Max Vallot and Tom Daly are out to make your run the best it can be, and while that’s the root of their new line of stylish-yet-performance-focused eyewear, District Vision, their concern extends beyond that to your pre-run meditation. “Running is a way of achieving mental and physical wellness,” Max tells us. “It can be an access point, the beginning of a journey towards self-transformation—a process that is only possible through some form of meditation.”
After meeting more than ten years ago while at school in London, Vallot and Daly moved to New York and began building their respective careers in the top tiers of the fashion industry (ahem, Acne Studios—cough, cough, Saint Laurent) before their journeys took a turn as Vallot discovered meditation and Daly took up running. From these passions, derives District Vision: a brand that views wellness holistically and sees the gear they create as a step toward helping wearers fulfill their goals, whether they be physical, mental, or spiritual.
The duo took both their philosophy and their handmade Japanese shades to Brooklyn’s Red Hook Crit 5k run earlier this year—one of the fastest-paced foot races in the world, and one that draws elite-level talent from across the globe. The wellness-focused philosophy was put into practice as the duo offered runners a guided meditation session prior to the race, while the sunglasses were put to the test on the course itself.
Both the pre-run meditation and the race were captured by fine art photographer Chadwick Tyler for the brand’s newest campaign, and we caught up with Max and Tom after the race to learn more about the connections between running, meditation, sunglasses, and life. Scroll on for a closer look at Tyler’s stunning images from the race and to learn more about District Vision’s holistic approach to wellness and performance.
The Window: You both have backgrounds in fashion, ranging from Acne to Saint Laurent—how did you end up launching District Vision?
Max: I think we already knew that we wanted to do our own thing when we first met in 2004 while studying together in London. Fashion was always a great medium that allowed us to play with imagery, design, music, and interiors. Jonny Johansson and Hedi Slimane were both huge inspirations from the beginning, because we felt like they captured the zeitgeist of our generation perfectly back then. We learned a lot in this world, but our personal lives took a pretty radical turn a few years ago, and we both realized it wasn’t just us—the values of our generation had shifted substantially. Tom got into running marathons, and I took up transcendental meditation, and we started working on District Vision as a research program with runners in New York in January 2014.With your varied backgrounds, how did end up focusing on sunglasses?
Tom: District Vision was born out of the running and wellness community today, particularly in New York City. As eyewear nerds, we saw there were no high-quality sports optical solutions available that were made with thought and craft. Physical activity is not something you just “go and do” anymore—our lives are now more physically and mentally engaged than ever before and we need new tools to reflect that.
Performance is vital to the product—can you tell us about the development and testing process?
Tom: The whole project started as an experiment. We believe that the most relevant way to design sports product today is for very specific-use cases. So it started with a group of runners in New York and an engineering team in Japan. Japan is a special place where we develop all our frame and lens technology. We were introduced by some close friends to a family in Japan that has been manufacturing eyewear for three generations.
The dialogue always begins with a very particular issue, such as weight distribution or lens visibility in torrential rain. We then work with Japan on a number of potential solutions. We prototype them, and eventually put them to the test in New York. We go back and forth until we’re happy with the particular frame feature and move on to the next one. The system took two years to develop but now we’re confident enough about it to be able to apply it to a collection that is being launched this year and next.
Product aside, District Vision is also a wellness company. Why is this so important to both the brand and to each of you personally?
Max: Running to us is a way of achieving mental and physical wellness. At the very least, it can be an access point, the beginning of a journey towards self-transformation. This process is only possible through some form of meditation. The Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh was extremely influential in teaching us that even walking can be a type of meditation; we believe running can be experienced this way if it’s approached with a different mindset. That’s why we decided to start teaching seated meditation to runners, through a series of events and an ongoing program. You could argue that this combination of sunglasses and meditation feels a little far-fetched, but to us it’s just the way in which we can deliver the most value right now. At its foundation, District Vision is simply a modern toolkit for runners.
So meditation and mindfulness play just as much of a role in the brand as the sport performance element. Can you tell us about the connection between the two?
Tom: In order to perform well, as a runner and as a human being, you need a very well-considered set of tools, both internal and external. We train our minds through meditation and we protect our eyes with sunglasses. Of course you can run without the sunglasses as well, just like we encourage everyone to run barefoot sometimes to reconnect with the intrinsic intelligence our bodies are gifted with. We encourage our customers to consider every purchase wisely. We really don’t need to own much, but what we do own needs to be the best.
As the brand continues to gather momentum, what might we hope to see from you next?
Max: Right now, we have our hands full with testing a new lens designed specifically for trail running. We’re also releasing a hand-woven Japanese headband in very small quantities. This collection will come together to form a survival kit for trail runners.