Footwear force New Balance, running outfitters Tracksmith and Janji, skiwear line Alps & Meters—what do these Boston-based sportswear brands have in common? They’ve all turned to South End design and strategy studio MCGARRY&sons for help in building brand identities and planning new products. The business, which also counts Nike, Puma, Reebok and Adidas among its clients, was founded by a husband-and-wife team with more than 28 combined years of industry experience. Elizabeth McGarry left her job as a senior design manager at Reebok to start freelance designing and consulting for new brands and established names after the birth of her second son; her husband, Mark, then head of lifestyle footwear at Puma, was often pulled into unofficial lunchtime consults. In 2013, the couple started working full-time for MCGARRY&sons—named as a winking nod to the fact that work was often tackled around their tots’ nap times.
“I think it was really great timing,” says Elizabeth, whose projects currently include reviewing designs for a fall/winter 2018 capsule collection for New Balance and working with a yet-to-be-named brand whose collaborators include a NASA engineer. “It was really at the beginning of this boom of all of these new emerging sportswear and athletic brands. We were on that wave.”
Mark has since ridden that wave into his own venture, leaving Elizabeth in charge of MCGARRY&sons while he runs YORK Athletics Mfg., a performance training footwear line that debuted in early 2016. He describes the line as “sort of an anti-Nike or Under Armour, your typical jock footwear brand,” one that hews to a minimalist, unflashy aesthetic and enlists professional boxers and trainers to test-wear new products—like the fighters at Peter Welch’s Gym, which led boxing fitness classes at the first YORK Athletics pop-up on Newbury Street in November. More pop-ups are in the works to give the public a chance to interact with the products firsthand, and YORK has also extended its reach with online health and fitness journal Out of Step, which taps athletes, creatives and entrepreneurs for inspiring tips and insights. “Yes, we make performance training shoes,” Mark says, ”but we really believe that harnessing this fighting spirit that lives inside everybody is just beneficial to living a happier and healthier life.”
Their individual focuses may have diverged, but Elizabeth and Mark are of one mind when it comes to the power of brand identity. “It’s not a given that people are going to come to you just because you have a great product,” Elizabeth says. “I think we’ve seen the absolute necessity of it in this boom of new brands. I think the ones that are really clear and thoughtful are the ones that are sticking around.”