The Perfect Outfit to Run a Mile
After quitting the finance industry, Ben Morrow was inspired to create performancewear true to New York’s running culture. The founder of MILER RUNNING shares the origin story of his boutique brand.
Running can be a hard sport to watch. Consider the 10,000m, a 25-lap long run (on a regulation 400-meter oval track) that’s usually a half-hour or so ordeal before a potential burst of excitement at the end. It’s not designed to be a spectator sport, at least for the outside observer with no teeth in the game. Ben Morrow, the founder of MILER RUNNING and a distance runner himself, prefers to watch the mile, where, at the competitive level, the most elite runners will clock times well under four minutes, each minute of which is filled with action and maximum effort.
Perhaps contrary to his own endurance running leanings, the complexity and beauty of running a single mile has manifested as the driving force behind Morrow’s boutique label, the aptly-titled MILER RUNNING. Based in Brooklyn, MILER is a distinctly “New York” running brand that prioritizes technology and construction aspects of performancewear without compromising aesthetics – and, in true NYC fashion, most items are offered in black.
“The mile really lets athletes express themselves,” Morrow tells Hypebeast in a recent phone interview from Amsterdam, where he just finished running a race himself. “It’s runners that go out hard, that kick hard. Every minute is exciting.”
Morrow’s relationship with running spans back to the seventh grade when he began jogging alongside his grandfather, who he describes as a “product of the 70s running boom.” He competed in both track and cross country in high school but found himself more drawn to the latter due to its natural terrain component.
Before he became a brand founder, Morrow walked on to his collegiate cross country team at Wake Forest University, and after wrapping up his degree, he moved to New York to pursue a career in investment banking. He says he was always interested in the “built environment” and the process of developing an intimate understanding of manufacturing a given material or product.
When Morrow quit his job without a concrete plan in place, burnt out from finance’s demanding work culture, he began taking design classes at colleges around the city with the idea that he’d eventually enroll in architecture school. And while he enjoyed the coursework, he also recognized that architecture was an industry that came with its own set of potential pitfalls. Rather than wait 10 or 20 years to see a building he had designed come to life, Morrow wanted to create products capable of materializing within the next year or so.
At the same time, he had joined a few New York run clubs and befriended members who had come to the sport from a non-competitive background. At run club sessions, “whether it’s creatives or chefs, or people in recovery, or even other working professionals, I found people brought a new energy to the sport that like I hadn’t seen before,” he says.
He also noticed how members dressed. They didn’t rep a singular brand and, compared to New England or the West Coast, where runners tend to veer towards brands with a more retro look, New Yorkers were often opting for a plain black tee and black shorts. Morrow began thinking about how exactly those garments could be optimized for hobby runners and serious competitors across the board.
“A miler has a mix of speed and endurance. They’re very versatile.”
“A miler has a mix of speed and endurance. They’re very versatile,” he says. “I’ve tried to create clothes that are just as versatile.”
In January 2019, he launched MILER with a roster of just two products: a singlet and a short, available in monochromatic black and a tortoise print. The garments provided the foundation for what would go on to become the brand’s “Base Collection,” which was eventually expanded with a half tight, arm sleeve and tee. With the debut line, Morrow was designing for the summer. Products are designed to breathe and wick moisture away while providing a degree of odor control.
Breaking into an industry dominated by power players like Nike and Adidas – as well as its fair share of cult independent brands like Tracksmith and fellow New York label Bandit – is an intimidating prospect. Morrow, however, started MILER with the mindset that the sheer adventure of starting a brand and creating a project from scratch would make his investment of both time and money worth it.
“Initially, the bigger you get, the more capital you need,” he explains. “I think that the smaller batch approach, in my mind, gave me a little confidence.” Morrow also notes that making something your friends want to wear is paramount, as good friends should be both your biggest supporters and harshest critics. “At the very least I’ve made an interesting race ensemble that people I know and care about are going to wear.”
In fact, MILER has already weathered – and successfully overcame – its first logistical gridlock. Over the pandemic, there was something of a “running boom” amid the closure of gyms and pools. Although one could assume this was good for business, MILER’s factory briefly closed and then reopened to produce medical gowns exclusively. Production for MILER was put at a standstill for over a year.
When the factory invited its roster of brands back in, Morrow got to work on the “Work Collection.” Released earlier this year for Fall/Winter 2023, the series is built for versatility – whether training independently or for competition, on track and trail alike — across spring, winter and fall. Runners can layer pieces in the colder months or sport only the collection’s tank and shorts. Morrow says that when traveling, he only packs items from the “Work Collection” since they’re more adaptable to varying climates and can readily be worn as casual clothes.
For the “Work Collection,” Morrow also published a video series entitled Designer Notes, where he sits down and explains the design decision process behind each garment. The purpose of this is to give runners a “technical breakdown” beyond the sheer look of a piece of apparel. In an age where fashion brands are always angling to cut costs at the expense of quality, Morrow wanted to speak to MILER’s buyers directly to offer transparency on what exactly they’re buying and perhaps why it costs as much as it does.
“It’s nice to feel like when a brand is really fresh. I think if it spawns from kind of one person, at least initially, it can be that way.”
“As a consumer, I really don’t like it when I can kind of feel like the script is being played: the email you get from them pushing the products and always the same tone of voice,” he says. “It’s nice to feel like when a brand is really fresh. I think if it spawns from kind of one person, at least initially, it can be that way.”
MILER isn’t cheap (5” shorts from the “Work Collection” cost $130 USD), but making a pair of running shorts the MILER way isn’t cheap either. Morrow designs in-house, sources fabrics from mills throughout Europe and Japan and uses local production, which also provides some clarity on why, as a one-man team, MILER hasn’t committed to a regular product release cycle.
As a brand centered on New York running culture, MILER is also doing its part to support the local community, sponsoring the professional team of Empire Elite Track Club. He signed on as an apparel sponsor shortly before the U.S. Olympic track and field trials in 2020.
“They were just looking for a singlet to run in and so I was happy to provide it to them,” he says proudly. “Everyone on the team was like, kind of had roots in New York. It’s not an easy place to train but if you’re from here and do the work here, you’re gonna get an insane amount of support.”
With the next round of trials quickly approaching in June, Morrow is hopeful for the team’s prospects, noting that a lot of Empire’s athletes have been training harder and performing even better since the 2020 trials. He plans to be onsite in Eugene, Oregon, to support Empire when they try their hand in the trials next year. As for plans in the more immediate future, Morrow is organizing a pop-up for the New York City Marathon in November, along with ideating new products and, somewhat unconventionally, working on improving old ones.
With each collection, past and present, Morrow revisits collections to make slight technical and construction edits as he sees fit. Similar to the evolving nature of the brand itself, the story of each garment is never-ending, continuously being tweaked to improve and elevate.