23 February 2023

We sat down with the founder of SOAR, Tim Soar, for an in-depth discussion surrounding the London-based brand’s relentless approach to innovation.

For many, running is used as a tool not only to enable improved physical health, but also as an exercise rooted in meditation and escapism — a momentary step away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and an access to a higher state of consciousness. For Tim Soar, the founder of London-based SOAR and a running enthusiast, it’s a testing ground for his modernist approach to design, a time in which you can fully understand a garment and its true intentionality.

SOAR’s garments are designed by runners, for runners, imbued with a meticulous approach to materials and details that enable you to perform at your very best. Jackets with nano-sized perforations on their membranes for breathability; tees with bonded hems to reduce chafe over long distance; windbreakers with laser-cut trims to save weight — all of these details are a product of SOAR’s commitment to engineering the best possible running apparel through research, refinement and innovation.

Sitting sat down with SOAR’s founder, Tim Soar, END. delve into his passion for running, his modernist approach to design and the relentless way SOAR approaches innovation. To test out SOAR’s boundary-pushing product, we joined Newcastle-based running club, Out After Dark, for an accompanying editorial shoot.

SOAR'S Relentless Innovation
SOAR'S Relentless Innovation
SOAR'S Relentless Innovation

How did your love of running come about and what kickstarted your desire to create your own performance brand?  

I was a successful DJ in the ‘90s which provided me with two things. On the positive side, I had the money to start up my own high fashion label. On the negative side, it was a very unhealthy lifestyle, so I had the classic mid-life moment of “I better get fit now, otherwise it’s not going to look good in ten years’ time”. So, I started doing a bit of cycling but quickly got very into running. Historically, I’d never done any sport — I would often skive off cross country at school — I really never thought I’d enjoy it. I started doing it and suddenly realised that having this dialogue with your body, this physicality, was fantastic.  

The DJing gave me enough money to launch my high fashion brand, which was a success from a PR point of view, but it just wasn’t making enough money. I folded that after five years, during which I was getting more and more into running, and the lessons I learned from the fashion label could be applied into a sportswear brand.

I’ve heard you mention that running provides access to the true intentionality of a garment. Can you elaborate on this and how running informs your modernist approach to design?

What I meant by that is, if you design a running garment, you’re only going to know what that garment is and what it does by running in it. I did a year’s development, during which I was product testing loads of different brands, and I kept thinking: “whoever has designed this garment clearly hasn’t been running in it”, because there were so many obvious mistakes with the garment. That made me realise running clothing is a bit like product and fashion design, in as much that you have to prototype designs and develop like that. So, if you’ve designed a garment for running races, you better run a lot of races in it. What might happen is, is that you’ll find out that garment isn’t really meant for racing, but it’s meant for some other sort of running.  You have to test when you’re knackered, when you’re fresh, when the weather’s great, when the weather’s bad. It’s only through that process that you’ll understand what’s right and what’s wrong about a garment. That’s something that’s unique to SOAR, that we do so much prototype testing.

Modernism was a movement in the 20th century, but essentially the concept is that the beauty of something will come out through its inherent functionality. What I try to do with Soar garments is A: work out exactly what they are, what they’re used for and when they work and B: once you have that garment, think about what it is about the construction or the fabric that’s really nice and try and bring that out even more.  

SOAR'S Relentless Innovation
SOAR'S Relentless Innovation
SOAR'S Relentless Innovation
SOAR'S Relentless Innovation

I think the best way to describe SOAR’s approach to innovation is relentless. How do you go about maintaining this constant approach to researching, refining and testing designs? 

Firstly, by doing a lot of running. But you’re right, I am focused on what the next improvement we can make is. We’ve got some fantastic garments, don’t get me wrong, but there’s still space to do more. I guess a lot of that comes from keeping up with the latest technical developments in fabrics. Each year, the fabric mills we work with will present various ideas — some of them will be great, and other ones we’ll say “no that’s not actually for us, but I can see how we could use that to lead into something really innovative. Can you make this?”. You must keep moving forwards, it’s a key part of our DNA. It’s something I don’t see a lot in other brands — some are fashion focused, some are lifestyle focused, but I don’t see a lot of brands that are keen to push and evolve garments on a regular basis.

SOAR garments, beyond their technical capabilities and finer details, really strike the balance between performance and aesthetics. Can you talk about your fashion background and how it influences SOAR?

As a fashion designer, my label was halfway between tailoring and sportswear. Tailoring I did well, but I always struggled with the sportswear element, because I couldn’t get the access to the factories that did interesting sportswear things due to high minimums. There was always a strong sportswear element; I’ve always loved sportswear since a teenager, the aesthetic of it always really stood out to me. Also, my fashion label was quite minimalist, and although I am saying we have a modernist design approach and the beauty comes from the functionality, you have to know how to bring the beauty out. That’s where my aesthetic sense from my fashion label comes in. We definitely have elements in our garments which are decorative, but you have to know how to balance this. What fashion gave me was a clear aesthetic sense which I have been able to apply to, and push forward with, on my running garments.

SOAR'S Relentless Innovation

I’ve heard you describe fabric as being the engine of SOAR’s garments. What importance does fabric play in the technical approach of SOAR?

Fabric has to be the starting point, as it should be for any sportswear garment. If the fabric’s not right, then the garment is never going to be right. What’s super interesting with sportswear fabrics, is that you can build your fabric from the ground up. We can go to our mills, they’ll present ideas to us, and I can say “no, I don’t want that, but what I do want is this which will incorporate a bit of this and a bit of that”. That’s really exciting, if you’ve got a unique and innovate fabric to start with and then you’ve got a great garment, then you’re going to create something that really works.

The next bit about fabric is that there’s been a huge revolution in sportswear fabrics in the past ten years. Now, the ability to produce very complex fabrics which have different characteristics within one fabric are now starting to become available. A bit like Issey Miyake when he did all of the stuff with no seams, we’re starting to look at fabrics where all of the structure and functionality is built into it and you reduce seams to an absolute minimum. So, for me, technical fabrics is a fantastic playground — there are some great things you can do. Again, much like the modernist ethos, if the fabric and the garment are right, then you’ve got an amazing product.

While we’re on the subject, are there any fabrics that are exciting you about the future of technical design and running?

The particular class of fabrics I discussed. Part of the issue with tight fitting fabrics is, is that different muscle groups can benefit from more compressions, or different areas you want more mobility, so more stretch. Historically, you had to do that by bonding two different pieces of fabric together — something more compressive for the muscle groups, something with more stretch for the area where you want more movement. There are now fabrics where you can weave in totally different performance characteristics in a single piece. You can make a pair of shorts in one piece of fabric which are highly compressive over the quads and the thigh muscles, which also have a high degree of stretch over the buttocks and the front hips, and then become a bit more compressive over the stomach for fit.

We’ve been working on graphene-based fabrics, which still requires some more refining, but that’s all about regulating core body temperature. The final one I’m really focusing on is fabrics with a high number of natural fibres into the pure performance space, so into our racing garments. We’re doing work around how to bring natural fibres into very lightweight racing garments.

SOAR'S Relentless Innovation

Earlier this year, you launched your debut womenswear range. Can you talk about this and the inspiration behind it?  

We were getting lots of feedback from women runners who were asking when we were going to create kit. The interesting thing is that lots of the SOAR process is about wear testing and prototype development. Part of the reason we haven’t done it in so long is I’m not a woman. So, we needed to bring the right person on board, a good enough runner, who really understood the questions they needed to ask of the garments and have a great aesthetic sense. There’s serious innovation to be made in women’s running clothing as much as there is in men’s. I think the tights we’ve developed are unlike any other on the market. It’s all a result of constantly refining, testing and improving.

Community plays such a big part in the world of running, something which SOAR is tapped into at a ground level, being a runner yourself first and foremost. Can you talk about SOAR’s approach to connecting with the running community?

One of the interesting things about running is that it has a real heritage club culture. There are thousands of clubs up and down the country — I’m a member of one myself. Some of them are very anchored in heritage, but there’s a second movement, the urban running crew, which is more of a pure social thing — people want to look good, go out for a run and go for a coffee after. There are these two opposite poles of community-based running in the UK currently, and we engage with both of those. If we can get to a point where we’re a bridge between those two worlds, then that’s something super interesting. On a specific basis, with the running clubs, we do custom race vests for running clubs across the UK, and we’ve done a few hundred clubs now. That’s fantastic marketing, they’re worn by a lot of their elite runners so you get SOAR kit worn on the start lines of races up and down the country. On the crew front, we work with a lot of local crews, and that space is really interesting. We’re trying to distil this idea of who the modern runner is, and I think that person is someone who if they don’t run in crews, they know about them, and if they don’t run in clubs, they also know about them. They do some racing and they love running for mental health as well as the physical. So, it’s a way of combining all of those groups. We have a foot in all of those camps at the moment, and we want to try to be a bridge between them as much as we can.

SOAR'S Relentless Innovation
SOAR'S Relentless Innovation

What’s in store for the future of SOAR?

More innovation. Also, to get the women’s range on the same level as men’s. We’re also doing a lot of work facing on the trail market — which, for me, is shorthand for not the road. It means getting off the road and out in the country, something a little bit wilder to where you would normally run. It seems to me that there’s a big explosion in that. I’m also tentatively feeling what a lifestyle range would look like for SOAR. What I think it will be, and from early products it certainly will be, is the best tech practices we can bring into a non-running garment. There are also going to be some quirky, pure high fashion collaborations in the future, so it’ll be pieces that bring in elements from Tim Soar London, the fashion brand, into SOAR Running.

SOAR'S Relentless Innovation


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writerJack Grayson
|photographerSam Atkinson