We’re always impressed when we meet someone who is pursuing a passion. As cliché as it may be, we’re suckers for an awesome success story. That’s why  we were so excited when Justin Laidlaw sat down to chat with us about how he came to be the Communications & Media Director for Runaway. Runaway, one of our neighbors, is an apparel and lifestyle brand. Founded in 2011, the brand is inspired by those who pursue their passions in search of something greater than themselves.  Their company mantra is to help empower people who are “running away from convention.” Lucky for us, the Durham native gave us the scoop on his favorite local spots and how he got involved with Runaway. 

12 hours in Durham, where would you go? Each day offers something different, but let’s say it’s a Saturday at 11am. The best way to start a weekend is with hoops. Text the crew and get a pickup game going at The Cage at ATC. After we’re done at 1pm, gotta run home for a quick shower and then pop into Bulldega Market for a turkey pesto sandwich from Saladelia, an apple and a banana. Take all that back to the American Underground, where our (Runaway) office is located, for a little weekend work and to catch up on some reading. Right now, I’m deep into The Secret Game, a book about Durham’s history, basketball and race in the early 1900s. Next, take a little time to see who’s hanging around the Runaway shop before hopping on my bike and heading back home again around 5pm. Unless there is a show, the night usually takes me to Motorco for dinner/pregame drinks with everyone before making our way up to Surf Club for a nightcap. What a day…

Who are some of your favorite artists in Durham? Too many to count! But I’ll go with G Yamazawa (shouts to Durham!), Ryan Cocca, Trandle, Treee City, Sylvan Esso, my roommate Tom and, of course, Gabe Eng-Goetz (I am contractually obligated to mention him).

Top 3 spots for feasting? This is a tough one. It depends on my mood and the zeroes in my bank account, but I would say Parts & Labor is a no-brainer. That place has saved me numerous times coming home from a night out. Their udon salad and garlic fries are perfect, especially when we’re drunk after midnight. Dashi is another one of my favorites. I don’t go often, but I enjoy the atmosphere and the Mazemen is delicious! Nice big bowl of ramen that’s both spicy and filling. Two things I can appreciate. Lastly, I have to give a nod to my Oma and Opa’s house. What beats home cooking?! I don’t eat a lot of fried foods, but I will go to war for my grandfather’s fried chicken, and I love grandma’s collard greens.

What does being a Durhamite mean to you? Someone who is willing to stand up for what’s right. They take care of their community and make it an inclusive place to live and work. A Durhamite is proud of where they’re from and being a part of something bigger than themselves.

What three words best describe Durham? Proud. Optimistic. Curious.

You did not initially set out to have a career in fashion. How did Runaway come to be?
Runaway didn’t start with me, so it was going to exist no matter what, but my beginnings at Runaway stemmed from a bit of luck and nagging curiosity. My first gig with [business partner] Gabe was a photoshoot for one of his first collections. I happened to be around and one of his models couldn’t make it, so I filled in. Let the record show, I am not a model. I wasn’t before, and I am not now, but modeling is what got me into Runaway. From there, I worked the merch table at rap shows, helped out with social media and did other odd jobs just to keep sticking my nose into what was going on within and around the brand. A lot of cool artists were associated with Runaway, and I enjoyed watching the scene grow from the inside.

Due to your extremely successful Kickstarter campaign, you were able to open your first store. How was it to see your ideas come to life with this store? The store has been great. It’s given Runaway a place to call home, not just for us, but the community within the brand as well. Durham is growing and to have a store in downtown is humbling and gives us encouragement about where Runaway is headed.

Runaway did a photoshoot on our pool deck back when it was a vacant building. Why did you choose our hotel? It had a very classic look to it, even in its dilapidated condition. Gabe often describes the brand as “hood chic” and I would like to think the hotel represented that in some way.

You and Gabe grew up in Durham. How is the city showcased through your designs? The range of designs at Runaway allows us to entertain all facets of Durham. Capsules like Black Wall Street, the Ciudad Del Toro tees, the “say it like you’re from here” tagline…they all represent different parts of the community that make up who Durham is. Because of the growth, Durham has a lot of shiny new toys, but at its core, it’s still a blue collar, gritty, working class town full of prideful, talented individuals who we hope to highlight through the brand whenever possible.

Runaway strives to be more than just a clothing store. Can you tell us how? Our business is built on selling clothing, but our mission is to “run from convention” using all the arts as a medium to tell our story and others. The store serves as both a place to buy clothing and a gallery to showcase different artists. We also host events at our store and off-site locations to bring the community together around music, art and fashion. Our website serves as a place to learn about these events, new music releases by artists in the scene and more. We strive to make it a digital hub for the culture we participate in.

As an artist, where do you look to for inspiration? As a writer, I draw inspiration from the conversations happening around me. What does the world have to say, and what can I say in response? I enjoy writing profiles, so talking to people, hearing their story, that’s what invigorates me.

Since first opening, how has Durham changed for you? Many of us have become jaded by the growth, because we fear what it might do to the culture of Durham. As they say: “you fear what you don’t understand.” Durham and its citizens are used to being a small, tight-knit community, and the prospect of that going away can be discouraging, especially for folks who think they can’t or won’t be able to participate in the new things happening. It puts a responsibility on entities like Runaway to bridge that gap a bit between old and new Durham, and it’s something we think about often with our designs, our events and so on.

How do you help people with their style? The clothes you wear say a lot about you. I never considered myself to be a fashion-savvy person, but Runaway has given me the confidence to be who I am, and I let my style reflect that. That would be my advice to people: don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone and rock something unique or wild. If it makes you happy and gives you confidence in yourself, that’s all that matters. That’s what we hope to give people when they wear our gear.

What does personal style mean to you? I enjoy trying new things. I had a huge afro in high school, and it was a super distinct look that people all across Durham knew me for. When I finally cut my hair, a lot of people were disappointed, but for me, I wanted to continue exploring style and try something different. That idea expanded into my clothing after a while. I’m still looking to get a tattoo at some point and maybe even a few piercings (don’t tell my grandparents).

Where do you see Runaway in five years? It’s so hard to project that far. In the ideal world, Runaway is able to give great jobs to as many people as possible and continue to be a flagbearer for the culture we appreciate here in North Carolina. Creativity is unlimited. Our business can be as well.

Best piece of advice on the key to success? Build a great team that you can lean on. Communication is important, not just in business, but in all places in life. Especially as a small business, you’re working long hours with little resources to accomplish your dreams, and times will get tough. You have to be able to trust the people around you. Also, don’t take it too seriously. Your work isn’t who you are, it’s an extension of you. Feel free to take time for yourself and nurture your soul however you see fit.