Max Vallot & Tom Daly
Cofounders of District Vision
Running. It’s not every day that 2 thirty-something former high-fashion executives decide to launch an American brand to developing tools for runners. But that’s just what District Vision’s founders, Max Vallot and Tom Daly, have done. Determined to create products that are just as functional as they are performance enhancing, both Max and Tom believe in a holistic approach to athleticism, one in which mental well-being is the foundation of every form of physical exercise. The duo is building an active community around running and yoga, two complementary disciplines and their respective passions. We met up with Max and Tom in New York to discover more about their approach and community.
Saint Laurent. Acne. Ask any fashionista, and they’ll tell you those are two very coveted brands. If you ask Max Vallot and Tom Daly, those just happen to be their previous employers. Now living in NYC, the two friends met at college in London. Three years ago, they decided to launch their own brand in an industry they both know well, but in a more passionate and meaningful way.
“I was at Saint Laurent before, and Tom was at Acne Studios,” says Vallot. “We’ve known each other for more than 10 years and both of us reached a point in our life where we were dissatisfied by what the fashion life was giving us. Around that time, in 2013, I tried meditation for the first time. Meanwhile, Tom was introduced to the running community in New York and began to run marathons.
Both of us found an escape from our day jobs and realized there’s a different kind of community out there. One that’s not just about making stuff and creating an illusion of exclusivity.”
Only 27 and 28 years old at the time, the two decided to quit their jobs.
“We realized that it was time for us to do our own thing and that activewear was still dominated by a few big brands but no smaller interesting alternatives were emerging”, declares Daly. “We wanted to create a more interesting perspective, mixing Max’s experiences with yoga and meditation and mine in the urban running community.”
District Vision is first and foremost a community, and a brand second. It offers its members a holistic experience of running and meditating thanks to decided events and tools, thereby redefining the idea of the modern runner’s toolkit. That, in turn, became the founding principle for the brand.
The first tool in the kit is performance eyewear. It took the team two years to develop their eyewear with engineers in Japan, working with feedback from runners all around the world. “We wanted to explore products other brands aren’t seriously considering, while adding our own vision and philosophy to it. We’re interested in a holistic approach, in our approach is connected to self-exploration, not just winning, competing, and pushing oneself.” And as Vallot explains, the two are eyewear nerds, with a penchant for Japanese made eyewear. Because there wasn’t anything particularly interesting being developed in sport eyewear, the duo saw an opportunity. Existing brands weren’t reflective of people’s lifestyles, inspirations, or desires. So they jumped. For instance, their “Nagata speed blade is an ultra-lightweight nylon and titanium frame construction. Our D+ lens is hand cut and polished in Japan for unrivaled visibility in various performance conditions.” And of course, leading runner crews from around the world were invited to partake in the R&D process.
Since its start in eyewear, District Vision’s product lines have expanded to running socks, yoga mats, and other performance-oriented tools. Above and beyond product though, the brand thinks of itself as a wellness company, working to promote running and meditation.
What’s the link between meditation and running? If you ask Vallot, it’s focus and perseverance. Running is mental and requires discipline. It’s often underestimated. As a transcendental meditation enthusiast, Vallot sees this as District Vision’s singular contribution to the athletic community.
“For a lot of people, running is meditation,” he adds. “In my opinion, that’s only partially true. I think running and meditation are two different things. Running is a competitive sport whereas meditation is about contemplation, way of understanding and exploring your own mind. Running is a way of exploring your own mind, but it’s not the primary goal of running. Runners today, especially those competing in marathons and ultramarathons, are increasingly interested in unusual and somewhat unorthodox training methods. They do the physical work and training, put in 100+ miles per week.
They have the latest and greatest shoes, the latest in sports drinks and fuel. But the runners around us were interested in looking deeper into how the mind affects training. It’s the “X factor,” the unknown factor so hard to quantify.”
To going after this “X factor”, District Vision has organized meditation workshops and trainings. It’s what they call the “Mindful Athlete Program”. They’ve also promoted Mike Spino’s training method. “Mike Spino was the executive director of the Esalen Sports Center in Big Sur, California. We’re big followers of his method and his book Beyond Jogging: The Innerspaces of Running (1976). In it, he articulates an idea of conscious athleticism—a holistic fusion of mind and body, using unconventional methods of meditation, yoga, movement therapy. That the kind of story that continues to inspire us and drive the whole project.” Indeed, so inspired that the duo decided to reprint the book a few months ago.
Vallot and Daily admit, however, to not having any specific formula when they started out. A few runners simply asked them for an introduction to meditation, so they started off teaching reading exercises, restorative positions, honing in on body parts and anatomic regions relevant to running in terms of energy flows. “We looked at the different parts of the feet, the ankle, the joints, the lower back,” Vallot says, “And helped to build understanding of how they work together. The goal is to look at the mind body dynamic in a deeper way.”
And that holistic experience is the essence of District Vision. “People are no longer interested in just products,” Daly says. “They need to feel there is a deeper connection to a brand. Learning is at the heart of it all, it’s at the center of the whole evolution. Whether you are a fashion or a food brand, people want to learn, they want go through experiences that help them grow.”
Learning, then, is something Daly and Vallot are going to run with. The four person team has been hard at work on many projects since 2015. “We launched a new product program with socks, and we’re developing trail running shoes with Salomon for Fall 2018. It’s still too early to open our own shop cause even if the company is profitable. We prefer to grow organically and stay independent and self-funded. Our current focus this year is about expanding the District Vision experience while concentrating on the US market for now”.