Topo Athletic is a fairly new running footwear brand that we are carrying here at Running Warehouse. Topo has garnered a following among runners seeking a natural, open toebox shape, low heel-to-toe drop, and simple, lightweight cushioning. We caught up with Tony Post, founder and CEO of Topo Athletic, and asked him a few questions about his brand, and running in general.
Tell us about the name Topo Athletic.
Topo is a nickname I had in college, short for Tony Post. I was on the track and cross country teams at University of Tulsa in Oklahoma and a few friends and folks on the team coined that nickname. It stuck — and later, when I was at Rockport in the 80’s and 90’s a few folks also called me Topo or Mr. Topo. It was never intended to be our brand name, but trademarks can be very hard to clear. After the first few didn’t pass, we discovered Topo did clear. It felt worn in and familiar, so we went with it.
Can you tell us more about your running background?
I was a golfer and a skier growing up, but in college I had a roommate who ran. I started running with him, eventually going 5-8 miles every afternoon. I found I really liked it. I loved the bodily sensations it gave me, I loved the movement itself. But I was always attracted to competition, so I decided to train for an intramural track meet. I won the mile and two-mile, and decided to enter a regional AAU meet. I won the regional AAU mile in 4:16, the Tulsa track coach was there, and he invited me to walk onto the track and cross country teams. I joined the team, but soon realized a 4:16 mile wasn’t going to cut it in D1, so he bumped me up to the 5K where I would eventually run a few races in the 14:20’s. After college, I moved to Boston in hopes of training with better runners, competing in road races and a few track meets. I won a few local and regional races, but I could never break through to an elite level. I got a full-time job and eventually just started running for fitness and fun. It’s been a big part of my life for almost 40 years now.
How much do you currently run?
Depends on the season- I probably run 25-40 miles a week these days. I also mountain bike, road bike, and ski as much as I can. In the winter, I’m also at the gym 3 days a week. I travel a lot for work, so I love running in a different city or in a different part of the world — I get a strong visceral feeling when I run in a new place; it helps me feel more settled and more connected.
How did your experiences with competitive running translate into Topo Athletic?
My family tells me I’m competitive in everything I do, so I guess that carries over into my work life. But like most competitive sports, this is a team effort. I know it’s a cliché, but no one really succeeds alone in business, it’s always a coordinated effort requiring lots of collaboration and execution across disciplines. Besides, it’s always more fun to win as a team.
When did you start Topo? Why?
We started Topo a little over 3 years ago, but ‘why’ is probably the more interesting question.
First off, it’s a huge challenge and I love pulling a team together to create something new or solve a problem. Having been involved with sparking the natural running movement, I wanted to explore that idea more. Despite there being a lot of great running shoes out there, something was always missing for me: too narrow, too sloppy, too thick, too heavy…I wanted to create a footwear brand that could bring together all the key ingredients that I like, while delivering a better, more natural running experience.
What did you do to help spark the natural running movement?
Back in the early/mid 2000’s a lot of running shoe companies were creating shoes with more structure and support, using stability and motion control technologies to cast the foot. Candidly, I felt like a lot of those technologies were gimmicks designed to make people believe that shoes could ‘fix the way you run.’
I became interested in a different approach: instead of making products that treat the pain symptoms, we tried to develop constructive methods and products to help address the root causes of the problem. We brought more attention to the idea of improving running form, which not too many people were talking about back then. We became interested in improving strength and mobility throughout the body. We started making footwear with less ‘stuff,’ so your body could move more naturally – feel the ground, and feel yourself in space. In many ways, the work we are doing with HealthyRunning.org and ACU-Running today is an extension of these early ideas.
What makes Topo unique?
Our fit is one of those things that stands out. We’ve worked hard to create a fit that’s roomy in the toes, but snug and secure through the waist and heel of the foot. I want the shoe to feel connected to your body so you feel nimble and agile — but I want those toes to spread and splay naturally for balance, power, comfort, and better muscle activation up the kinetic chain.
Another thing I hear often is that our shoes are a great value. There’s a trend in footwear to keep adding “stuff” to a running shoe. In many instances, these parts and pieces are talking points for marketing, but don’t add much functional value. As a result, the cost of shoes can get as high as $200, which just isn’t necessary. We’ve worked hard to responsibly source materials and produce products that deliver both functional and economic value to the end user.
What do you like about running a new company the most?
There are so many exciting and daunting challenges in building a company- start-ups are a roller coaster! But of course I love product creation —I love everything that leads up to that, and everything that follows. I love the team collaboration, getting and sharing feedback, testing ideas; it’s most rewarding when you see someone using a product and thinking back to when that finished product was just an idea. It’s amazing to realize how many people it took to get that product on that one person’s foot.
I also love any event that puts me/us in direct communication with consumers. We do a lot of demo events and quite a few race expos; I love getting feedback from users, or, strange as it sounds, discovering a problem to bring back to the team so we can try to solve it.
Finally, and anyone who’s a manager already knows this, it’s so satisfying when you see the growth and execution start to come together in a new team. It’s like running in a relay —always more rewarding than competing alone.
Has Topo seen big media attention thus far in 2016?
2016 has been kind of a breakout year for Topo. While we’ve always won some critical acclaim, this year we’ve been recognized by bigger publications. Outside Magazine featured us in their article “Coolest New Running Gear for 2016.” Runner’s World named our MT-2 the “Best Buy” in all trail shoes this spring. And National Geographic picked the Topo Athletic Hydroventure for their “2016 Gear of the Year.” The year is still young, so we are hoping for a few more! It inspires the team when we get recognized like that.
Anything new from Topo we should get excited about?
Always! We get lots of great feedback from customers, all of which only inspires us to create more, so stay tuned! 3 more new shoes coming in 2016 alone!
What is your favorite Topo model?
Oh, they probably told you to ask this question! It’s been the same answer for 30 years now… the next one!