Sweated & Vetted: OnlyAtoms

Two nights ago, OnlyAtoms co-hosted a running / yoga / art / beer party in Brooklyn as part of the hoopla leading up to Saturday’s NYC Marathon. So much of the event is emblematic of this small startup, which was founded last year by ultra-runner Beth Weinstein. Learning about OnlyAtoms is a bit like stumbling on a local secret. There’s a remarkable level of authentic cool running through the company. They co-sponsor parties with art galleries, they took their name from a Neil Degrasse Tyson quote on the nature of humanity, they made singlets for their neighborhood running club, North Brooklyn Runners, and their care tag includes a reminder to eat ice cream once in a while. Needless to say, I was jazzed when Beth offered to send me a pair of their made-in-NYC shorts and a singlet to wear-test.

I also got a chance to talk to Beth a bit about where the company came from, where she sees it going, and her commitment to local production. Beth noted that, “I wanted to focus on perfecting the most basic and most popular products first (vs. just shipping a bunch of cool-looking workout clothes that are not actually well made or well-functioning). With my high-end designer, product development and production background, quality and attention to details are extremely important to me.” On the idea of spending a little more to buy better workout gear and support US manufacturing, Beth explained, “I’m also passionate about consumers buying less stuff in general, and making more conscious choices to buy higher quality goods that last longer, including running and fitness gear! Many Americans just want whatever’s cheapest and throw it away when it falls apart after 3-6 months, but do you really want to depend on the cheapest gear during a marathon? It’s also not a sustainable way of living, or good for the earth.”

The Electron Singlet is one of three different tank tops in OnlyAtoms’ line-up, along with the Proton and Quantum. They also produce a t-shirt, although Beth noted that she’s right in the middle of changing and upgrading that model for next season.

The Electron tank is an 80/20 blend of recycled polyester and spandex, with breathable mesh side panels. The size medium I tested measured 20” across the chest, 27″ in length, and 20.5” across the hips (after multiple trips through a cold wash and being hung to dry). Beth’s point about nailing down the details really came through in the cut. The curved hem at the bottom is a great detail, the shoulders are substantial and don’t slip during hard intervals, the arm holes are snug and not droopy or loose, and the neck opening is generous without feeling sloppy. The fabric is sturdier and thicker than most warm-weather running gear, but in terms of performance, I’d reach for it over my looser, lightweight tanks that flop around and bounce. If the revamped t-shirts (and, in the future, maybe long-sleeve tees or quarter-zip pullovers) have a similar fit and feel, I’d pick them up in a heartbeat. I might also order the solid pink Quantum tank, if only because the color’s so unique.

While the women’s line is pretty extensive, the only other product in OnlyAtoms men’s line are the Velocity Shorts. They’re made from a 94/6 polyester/spandex blend, although my guess is that the materials tag refers only to the body of the shorts, since the interior liner is quite a bit softer and stretchier. The size medium pair I tested had a 5” inseam, 13” leg opening, 11.5” front rise, and 13.5” waistband unstretched (16.5” with an easy stretch, so they’d comfortably accommodate up to a 33-34” waist).

Once again, the design and production details in the Velocity shorts set them apart. Not only are they produced in NYC’s Garment District, but the rear waistband pocket is roomy (and has a reflective YKK zipper!), the mesh liner is totally chafe-free, and the fabric wicks well and dries quickly. The fit was also a winner for me – not too short or long of an inseam, not such a low rise that they slip down, and not such a high rise that there’s extra fabric billowing around my hips. My only quibble was with the drawstring, which is a single continuous loop. Personally, my preference – because I have no hips – is a cut drawstring with enough length that I can pull the waist relatively tight.

Overall, OnlyAtoms is exactly the kind of company I was hoping to find when I reached out to Brad about starting a series on ethically-produced running gear. It’s clearly a passion project of Beth’s, and she’s doing what she loves – putting in miles, honing the details on her products, and supporting both her local running community and local manufacturing base. I’m looking forward to seeing where OnlyAtoms goes with the men’s line if things expand. The women’s side has four different bottoms (shorts, thigh-length tights, capri tights, and a running skirt), so I think there’s room to do a pair of men’s tights or pants, and I trust OnlyAtoms to do them right.

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.