Everybody Run | In Conversation With: Ciele Athletics
How a Montreal-based hat company transformed the running space.
- Words By: Noelle Cassier
- Interview With: Jeremy Bresnen
- Photos by: Sydney Allen Ash
From reflective detailing to a pliable brim, Ciele Athletics' running caps have revolutionized the performance hat landscape. Six years after the company’s initial launch in 2014, runners of all levels cannot get enough of this brand. What started as a simple solution amongst friends has become a globally recognized brand, stocked by nearly 400 retailers across 4 continents and representing both inclusivity and innovation. Today, Ciele is considered a thought leader in the running space, attracting both seasoned veterans and newcomers to not only their lightweight, fast-drying caps, but to their “everybody run” philosophy. You’ve fallen in love with the hats; now meet the masterminds behind the brand: Jeremy Bresnen and Mike Giles. We sat down with Ciele’s founders to learn more about defining moments in the company’s history, as well as the nature of Bresnen’s personal relationship with running and where he sees Ciele going next.
"We believe we’re all runners at base. It’s the first thing most of humanity does early on. You crawl, you get up and walk and, as soon as you’ve found the balance, you run.”
To start, can you tell us how you two met, as well as what led to the launch of Ciele Athletics in 2014?
We met back in the early 00’s. Mike had started his brand Furni. They did custom woodwork projects, but he was using the offcuts to create small, affordable homewares - shelves, magazine racks, and things of that sort. He’d named them after old skateboarders, and as a result of my longtime love of skateboarding (at the time I owned a skate shop in Montreal), it landed on my radar. Mike was also side hustling for an online magazine and asked to interview me about the shop. We worked with each other on and off on different projects after that and in 2013 started discussing working together on something more concrete. Ciele was launched in 2014 after a year or so of brainstorming.
Contrasting many running brands that often promote a lifelong, fairly intense relationship with running, you guys seem to have discovered your passion for running later in life and approach it in a more flexible, playful manner. What drew you both to running initially, and what is your relationship to running now?
I want to say it’s a result of being in Quebec and traditional running culture being less engrained at a youth level here. The schools have track teams, and I ran track briefly for school credit, but the organized aspect of it wasn’t something I was drawn to. Mike and I found skateboarding and snowboarding as our outlet, and if we’re honest, it kind of became all encompassing. The art, the music, the creative approach to every aspect of those sports - it was the root of our social and cultural upbringing. I ran on and off in my 20’s to stay in shape for snowboard season or for the summer, but it wasn’t until 2010 that it became a bigger piece of my everyday life.
Again, [this happened mainly] for health reasons, [along with] the realization that to move the way I wanted to move in the sports I loved, I was going to need to stay fit. With limited time, a run commute of 8km one way or the other, forced me into a 3-4 times a week run schedule. The run, along the south shore of the St. Lawrence river, overlooking Montreal, allowed me the luxury to fall in love with running. Being outside in the early morning light, the river and wildlife, and the time to be alone with my thoughts got me hooked. It became as cerebral and spiritual as it was physical, and I started to relate it to some of my great experiences on a skateboard or snowboard. From that, I started thinking of products that could make the experience better (I have a tendency to turn pastimes into businesses), and [through] discussions with Mike, Ciele started to take form.
I’ve continued to run since we started this whole adventure. I have months where it’s a constant and other months where my life (family, business realities, etc.) creeps in, and I find it hard to carve out the time I should. I think what’s interesting to me at this point is that in those periods where I can’t seem to find the time, I find myself looking forward to it. I want to find the time; I want to get back to where I was two months ago or a year ago. It’s always on my mind. I’m not an athlete, but I love sport. And running has become one of the sports that I can take part in regardless of my level and no matter where I am. That’s one of the things that I think makes running so special.
"[Running] became as cerebral and spiritual as it was physical..."
Jeremy, you talk about the brand being a marriage of style and performance. How do you maintain that delicate balance while also working streetwear into Ciele?
The performance angle is always the start. We need the products we use to actually be more breathable, lighter, faster drying, etc., but yes, we also need to be proud of them visually. We should be excited to put them on. We hope our customers wear them with pride. Street wear is a loaded term but I believe most great streetwear is inextricably linked to taking something that’s designed for something else and working it into your everyday wardrobe in a manner that sets you apart. So yes, we hope people do that with our products, but at base, I’ll be disappointed if people aren’t purchasing our products to run in. That’s the intended use. If we fail at that, we’ll fail overall.
In the design world as well as the realm of athletic wear - who’s been inspiring you lately?
Such a long list. There’s so much going on right now. Within the running space, Tracksmith, Satisfy, and Janji because we need different characters in our sport, and all of these folks are coming at this from their corner in a beautiful way. Other brands beyond run: Pata, for providing a brand can mean more than just product; Veja, for looking at manufacturing the right way; Arc, for being mad scientists and pushing everyone technically; Rapha, for elevating while respecting the past; Nike, for continually telling stories in beautiful inspiring ways. I could honestly write a book here on brands I’m inspired by. There’s no shortage of great work out there, but I’ll leave it at that.
How has the design of Ciele hats evolved since 2014?
We’re still very much at the start of what’s possible. We’ve improved on little things that you don’t see, such as better quality fabrics, improved labels that last longer, more breathable product offerings, [and] a larger range of colors. We’ve [also] expanded our line of silhouettes so more customers can find a fit that works for them, but the biggest step has been a huge shift to recycled polyester in over 80% of our collection for 2020, and even more for 2021. [We’re] proud of this step in the right direction, even if we believe we still have a long road to go before we have a product that’s actually friendly to both us and our planet.
We’re working on a lot of new things that will see the light of day in the coming 12-24 months. We’re not resting on what we’ve done, and we’ll continue to micro adjust on existing products even as we launch new ideas.
Mike, you stated in a previous article that “in extreme sports, what you wear says something about you.” What does Ciele say about the people who wear your product?
As mentioned, we grew up in skateboarding and then snowboarding. At the time (we’re old), these were “underground” activities, shunned by most. A basic T-shirt with a skateboard brands logo on it was a sign to the two or three other people in high school or in the neighborhood that you were in on the secret. With Ciele, it’s been a similar thing. Most run brands, especially when we first launched, were huge multinationals that made gear for every other sport. It was hard to differentiate yourself with a brand like that. We built a very visible product that people in the know could see coming down the road or on the trail. Runners of all kinds were proud to wear what we were offering up partially because we made something that met their technical needs, but also because it was a sign to others when running or not, that yes, you like to gain speed and leave the ground in between steps. A club of sorts, for people who run.
"A club of sorts, for people who run."
With a slogan as brilliant as “everybody run,” what are some key actions you take to ensure runners of all levels feel comfortable, even proud, wearing Ciele on their run?
There’s no key action. We’re just open and listening. We don’t box running into any one type of thing. We believe we’re all runners at base. It’s the first thing most of humanity does early on. You crawl, you get up and walk and, as soon as you’ve found the balance, you run. We try to feed that. Everybody should have the opportunity to go for a run. We stay open to the diversity of runners we come across. We listen to ideas and get inspired (and hopefully inspire), and all of that ends up leaving an imprint on what we do, be it products, partnerships or experiences. We’re trying to build a brand we can be in love with. We believe if we do that, folks will love it too.
With all the pent-up energy many of us possess as of lately, running has become a self-care outlet for many. Have you seen any significant changes in your business in the past few months as a result of the pandemic?
In so many ways this year has been a blur. Obviously there’s now a wider interest in running as an outlet. People have been, in some ways, forced to movement in a way they never saw coming. There’s a freedom in that after being on lockdown. Getting outside for a run has a different optic, maybe more meaning than it did in 2019. We hope that this gives us, our ambassadors, our partners, and our retailers a chance to introduce people to running in a real way. Self-care is kind of a catch phrase, but yes, we gotta take care of each other and ourselves and yes, it’s exciting to have a voice that’s inspiring people to movement world-wide.
This year you’ve launched your first t-shirt collection, as well as the GTGlass collaboration - so, what’s next for Ciele?
So much! We started at the top. ;)
- Words By: Noelle Cassier
- Learn More: Ciele Athletics