APL’s Founders On Discipline, Design, And Their New Collaboration With McLaren
With its sleek designs and groundbreaking technology, Athletic Propulsion Labs (APL) has become a force to be reckoned with in just over a decade. Identical twins Adam and Ryan Goldston were just 22 when they founded their company. Since then, they’ve introduced patented technology in nearly every area of their footwear and created a brand with a devoted following thanks to its purity of design and dedication to excellence.
The brand favors quiet luxury, with minimal logos and branding in designs that blend form and function. How functional? Well, their first shoe, the Concept 1, was the first and only shoe to be banned by the NBA for providing an unfair competitive advantage. Simply put, the shoes helped players jump even higher thanks to its patented Load ‘N Launch technology. “It’s a compression spring base system that sits in the cavity of the forefoot. You put pressure on it, it compresses, you jump, it releases and propels you up like a diving board,” Adam explains. “The average athlete gets 1-3.5 inches of instant increase in vertical leap.”
When the shoe was banned, it was bad for NBA players, but great for APL. “It was crazy. That day, it was the number one news story in the world,” Ryan says. “We sold nine months of inventory in three days. We’re truly the brand that we are today because of that. It gave us absolute credibility within performance, especially in basketball. In general, the holy grail is creating shoes that make you jump higher and run faster instantly. Just having this happen was an amazing moment, and it was right at the beginning of the company. It’s kind of the origin story and the genesis of the brand. It was unreal.”
Throughout the years, APL has continued to innovate and has a host of other innovations and patents. But it was important to the brothers to keep the shoes accessible and understandable to customers. “We wanted to, for lack of better terms, to hide it within the beauty of the shoe,” says Adam. “We wanted it to be present, but not necessarily front and center. We felt like that lends itself well to quiet luxury. So, we can have all of these incredible innovations within our footwear where we’re the only ones to do it in the market, but it’s not blatant and in your face. It’s more going with you throughout the journey.” Some of their clients only want the shoes because they like the look and the groundbreaking technology is just a plus. Others want the most technically advanced shoes they can find and are thrilled that they are actually stylish. “We don’t use big emblazoned logos. We let the materials, color, technology, and design speak for themselves,” says Ryan.
APL has a tightly curated selection of shoes and it can take years for them to develop each silhouette. “We have the luxury of being able to spend the time on engineering the product the way we think, not only to the way we see fit but to the furthest level possible,” says Adam. He notes that many activewear companies strive to be the first to market and to pump out as much product as possible, but one of their key brand pillars is time. “We can never say, ‘Okay, this is good enough.’ It has to be the best that it can possibly be. It’s the reason why I believe our shoes are the most comfortable, they perform the best, and they look the best is that we really spend so much time creating the product and don’t release it until we say it’s done, not that it’s finished. I think there’s a difference between the two,” says Adam. “It’s engineered to the way that we set out to create it. If we finish it fast, we finish it fast. If it takes us three or four years to create it, we’re going to spend three or four years creating it.”
The brothers credit this focus on discipline and design as one of the keys to their success. They know where they want to take their company and are prepared to make difficult decisions in the present, knowing that they will pay off in the future. “When we think about discipline, that’s really what it comes down to: making difficult decisions and being enthusiastic about the thing that you don’t want to do,” says Adam. He notes that they are also disciplined in their designs. “We don’t have an extensive breadth of silhouettes because we spend so much time designing, refining, engineering, and creating what we believe are our hero silhouettes,” he says. Colors might come and go seasonally, but they strive to create silhouettes that are timeless and built to last. They don’t find this commitment to being disciplined stifling. “We always say that discipline gives you freedom,” Ryan says. By having their anchors, they can push themselves creatively within that framework, allowing them to innovate at the highest levels.
The brothers pull inspiration from their travels, including some rather unexpected sources: The Streamline midsole was inspired by Japanese soufflé pancakes they ate during a trip to Tokyo. “They’re these thick, soft, fluffy, light pancakes. They just have this amazing texture. We had these pancakes, and we were walking, and I said to Adam, ‘We need to make a midsole inspired by these pancakes,” says Ryan. “It has a thicker sole, but the shoe itself is super lightweight.” The back has lines that mimic a stack of pancakes, but they actually have an aerodynamic function. After all, it is a performance running shoe.
This dedication to fabulous yet understated design carries over into its retail locations. The flagship APL boutique in Los Angeles looks more like a chic art gallery than a sneaker store. The space is narrow and long, with soaring ceilings. The brand wanted to pay homage to its home, the City of Angels, by creating an airy, heavenly space. They chose “timeless” materials, including travertine stone, noting that it was used in the Roman Coliseum, and the stone is still as fashionable today as it was centuries ago. The shoes are displayed in illuminated vignettes that line the long walls as if each one is a work of art.
The boutique pulls from some of APL’s perennial sources of inspiration: fashion, sport, automotive, and aviation. “When you think about fashion, you think about catwalks. People walk down the runway and come back. It’s a straight shot. When you think about sports and measuring the world’s fastest woman and the world’s fastest man, it’s a 100-meter dash right down the track. For automotive, the fastest points on an F1 track are the straightaways, and for aviation, it’s airplanes going down a runway to take off,” Ryan says. “We wanted to create a space that had no turns, basically a straight hallway.”
Adam believes this environment is the perfect way for customers to immerse themselves into APL’s world. “We wanted to make it so you had to go through the entire space to discover it. You couldn’t simply walk by to get the full preview,” he says. “There’s this discovery process from start to finish.” Visitors have to walk the length of the store to see the collection, which encourages them to linger and see the entirety of the collection.
What’s on display in these boutiques? APL recently debuted a new collection and a partnership with McLaren. The new collection, Luminous Neutrals, features the understated colors that APL is so known for, alongside some wild and unexpected colors across multiple silhouettes ranging from sandals to sneakers. “It’s really about the juxtaposition of these neutral color palettes that we’ve become known for as a brand and bright pops that really stand out and shine,” says Ryan. The response has been fantastic — Adam notes that one of the seasonal colors of the Zipline has become their number-one-selling shoe.
The McLaren collection also has these bold and neutral colors in five exclusive colorways but also introduces a new silhouette: the trademarked APL McLaren HySpeed inspired by McLaren’s supercars. The running shoe took two years to develop, and the brothers call it a true collaboration. “The HySpeed represents everything that is shared between APL and McLaren — an appreciation for design, impeccable luxury, unique attention to detail, and the need for the beautiful product to perform at the highest level,” they say. “The silhouette was built from the ground up and inspired by McLaren’s supercars. From the architectural aero dynamics of the midsole to the internal heel padding inspired by the ultra-lightweight Senna seats, there was no shortage of creativity and engineering excellence utilized in order to bring the HySpeed to life.” Goran Ozbolt, Acting Design Director of McLaren Automotive, says, “It perfectly embodies both our own McLaren and APL’s DNA and design philosophy. APL has developed new technologies specifically for this shoe – inspired by our ground-breaking work using lightweight materials – which also maximizes the wearer’s comfort and experience. Like stepping into a McLaren, it is all about optimizing performance, agility, and speed.”
Despite turning APL into the second-largest independent footwear company in a short time — the company launched in 2009 — the brothers remain humble. They still get excited when they see people wearing their shoes in unexpected places. Ryan remembers a visit to La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the iconic temple designed by architect Antoni Gaudí, where they were recognized by a tourist wearing APL sneakers who complimented their designs. It was a surreal moment for them to be recognized for their designs in such a legendary space that has inspired them. “No matter what we do, the coolest feeling is still seeing people wearing the shoes,” Ryan says. Adam agrees: “there hasn’t been a day in probably four years that we haven’t seen someone wearing APL regardless of where we were. That’s the best feeling in the world.”
And, despite the company’s success, they aren’t even close to being finished. “The ultimate vision is to own the luxury performance category on a global scale. We’ve created it. We pioneered it. We’re pushing it forward. But truly, we want to own it on a global scale,” says Ryan.