Founded in NYC in 2009 by Ricky Hendry and Marc Daniels, ISAORA was one of a handful of makers that helped to established the then nascent techwear market (clothing with high-performance fabrics and technical details that can be worn on the runway and the finish line). As techwear has since found its way into the mainstream, ISAORA has evolved into a leading consumer-direct label, pulling their line from Barneys and other retailers in order to sell exclusively via their own website without a middleman markup. They sent me four pieces to review from their recently released Sportswear collection, and they’ve quickly become some of my top go-tos. I even seriously think about doing laundry when they’re dirty rather than run in other stuff – they’re just that good.
The Welded Shorts come in a knee-length 8.5” inseam version and a mid-thigh 5” inseam version. But it’s more than just the length that distinguishes the two. Both models are trouser-cut with a non-elastic flat waistband, bonded seams (not sewn), laser-cut ventilation holes, mesh brief liner, and 4-way stretch material. However, the 5” shorts are made with 86/14 polyester/elastane fabric, and have an interior waistband key pocket, rear flap pocket, and breathable mesh gusset between the thighs.
The 8.5” shorts, on the other hand, are made from a 86/14 nylon/polyester fabric and only have a zippered rear pocket, with no interior pocket or thigh gusset. Post-wash measurements are relatively similar – both pairs (size medium) measure 33” around the waist with a 12” front rise. However, the leg opening on the 5” inseam pair is 12”, while the 8.5” inseam version measures 11”.
Performance-wise, I’d give a slight edge to the 5” shorts, but both pairs are among my favorites to run in. I’ve put 120+ miles into them over the last few weeks, including a hilly 31-mile trail race, and they’re lightweight, quick-drying, and virtually friction-free. For the most part, the shorts disappear when I’m wearing them, which is just about the finest compliment I can give. I was curious to see how the welded seams would hold up to hard use, and after lots of sweat, rain, mud, multiple trips through the washer, and more stumbles than I care to admit, I’m very impressed with their durability.
My only quibble with the Welded Shorts is the fit around the waist. Without an elastic band, the only thing securing the shorts tight is the drawstring. To their credit, it’s a sturdy drawstring and the embossed rubber “TRAINBETTER” text on the string helps keep knots tight. But, I still find myself cinching up more waistband material than I’d like. A solution might be producing the shorts in traditional sizes rather than alpha XS/S/M/L/XL.
Moving north of the waist, I also put 120+ miles into an Engineered Mesh-Knit T-Shirt and a Micro-Knit No-Sew T-Shirt. The Engineered Mesh-Knit tee is a thin 60/40 nylon/polyester blend with no side seams (similar to a tubular-knit sweatshirt). The most prominent visual feature is the thinner, lighter knit through the chest and under the arms, which opens up the body for better airflow. Measurements for my size medium after multiple washes (always hung to dry) are 19.5” across the chest, 28.5” body length, 6” sleeve width at the cuff, and 4” sleeve length under the arms, and the body has a very slight taper, coming down to 19” across the hips.
I found it extraordinarily comfortable and cool to run in, even on humid, swampy afternoons. The knit material dried quickly and wicked sweat well, and like the Welded shorts, it’s a shirt that just disappears when you’re using it. I did notice some minor thread breakage around the collar after a few runs. I’m not sure if this is an issue of thread material or the sewing tension, but as far as I can tell, it seems to only be an aesthetic problem.
The Micro-Knit No-Sew shirt is different enough from the Engineered Mesh-Knit tee that I’m really glad I got to try out both. It’s a super-stretchy 93/7 poly/spandex blend that’s noticeably lighter than the Engineered Mesh-Knit, and like the shorts, it’s welded together so there are no sewn-in seams (except the collar). Laser-cut ventilation holes at the sides provide some airflow, and my favorite small detail is the 2.5” of extra length in the rear from the curved hem. A medium measures slightly broader through the body and longer overall than the Engineered Mesh-Knit tee – 20.5” across the chest, 30” body length, 6.5” sleeve width at the cuff, and 5” sleeve length under the arms. The body is also slightly curved, measuring 20” across the narrowest point of the waist, and 21” at the hips.
While I strongly prefer the fit of the Micro-Knit No-Sew shirt, the fabric didn’t perform as well as the Engineered Mesh-Knit on the warmest days. The poly/spandex blend wicked sweat away from my body, but it didn’t seem to evaporate the moisture as quickly in temps higher than 80 degrees. I’d be curious to see how the other two training tees in the collection – the Torque Performance tee and the Nano-Mesh No-Sew tee – compare.
Overall, this is remarkable running gear from a company that’s attentive to the challenges of fusing technical performance and aesthetics. The details and fabrics show deliberate thoughtfulness about what running clothes ought to be and how they should work. It would have been easy to cut two lengths of shorts out of the same pattern, but instead, there are details that clearly distinguish the two. Likewise, I’m impressed that the shirts are not just generic tees sewn from two different fabrics, but fundamentally different designs. Runners are often creatures of habit, and Isaora’s put together some gear I’ll happily go back to over and over again.
Jason Brozek is an ultramarathon runner, lapsed Ironman triathlete, and professor at a small liberal arts college, where he teaches courses on sustainability and international politics.