps the business heading toward the avenue it should exist in. As much as I'd love to stack cash by whoring out the brand with over banded, low function garments, I know that's a death for the brand in the long run. Chasing trends is another way to ruin your vision.
When I'm designing, I'm not looking at what other brands are doing. I give a nod to good work out there, but I don't feel a need to knock anyone. A lot of designers say that... But truly designing from your kitchen is the hard way to do things.
Owning the brand gives me the ability to not sway from the brand ethos. It's always tough though. I'm looking away from a lot of potential money by not taking those routes.
At the end of the day, I have to trust my education as an entrepreneur, and my pursuits as a designer.
KS: Lastly, you seem overwhelmingly committed to BLK RBN. What will you have to do to make this your life's work? Do you have an idea what you'll have to do to die feeling like you completed what you were after?
DP: I'm beyond committed to BLK RBN. I owe this to my sport. To my teammates, colleagues, family. I owe it to myself. This brand has the ability to change lives and disrupt an industry that needs disruption.
To make BLK RBN the brand I see it as, it will take a few things. First and foremost, I have to remember why it began. It began on my feet, over thousands of miles run. BLK RBN was founded amidst battle, both physical and physical. The process that helped me become the man I am today.
The brand exists for men that are focused on the process, to achieve something greater. Secondly, I can't compromise the product quality or principles I founded the brand upon. Every garment is to be run / competed in. I can't compromise when it comes to the product. Lastly, I have to take risks. I have to create the brand that will polarize itself amidst the industry.
To disrupt, you have to look in the eyes of competition and and be prepared to take them to the end of the earth. As an athlete, the fuck you mentality burns within me. That mentality has transferred itself to the brand.
At the end of the chapter / lifetime with BLK RBN, I just need to take a hard look at where the sport stands. I just want to look at the state of the sport and see growth. Exposure for these athletes. For their endeavors. For their story. Running is the toughest sport on the planet. They deserve a brand that stands for that.
You can read David’s own musings on different subjects here.