Devotees of Runaway gear are standing in line outside 212 W. Main Street in Durham. It's the morning of Saturday, April 2, and Gabriel Eng-Goetz and Justin Laidlaw are ceremoniously unlocking their first brick-and-mortar store. After selling their wares online, in boutiques, and in pop-up shops for several years, the small company known for its "Durm" shirts and stickers is ready to stake its claim downtown.
"We've been in here the last month trying to figure out what items we were going to put in and what atmosphere we wanted to create," says Laidlaw, Runaway's twenty-five-year-old media director. "All the elements of Runaway and Durham are here."
The store, right next to 21c Museum Hotel, fills a small corner of the Trust Building, which became one of Durham's first skyscrapers when it was built in 1905. It's fitting that a brand built on the city's past would find a home in a historic building. There's a neon sign in the window and local art on the walls. Among the T-shirts, hats, and socks on the shelves is a new collection created for the opening, including shirts emblazoned with Durham landmarks, bulls, and leaves that say "Durham Grown."
Eng-Goetz, Runaway's thirty-year-old creative director, founded the company five years ago. He describes the Runaway aesthetic as "hood chic, comfortable and stylish, with a street edge." At the opening, he and Laidlaw are both wearing their own supply, which looks like it was made for them—and, in a way, it was.
Eng-Goetz and Laidlaw are cool and soft-spoken, even as they talk about achieving world domination. Still, they seem somewhat surprised that they own a store. Customers, some of them friends, trickle in throughout the morning. One can't decide between a tank top featuring kissing fish and another with "Durm" on a bull silhouette. Others wander in to check out the clothes, meet the owners, or chat with Raj Bunnag, whose art is the first to be displayed in the store, which doubles as a gallery.
"The vibe has been great, with a large array of people, both long-standing fans of the brand and newcomers," Eng-Goetz says. "It's great to showcase our stuff in a space that we fully curated, and interact with our audience in a way that's like, 'Welcome to our new home.'"
At five p.m., the hoopla moves down the street for a party at Ninth Street Bakery. The crowd spills onto the patio and into the parking lot, drinking beer, petting dogs, and nodding along to DJ sets. Wool E. Bull is firing Runaway shirts out of a T-shirt cannon. (The company will design the Durham Bulls' uniforms for a game on June 9.) As the evening air grows chilly, some people pull on Durm sweatshirts, celebrating a company that grew out of the inextricable link between its founders' struggles with their own identities and a strong identification with their native city.