Rob Gibson, Operations Coordinator, YORK Athletics Mfg.
Growing up as a runner, shoes have been an integral part of my life, especially as I started running at a more competitive level through college. Getting the right pair of shoes is critical. They have to fit perfectly, feel comfortable, and handle the challenges to perform. Plus, it always helps when they look good too. Along with running, I was also a skateboarder and that style blended itself into my sneakerhead tendencies, so the look of a shoe matters when I’m picking my next pair. All of these elements play a part in the process when it comes to buying shoes.
I started out as the first official employee hired at YORK Athletics back in 2015. I had been working in retail at a sporting goods and running footwear specialty store when a friend of mine introduced me to the brand and one of the founders. As I met with them, learned more about the history of the brand and what they wanted to do, I was already hooked on the company… but then I saw their sneakers and got a chance to try a pair on and that completely solidified it. Coming from a store that carried a large range of running shoes, the vast majority of them looked largely the same to me. Seeing YORK Athletics’ more toned down and minimalistic aesthetic was refreshing. It was something different but still very stylish.
When I put the first pair on, immediately I noticed how comfortable these shoes were. You can tell the emphasis on a perfect fit and all-around comfort was a huge factor in the design and creating process. They just feel right under your feet. Once I finally got a chance to put them to the test to see how they would perform, I was blown away by how greatly they exceeded my expectations. Even now that I’ve been wearing YORKs for years, I still get surprised at how I can throw on a pair of Henry’s, go for a 10-mile run then wear them the rest of the day as I’m out and about and know they’ll still feel perfect on my feet.
Picking up the pace
When I first started, I was doing anything I could to help, often helping with product fulfillment and orders and I also inspected every pair of shoes before they were shipped to ensure that each pair was up to our standards. The early days consisted of around 2,000 pairs of shoes in a 10x10 room stacked in rows to the ceilings and me crawling over boxes to fulfill orders. We’ve come a long way from that and scaled as we’ve grown, adding a warehouse and new distribution channels.
We’re now branching into large online e-commerce retailers, such as Zappos, which has been an incredible experience. As we expand into new channels, we are interacting with a potentially new audience and more people have a chance to discover us for the first time. We have been very fortunate to achieve some of the highest satisfaction levels and lowest return rates in the industry. Usually, once someone tries on a pair of YORKs they don’t want to take them off, largely due to the feedback and involvement of our consumers.
Listening to your audience
Not all shoes are going to fit everyone the same way and they may often function differently for different people. The footwear industry is always evolving - from the style of the shoe, to the intended function, to the materials being used in the construction of the upper and the soles - the possibilities continue to grow.
This factor plays an integral role in the design and production process of our shoes.
When I first started with the company, one of the things I was fortunate enough to do was essentially lead our product testing. Not only do I put our shoes through the wringer before they make it to the production line, but we also work with a variety of our ambassadors as product testers, most of who have been involved for years and know the standards we are looking for, and ask them to do the same. Wear them the way that they would intend to. Take them for a run, to the gym, wear them to the grocery store. Whatever it is, our shoes should meet the challenge.
To make sure we are delivering the quality that our customers expect, whether they have been with us for years or picking up their first pair, the product testing phase is essential. Is the fit and feel consistent with previous pairs? Does the cushioning feel right? Is the construction right or do we have any issues with the seams?
Compared to some of the larger brands, the YORK process is much more internal team and consumer involved. As a smaller brand, it allows everyone to provide their input rather than relying on a small team making the decisions. This smaller size also allows for changes to be made more swiftly and easily, with fewer hoops to jump through to make the adjustments, whether a minor or major change. This all contributes to being able to deliver a product that is built for the end-user, not the ones in charge of production.
It is only natural for the brand and the process to evolve over time as we grow, and it has been an amazing ride and I can’t wait to see where it goes.