Monthly Archives: May 2008

The First Run of the Rest of My Life

This posting is long overdue, and not because I am behind on writing for my large base of loyal readers. (Hey, I had 78 views one day last week. That’s huge from where I sit!) It is overdue because it has been about a month since I received the first Atayne samples, and I am just now writing about it.

Why did it take me so long? I am not quite sure. I think when I first received the tops I treated them like they were priceless pieces of art or ancient artifacts. I handled them gingerly and even had a hard time letting others touch them. I know it sounds odd, but they were my babies. So I finally got over that and decided it was time to treat them like what they actually are, performance tops.

After nearly three weeks of having the prototypes in hand I finally threw the men’s top on for its first flight. Decked out in Atayne’s first sample, the run I took on May 21, 2008 will have its place in my memory as the first run of the rest of my life. It is kind of hard to explain how I felt during the run. A friend of mine used a great analogy. “Was it like when you got a new pair of sneakers as a kid, and you felt like you could run as fast as Speedy Gonzales?”

Yup, it was a lot like that. I felt like I was running at the speed of light, and in fact I was running pretty fast. I would consider myself a decent runner. I usually run an easy 6 miles in the range of 43 to 44 minutes. But on this day, I ran 6 miles in 42 minutes and 16 seconds, and I did not feel like I was pushing much harder than usual. I also felt like a kid again. Like anything was possible. Nothing could get in my way.

Was the shirt perfect? I would be lying if I said yes. There are some issues with the fit that I need to work out, and I am still deciding on the optimal logo size and placement. And those are just the start. But I can say the shirt was very good, and of course in my mind it is already better than what is available. It performed just as well as my other shirts by Nike, Under Armour, Asics, and Saucony. But it did not have the hidden, compromising side effects. It was not virgin polyester, derived directly from petroleum and it did not have questionable chemical treatments. Not perfect yet, but well on its way.

What was perfect was my run that day. I don’t think many people would consider a hilly run in a thunderstorm with a stiff head wind perfect, but on this day I did. A weight had been lifted off my shoulders: the weight of years of running in apparel that also comes with guilt, but even bigger, the weight of a year of work without having something tangible in hand.

As I hit the home stretch on my run and a grueling ¾ mile stretch uphill, I thought the timing would be perfect if “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin” came on my iPod (see blog on May 19 for more on this theme). It didn’t. Instead, and perhaps even more appropriate, was Keane’s “Everybody’s Changing.” I am hoping everyone will be changing from Nike, Adidas, New Balance, Brooks, Asics, and Saucony to Atayne.

So here is my final assessment of the first Atayne run. My expert research shows you will run faster without the weight of the world on your shoulders.

My expert research shows you will run faster without the weight of the world on your shoulders.

The Business Behind it All

I have had a few people reach out to me and ask, “How are you going to make this happen?” Without revealing too much or being too verbose, I am posting a few excerpts from my Executive Summary. If you are interested in finding out more, please feel free to drop me an email – jeremy@atayne.com.

Business and Company Overview
Atayne is a brand of performance apparel launched to fill a void in the sporting goods market: technically advanced clothing and accessories that are safe for both people and the planet. Atayne employs a fundamentally different approach than the traditional industry model in developing its apparel line: guided by the Cradle-to-Cradle™ design philosophy of William McDonough and Michael Braungart, Atayne uses sports industry waste (worn performance garments and discarded plastic water bottles from races) to create the primary fabric, recycled polyester, for its products. Additionally, Atayne designs all of its products to avoid the use of materials that pose harm to factory workers and product users.

On its path to creating the performance sports organization of the future, Atayne will redefine success in the textile and apparel industry by operating under a simple mantra: One with Performance, One with People, One with Planet.

One with Performance: Design products that help wearers perform at their best; make a healthy profit; and drive positive change in the industry.

One with People: Provide employees with a world-class work environment; partner with like-minded business partners; avoid harmful chemicals and materials; and provide support to the local and global community.

One with Planet: Operate under a model that reduces energy, water, harmful chemicals, emissions, and industrial and consumer waste; eliminate the use of virgin, synthetic materials; and support efforts to combat climate change and promote environmental preservation.

The Product Line
Atayne will fulfill the apparel and accessory needs of eco-conscious athletes as they pursue their athletic and life goals. Initially, the line will be developed using recycled polyester and activated carbon, with the recognition that fabric composition will change as the sustainable textile industry advances.

The primary benefits of the line are technical superiority and environmental consciousness. From a performance standpoint, recycled polyester provides the moisture wicking properties of virgin polyester, while the embedded activated carbon particles will enhance moisture management, provide anti-microbial and odor control, enhance thermal regulation, offer UV protection, and eliminate static charge build-up. Atayne’s products will also have a dramatically lower environmental impact than the industry norm. Atayne estimates production energy savings of over 75% and CO2 emissions reduction of over 70% when compared to traditional processes. Additionally, in its first five years, Atayne will avoid using the petroleum equivalent of having several hundred cars on the road and divert hundreds of tons of waste from entering landfills—doing its part to help address climate change and pollution.

Atayne will launch in Washington, DC in July 2008, with a product line that will include a men’s and a women’s performance top. In early 2009, Atayne will launch in select markets nationally with an expanded line that includes tops, shorts, pants, and jackets, laying the groundwork for a full line of apparel and accessories.

The Market
The opportunity for a sustainable performance sportswear brand becomes readily apparent when one considers the convergence of two significant market-driving trends: the green movement and the increasing number of people aspiring to live more active lifestyles. At the center of the convergence of these trends is a consumer group called the Game Changers (sub-segment of the LOHAS market), an ambitious and achievement-oriented group who are always trying to beat yesterday — beat yesterday’s race time, work result, or commitment to changing the world. The Game Changers demand high quality products that are aligned with their values—compromises are rarely tolerated. However, the current market offerings of performance sportswear are forcing the Game Changers to compromise, choosing between planet and performance.

Waiting for My Real Life to Begin

On April 30, I went to see Colin Hay in concert. If you haven’t heard of him, he was the lead singer for Men at Work, the 80s band best known for their song “Down Under” (“I come from the land down under”). Since his days with the band, Colin has launched a fairly successful solo career, which includes a song on the Garden State soundtrack and a couple cameo appearances on the TV show Scrubs. (Okay, yes, I also happen to be a Zach Braff fan.)

This post is not to promote Colin Hay, although I would recommend you check out his music: it is to thank him. Thank him for making me realize that the only thing standing in the way of my dream is ME.

One of my favorite songs by Colin Hay is “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin.” If you casually listen to the song, it appears to be somewhat of a love song. But when you truly hear what he is saying, you realize it is much more. I did not realize that until I saw him perform the song.

As he strummed the opening guitar medley, Colin reflected on the days when he was an international music superstar playing in front of tens of thousands of fans. Now he finds himself at The Ridgefield Playhouse in Connecticut performing for a few hundred. He asked, rhetorically, “If I never make it back to the lofty peaks of super stardom, is playing for the likes of yourselves, is it good enough?”

Just before he broke into lyrics, he answered his own question with a very abrupt, “No.” And then, Colin moved seamlessly into the song, starting, “Any minute now, my ship is coming in. I keep checking the horizon…”

Colin’s unexpected commentary caught my attention, and so I listened to the song deeply and from a very different perspective. As he started the second verse, “When I woke today, suddenly nothing happened. But in my dreams, I slew the dragon…,” I began to reflect on the last year of my life.

In May 2007, I made the decision to pursue my dream of entrepreneurship. I was going to combine my passions for running and the environment through my company Atayne. During the summer I started to build the foundation for Atayne and fulfill my final obligations with my (now former) employer, RedPeg Marketing.

As the summer came to an end, so did my days working for someone else. I picked up some consulting work to help pay the bills, but I was now officially dedicated to building Atayne. I spent the next few months reading, researching, networking, writing my plan, and participating in business plan competitions. Except for the hour and a half each morning for my daily run, nearly every waking hour was spent building Atayne.

By the late fall/ early winter, I had started to meet with several potential investors. Whether it was friends, family, angels, or small private equity and VC firms, people loved the idea and thought the plan was very solid. The more meetings I had, the more I knew I would get the seed funding I needed, and in just a few short months Atayne products would be in markets across the country. When I combined this feedback with the fact that Atayne had been a finalist in the two business plan competitions I entered, there was no doubt in my mind that “my ship is coming in.”

However, in the late winter/early spring my attitude started to change a bit. I found myself growing increasingly frustrated with my situation. It was March of 2008, and I was approaching the year anniversary of the genesis of Atayne. I started to question myself and ask almost everyday what I have accomplished during this time. Many days the only answer I could provide was “I moved into a basement and wrote a business plan.” It did not seem like I had moved forward much in the last 10 months.

I started to come up with every reason imaginable why I was in this situation, from lack of money or a business partner to not finding the perfect materials or manufacturer. While these things definitely had an impact on my situation, they were not the root cause. None of these excuses or the many others I came up with, were the real reason(s) I did not have product, a website, or even a prototype in hand.

As the song came to an end and Colin left the stage, I realized what was problem was. I was “waiting for my real life to begin.” I was looking out to the horizon waiting for the Atayne ship to come in. Instead of living in the present moment, I was living where I wanted Atayne to be a year from then. I was just waiting and hoping for something to happen to take me there, to take me to my real life.

I don’t think I am alone in letting this happen. I think we humans (or at least Americans) get so consumed by the future that we forget to live today. And then we look back on our lives, and wonder, “Where the hell did it go????” We also fear taking big steps into the scary unknown, so it is easy to find lots of excellent reasons to wait and hope for the ship to come in – versus taking the plunge.

In the few weeks since the concert, I have made more progress with Atayne than I did in the prior three months (website content drafted, first sample being tested, this blog started, prospective angel dinner planned with a clear “ask” to be made). I am now well on my way to officially launching Atayne in July ’08. Please look out for us on the web (www.atayne.com) or in specialty running stores in the Washington DC area.

So thank you Colin Hay. Whether or not that was your intended interpretation, you opened my eyes and made me realize my real life is now.

The Original Red Shirt

“I’m just writing a story that I want to read.”

-Jean M. Auel

I find it very interesting how one seemingly meaningless experience can have such a significant impact on a person’s life. My experience with a shirt that cost $19.99 was the event that prompted me to write the story that I want to read.

In the summer of 2007, I bought a few pieces of new performance apparel as part of my preparation for the fall marathon season. One of the things I bought was this red shirt. The Original Red ShirtIt was nothing fancy, just a simple COOLMAX® shirt. It was actually the COOLMAX® Extreme Fabric, which according to their website would give me “Cool Comfort for Extreme Performance.” The product hangtag told me the shirt would reduce skin temperature and dry faster (3 minutes faster) than the competition. There was no doubt in my mind that this shirt was just what I needed to run a Boston qualifying time in my next marathon.

The first time I used the shirt for a workout, it was a typical Washington, DC summer morning – hot and humid. Within a few minutes of starting my run, I had begun to sweat heavily, and I soon noticed that red dye from the shirt was starting to trickle down my legs. By the time I was done with my workout, the trickle had turned into more of a gusher, and my legs were now covered in red dye. Adding insult to injury, my shorts were stained, my socks were stained, and my shoes were stained.

The experience left me with an uneasy feeling: what nasty chemicals were being absorbed into my body as I was trying to make myself healthier by running? I decided I would research what performance apparel really is, and I found out some remarkable things.

While I thought I had just bought a red performance shirt, I also got:What I Really Got

  • About one-tenth of a gallon of petroleum
  • Antimony
  • Dioxins
  • Heavy Metals
  • Azo Dyes
  • An unpronounceable chemical finish

Not only are the above environmental pollutants, they are known carcinogens. These carcinogenic substances are what I put on my body every morning when I workout in hopes of preventing things like cancer.

On top of that, of the $6 billion worth of performance apparel that is sold in the US each year, 85% of that will end up in a landfill where it will sit for thousands of years. If enough light reaches it, it will photo-degrade into its harmful chemical compounds that will leach into the water stream. Or the apparel might be incinerated. In that case its harmful chemicals and pollutants would be released directly into the air. Why die a slow death, right?

Instead of running, why don’t I just sit on my couch, eat a Big Mac, smoke a pack of cigarettes, and throw some more toxic waste in the Potomac River? It seemed like either path was going to result in the same ending.

You can look at this as a problem or an opportunity for change. I could continue to be frustrated with how the apparel industry’s status quo sacrifices the safety of their customers, workers, and the planet to make products. Or I could write a new story for the industry. The red shirt has become the first chapter in this story. I am not quite sure where this story will go, but I can be certain of one thing – Atayne will never make a red shirt.