Athletic Propulsion Labs: Behind The APL Brand
Whether you may have spotted these streamlined silhouettes stamped with three distinct letters (APL) in the immaculate Alo Yoga stores in the US, remember hearing about a revolutionary shoe being banned from the NBA in 2010, or have seen the best selling Techloom Pro papped on celebs such as Kim K or Michael Jordan... we're delighted to introduce Athletic Propulsion Labs to our UK shores.
So why are the latest kicks on the TSE block already top of your activewear wish lists?
Co-Founders; Adam and Ryan Goldston claim ‘they’re the most comfortable shoes you’ll put on’ which we can confirm first hand. As well as being feather-light, weighing in at a minuscule 193 grams for a UK size 5.5 in the newest Breeze model, APL is the most versatile and valuable addition to your shoe-drobe this season.
‘Sneakers are so relevant in today’s culture', explains Adam. 'People are dressing for comfort yet still want to look good and we have provided a shoe that can take someone throughout their day in all aspects of life’.
‘So we wanted to make a shoe that would look incredible on your feet,’ Adam elaborated; ‘to perform at the highest level and make it so you never have to think about if you have the right shoes on your feet.’
At the intersection of style and performance, these sneakers can work it in all situations, from the gym to work meetings to catching a flight - and if you can do that all in one day you’re a superhuman ...so you better make sure you’re well booted!
So where did the brand ‘spring’ up from? You’ll get the pun once you read on!
In 2008 aged just 23, identical twins Adam and Ryan Goldston founded their brand Athletic Propulsion Labs (APL), whilst studying at University of Southern California. The brothers were keen basketball players at college, but felt that their height was holding them back from competing at a higher level (literally). This started their mission of creating a shoe that could make the wearer jump higher, to allow athletes to maximise their potential.
Inspired by Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Lab, the duo set about establishing an athletic brand of revolutionary products, positioned at the intersection of fashion, performance and technology. Their major breakthrough into the sports footwear industry came with the invention of their Load ‘N Launch® Technologies, designed to instantly increase vertical leap.
But just before we skip to the technology…
Even at 5 years old, the Goldston twins had a sneaker-head on their shoulders. Their father Mark Goldston, who Chief Marketing Officer of Reebok and oversaw the creation of the iconic Reebok Pump, set his sons on the task of product testing. Whilst sampling the sneakers in the dark, Adam and Ryan had suggested the lights move from the back to the side so they can be seen by the wearer. This feedback was implemented and the shoes went on to sell over 5m pairs a year throughout the nineties. Let’s hope they negotiated their stake in the shares aged 5…
So what is this Load ‘N Launch?
With the launch of their first basketball shoe in June 2010, the $300 Concept 1, they became the creators of the first shoe proven to instantly make you jump higher due to the revolutionary 8-spring Load 'N Launch Technology, a compression spring based system located in the forefoot cavity of the shoe.
The co-creators describe the technology as a diving board; ‘as it takes the potential energy stored in the load phase of a jump and turns it into kinetic during the launch phase’. Once the board of the NBA caught onto the Concept 1’s advantageous attributes, it became the first shoe banned in the NBA's 64-year history for performance reasons due to it providing ‘an undue competitive advantage’.
This gave the pair the ultimate endorsement and literal leg up, as their product was officially acknowledged as TOO good for the sport it was designed for. The story went viral and at this moment APL took off, becoming one of the top searched terms on Google. Their website crashed for 8 hours and sold out of 9 months worth of inventory in 3 days.
‘It changed the course of our business and gave us the platform we needed to promote and build our brand,’ said the pair, as their start-up company hit the world stage within hours.
Whilst lecturers criticised the twins, saying they were ‘too smart to be doing something like this’, they continued to stick with what they were passionate about, which has ultimately proven it’s success.
Now recognised as accomplished inventors with numerous U.S and foreign patents, this ambitious pair’s business plan to market the fusion of fashion with performance in footwear served as Ryan’s grad thesis, and evolved to take on the likes of footwear giants Nike and Adidas. APL has now become a competing player in the £64 billion global athletic footwear market, which Ryan says ‘makes it so exciting – so few players and such a big ocean creates a lot of opportunity.’
The fact that there are so few players is undeniably down to the difficulty to come up with something new, special, unique and smart to get noticed when you’re not one of those biggest brands in the world - something APL has certainly achieved. The duo were named in Forbes’ ‘Top 30 Under 30’ list in 2016 and honoured at the White House as part of the Empact 100, which recognises the Top 100 Entrepreneurs age 35 and under in the U.S. In the words of The Business of Fashion, their ascent to success has been ‘nothing short of remarkable’.
What about Propelium®?
While Load ‘N Launch put APL on the map, the founders are most proud of APL’s Propelium® innovation, which was developed specifically for the running market in 2014. The proprietary midsole compound is described by APL as ‘the perfect cushioning technology for every situation,’ to provide the wearer with unmatched comfort and durability. This tech can be found in all the mid and outsoles of the Techloom Pro, Techloom Phantom, Bliss and Breeze models.
The material provides enhanced cushioning and comfort through shock absorption and energy generation, allowing for a lightweight ground contact and flexible ride. As well as being aesthetically sleek in design by limiting the amount of rubber on the outsole, it extends the life of the midsole structure, degrading at a slower rate than conventional EVA (Ethylene-vinyl acetate), which is commonly found in traditional midsoles. For the Goldstons, Propelium® perfectly embodies the brand’s ethos, as a material that is ‘at home on the street, in the gym and everywhere in between’.
What is Techloom?
Cutting edge Techloom technology also features in the upper construction of the shoes. It is a type of 3D stretch knit, seamlessly woven from performance textiles to create a single pieced upper. Such an upper provides an exceptional fit which dynamically moves with the foot. For example, when trying them on, if you flex your big toe then the knitting stretches but stays tight everywhere else. The Techloom also offers key areas of support, and breathability, to further heighten the performance.
The shoe designs have taken an emblem-free, sleek aesthetic, as the Goldston’s claim that, ‘consumers are craving products that don’t feature big emblazoned logos’. Instead their aim is to let the striking unisex materials, colour, design and technology do the talking. Particularly striking materials include glow-in-the-dark knits, animal print calf hair, woven metallics, cashmere, quilted textures, laser cut logos and waxed cotton.
However when it comes to unique design, there is one shoe to rule them all. The Lusso Supremes Black/Pure Gold from the APL LUX range, which is handcrafted to order in Italy by renowned footwear artisans, is rafted from Nile crocodile skin and painted in 24k pure gold. Retailing at a staggering $20,000, the Lusso Supremes is the very definition of sports luxe.
It is no surprise then that APL is the first athletic brand to be inducted into the Council of Fashion Designers of America and was recently named ‘One of the Five Best New Sportswear Brands in the World’ by ISPO, the International Sporting Goods Organization. Safe to say APL is backed by the big dogs, across both sports and fashion.
Karat gold and calf hair aside, the core performance and active-casual styles all come in under £180, which when featured alongside the likes of Gucci’s £800 embellished sneakers in high end departments store such as Lane Crawford, or Saks Fifth Avenue, makes APL seem like an easy athleisure add on. So whether you pick your seasonal colourway or opt for a wear-with-everything monochrome style, you’ll be getting your pounds back with every run, squat and jump.
How do APL shoes fit?
Personally, I find APL’s run small, and I tend to order a half-size up. Having said that, feedback from our customers on APL fit has been varied, with some saying they fit true to size, but other customers commenting that APL trainers tend to run slightly smaller than Nike. So if you are on the borderline between sizes we recommend you size up by half a size.
All APL shoes have a sock-like upper that you slide into, and give a very snug fit. Indeed, along with the adidas PrimeKnit and Nike FlyKnit, APL makes the best knits on the market. It is known for its ‘TechLoom’ breathable knit which is used on all four of its sneaker models. The knit is very comfortable and has enough movement in it, but it has more of a locked-down feel than some knit uppers, and it won’t stretch out. APL is of course famous for the dozens of different bold colourways it releases each season in each style, so there really are a pair for any outfit.
The ride is definitely neutral, and APL shoes have very little arch support, especially the Techloom Breeze and Bliss. So for those who want a bit more structure and support, these aren’t the shoes for you. In general, they are excellent for short runs, up to about 5km, but look elsewhere if you want a shoe for serious mileage.
The laces on APLs are on the inside and designed to be tucked into the shoe. This looks great and is very sleek, but can be distracting on longer runs. There are options to change this to have the laces on the outside.
They are all very lightweight, especially the Bliss and Breeeze, which are 193g/ 8 oz for a women's size UK 6. That is circa 100g lighter than shoes such as the adidas Ultra Boost (310g) or ASICS Kayano (336g). To put that in context, several studies have shown that an extra 100g per shoe increases times by c.1.1% over 3000m.
What activities are APL sneakers good for?
APL makes cool, minimalist sneakers with incredibly sleek silhouettes, in a dazzling array of colourways. So we know they look good. But how do they perform and what can they be worn for?
Everyday wear: APLs are super sleek trainers available in every conceivable colourway from neutral to neon to rose gold. Most people’s favourite thing about them is the way they look and the low profile aesthetic. This makes them a great everyday all-about-town sneaker, and given the performance heritage they are at the same time much lighter and more conformable than your classic fashion sneaker. They mix well with your athleisure or everyday looks, and are a great option for walking around town, and wearing to and from your studio classes. They are also great for travelling, when you want comfy shoes you can easily slip on and off.
Running: As discussed above, APL has a running heritage, and uses the proprietary foam material Propelium in all its shoes, combining a featherlight weight with reasonable cushioning.
They are adequately cushioned for shorter runs and the midsole is comfortable and responsive, but the feel is closer to a barefoot run. This is fine for a 5k and for city runs, but I’d avoid rough ground in them and I wouldn’t run long distances. There isn’t enough arch support and cushioning for 10k plus.
Training: Whilst APLs are designed for running, and are not a training specific shoe like the Reebok Nano, they are actually a very popular option for a lot of people for various types of training. They are lightweight, have a supportive knit so are good for lateral movements, and the soles are quite low to the ground. So they work well for bootcamp style classes and mixed sessions, with a bit of running, box jumps, squats and lifting lighter free weights etc. I actually use mine more for training than pure running.
What are the key features of the different styles?
APL TechLoom Phantom
The APL TechLoom Phantom shoes have an engineered upper that will move four ways with you, making it ideal for weaving through pedestrians on those summer city runs or a dynamic HIIT session. A neoprene tongue with integrated collar offers a really secure, snug fit in a sleek low cut silhouette. The TechLoom Phantom is where fashion and athletics intersect. If you're really in it for the fashion, APL occasionally releases unique calf hair versions of the Phantom (which tend to elicit love or hate reactions).
- 3D Stretch TechLoom upper features an intricate grid pattern designed to move with your feet
- The knit outer surrounds a neoprene ‘inner’ sock, incorporating the tongue. It is attached to the footbed, and gives an extra sense of a close, sock-like fit to the upper. The fabric is quick-drying and doesn’t cause any sweating around the ankle because of the inner
- The midsole/outsole compound is developed for direct ground contact, meaning less rubber is used on the outsole (rubber is mainly used where the heel strikes and forefoot pushes off), significantly reducing the weight of the shoes
- Propelium® midsole
- Inspired by the shape of a feather, the outsole incorporates natural motion flex grooves that react to every movement.
- 8mm drop to toe drop
- Weighs 224g/ 7.9 oz
APL TechLoom Pro
The TechLoom Pro is the latest version of the classic APL running shoe. It is their original design, and best priced trainers. The one piece woven upper gives a distinctive visual appearance with the different knit patterns, colour palettes, and intricacy. A very clean, sleek looking trainer that delivers on both the fashion and performance front, and is arguably the most versatile of APL’s sneakers.
- One piece engineered upper, with support, breathability, flex, and strength all strategically designed and placed in key areas
- Midsole/outsole compound for direct ground contact, so less rubber needed on outsole and hence lighter weight
- TechLoom upper construction is seamlessly woven from performance textiles resulting in a true one-piece upper for an exceptional fit
- Propelium® midsole for the proprietary APL blend of high energy rebound, rebound and cushioning
- 8mm drop to toe drop
- Weight is 224g/ 7.9 oz
APL TechLoom Breeze
The APL TechLoom Breeze is the brand's newest running silhouette and lightest ever shoe. Indeed it is as light as any running shoe on the market. It features a seamless, high elastic stretch rebound Techloom upper that moves with your feet, and is my favourite of all the APL knits. An internal speed lacing system give a bit of extra support versus the Bliss.
- Seamless, high-elastic TechLoom upper that moves with your feet
- Internal speed lacing system with exposed eyelets holds your foot securely in place while allowing full range of motion and gives a very streamlined look
- Newly developed Propelium™ midsole designed to maximize energy return while ensuring comfort, and new traction pattern and durable rubber outsole with forefoot crash pad.
- Along with the On Running Cloud, the APL Breeze is the lightest running shoe on the market at 6.8 oz/ 193g
- 8mm heel to forefoot drop
APL TechLoom Bliss
The APL Techloom Bliss trainers are free of laces, with a slip-on design. The upper has a satin elastic band across the arch which stretches and moves with your feet. They look amazing with the contrasting satin material of the band, and have built a serious celeb following in the short period since launch, including Oprah featuring them as part of her annual ‘Favourite Things’ last year.
- Stunning seamless, slip-on design
- Newly developed lightweight Propelium midsole, and new traction pattern incorporated into a durable rubber outsole, and forefoot crash pad
- The lightest shoe in APL's collection, at just 6.8oz/ 193g for a women's size 6
- Custom-milled satin elastic strap that allows for quick ingress and egress, providing ultimate comfort
- 8mm heel to forefoot drop
APL Techloom Wave
Athletic Propulsion Labs' newest addition is the Techloom Wave. This silhouette features a newly developed high-elastic 3D stretch upper that moves dynamically with your feet. The new design allows for increased stretch between the front and back of the shoe, which is where your feet articulate. A neat feature, is that you can also fully remove the laces and transform the shoe into a sleek slip-on style.
- 3D stretch upper for for dynamic movement and lateral and medial support
- Seamless design, with possibility of removing laces
- Internal cage to provide additional support and customisable lockdown when laces ares tied
- Lightweight Propelium™ midsole and durable rubber outsole with forefoot crash pad
- 8mm heel to forefoot drop
So what next? This summer Ryan and Adam are set to open their first brick-and-mortar retail store in The Grove in LA.
It’s safe to say they’ve come a long way from the college dorm they started designing in, and we’re excited for what’s to come with APL x TSE’s new partnership. For us, the Goldstons’ are true pioneers in the luxury performance category, and continue to reshape what it means to be both a fashion brand and a performance brand on a global scale.