Curious to know what running style is all about? Next time you’re in the heart of the city, pull up.
This story is part of Image issue 6, “Energy,” an exploration what sports style feels like in the City of Champions. See the full package here.
Do you know a runner when you see one on the street? Maybe it’s the all-black, the neon, the nylon, the casual mix of performance gear and a cut-up cotton band T-shirt. Perhaps it’s the Nikes in the tote bag that they lug to the office. It could be the merch, relics from marathons and run clubs. The way we dress has always been a way to visually communicate the most important parts of ourselves. Runners know who they are. No words necessary.
Koreatown Run Club members elicit longing gazes — mainly because of how cool they look. Part of the secret sauce is the eclectic tastes of its diverse membership: DJs and sports marketers and creatives and entrepreneurs, a true microcosm of the city, mobbing the streets of K-Town at night as many as 150 deep. But another part of it is the clothes. KRC merch has its own energy. “Running is such a visual sport,” says Duy Nguyen, who started Koreatown Run Club with friend Mike Pak in 2016. “You’re not a run club until you have a logo. And then if you have a logo, you got to put it on a shirt. If not, you’re just a group of people that meet up.”
KRC clothes speak: “This is who I am. I’m a part of something bigger.” The merch is simple. It “doesn’t feel like it tries that hard, in a good way,” one runner told me. That’s the pull of KRC — it lures you in with authenticity. Some people in the club were drawn in because of the designs and now are locked in because of the community they found. In many cases, the merch served as a hook for a lifestyle.
Neither Nguyen or Pak were runners when they started. They were just friends who loved working together — the duo, along with Jimmy Han, are co-owners of K-Town burger joint Love Hour — and craved the camaraderie of group sports. The first plan was a soccer club, but obtaining permits for the Koreatown field they wanted to use was too difficult. Nguyen, a photographer and videographer, had recently gone to Haiti to shoot a documentary for North Face on a group of cross-country runners. He was drawn to the accessibility of the sport and the way it brought people together. This was it.
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Pak — who is known as the “unofficial mayor” of Koreatown for the myriad ways he gives back to the community — announced the details of the meetup on his personal account, @koreatown. They’d meet at the Line hotel on Wilshire, and whoever wanted to join, could. The stakes were low, expectations even lower. Twenty people showed up that day and, at the end of the run, asked when the next one would be. “We looked at each other kind of clueless, and we’re just kind of like, ‘Oh yeah, same time next week,’” Pak remembers.
Now, the club runs five times a week in K-Town. It’s become the constant of Pak’s and Nguyen’s lives, something that they can count on amid the chaos of everything else. “It’s meant everything,” Nguyen says. “Everything has gone back to the Run Club.” This kind of deep devotion is shared by other members. But zeal in KRC doesn’t ever feel impenetrable, the way some run clubs can feel. There’s no insularity or exclusivity here. The vibe is more familial than anything, even for the newbies.
“We see each other more than our actual families. So when we use that word, ‘family’ — especially if someone runs with us once or twice and they’re like, ‘What the f—? Like, you keep saying this family thing’ — yes, we do, but once you stick with us and understand what we’re really about, it’s just taking care of each other,” says Pak.
That all comes through in the clothes. Nguyen has a creative background and Pak has a streetwear background. After moving to L.A. from Virginia years ago, Pak worked in many different capacities: He ran Kim Kardashian’s social media accounts, managed a barbershop, interned at a sales agency and worked at The Hundreds and Pleasures. Nguyen is a designer and collector and followed street fashion closely for years before he started working with Need Supply and menswear brands. Pak’s own Koreatown merch has a cult following, and the Love Hour merch is equally beloved. “Duy and I just love fashion,” Pak says. “When it comes to clothing, when it comes to fashion, we’re pretty much in the know of everything.”
They describe their own running styles as mild in comparison. “If you ever do a shoot with a stylist and they know so much about style but they dress very normal, very comfortable, I feel like I’m toward that,” Nguyen, who is also from Virginia, says. Pak puts it this way: “My friends always make fun of me for [what] I wear — I look like a ‘Korean dad.’ My running style is like a 60-year-old trying to go to the gym for the first time.”
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But when it comes to the merch, they stunt a little bit. All KRC merch is designed by Nguyen. He’s the mastermind behind the clean typography and sharp graphic design. The style could be described as universal, which has helped dictate the energy of the club over the years.
“We like things super clean and simple,” Pak says. “It says a lot about Run Club. Straightforward. I feel like everyone relates to it.”
We talked to 10 KRC runners about community and style in running. Here’s what they had to say.
Davy Greenberg, 35, Los Feliz, KRC runner since 2021
I followed KRC for a while before I was even into running, more on the fashion tip. It’s a bunch of people who look really cool, this hybrid of streetwear and sports. I wish the style stuff didn’t matter to me when it comes to running, but I like to hypebeast it out a bit. What’s sticking with me now is the super technical functional pieces but also the subversive, edgy style of running. There’s a tendency for running to be really dad-core, and I lean against that.
Sandra Garcia, 25, San Fernando Valley, KRC runner since March 2019
Koreatown Run Club has created such an amazing community. It’s been a big part of helping my mental health. I am a firm believer that when you look good, you feel good. So whether my mental health be not so great, I automatically start feeling better when I start looking better. That same thing goes for running. I wear a lot of black, but I always like to add a splash of color — whether it’s my top or whether it’s the highlighter shoes. That balances it out. I do believe that whatever you wear is a representation and expression of yourself, so I want to make sure my views align with it.
Kathleen Hernando, 31, Hollywood, KRC runner since May 2021
I like to dress comfy but also, once I put on running clothes, I’m like “OK, let’s go.” I wear a lot of black but if I feel like being bold, I wear something red or mismatched shoes.
Danny Ogden, 33, Burbank, KRC runner since 2019
I’m a graphic designer. Day to day, I usually do pretty much all-black everything. I roll that over into my running style as well. Most of my stuff is KRC. If a T-shirt is starting to get a little haggard, I’ll cut the sleeves off, freshen it up and make it my own thing. My fiancée thought the merch was so cool that she basically had to come out and run one night just so she could start wearing it.
Benny Ramos, 32, Koreatown, KRC runner since 2019
I try to route everything to function, so at least there’s logic behind it. I’ve got some things that I wear every run that are not the sexiest but keep me safe. I don’t like when it’s Nike Dri-Fit head to toe. It makes it feel like I’m training for the Olympics. You don’t really need performance shirts. Shorts and a sleeveless cotton T-shirt do the trick. Since I came to that realization, it’s been about finding that right mix of performance and “I don’t care” [pieces].
Avantia Batista, 32 (“but I look 25”), Hollywood, KRC runner since 2017
It’s about comfort and aesthetic. I wear a lot of black when I run because if you sweat, you don’t want to wear bright colors. Just something fly. I want to look cool when I’m running. Amongst the different clubs, having your own gear and style, it’s cool to have a club to rep. I think the Run Club definitely represents L.A. The merch is a conversation starter. People look at me and don’t think that I’m an athlete or a runner. I’m a Black girl. I’m curvy. And I’m out here running 20 miles and doing my thing, marathon training. It’s good for other people to see that. Like, “Oh, I can have the style. I can look like her too. And I can be out here running.”
Tay Artis, 36, MacArthur Park, KRC runner since 2017
My running style, jokingly, is “hot girl runner.” I’ve always been told I run like a girl. That doesn’t mean you don’t run fast; it just means you look pretty when you’re doing it. I usually am coming from work, so I have a face of makeup on, a full beat. I like all-black clothes because I think it looks chic; it looks good in pictures; and it looks fast. I’m a naked runner. Less is more: It’s lighter, you feel faster. You’re always going to catch me in some chains, some rings, earrings. That’s my aesthetic. I think there’s a space for women to be really feminine and powerful in the sport.
Christopher Bordenave, 36, Leimert Park, KRC runner since 2018
Style, for me, is an expression, it’s freedom. To describe my running style — we’ll call it “runner chic.” I have this thing where, like, running is ugly, so why not look pretty doing it? It’s a grueling sport. Being where I’m from, the culture and everything, I just wanted to bring that same pizzazz to running. You want to be able to perform, but like Deion Sanders would say, “If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good. If you play good, they pay good.” I take that to heart. You cross those lines of fashion and the sport of running.
Jean-Michel MK Thomas, 40, Los Angeles, KRC runner since 2017
Comfort is the main thing. But to look nice is a good feeling as well. Especially when you go across lines, you see so many styles from different backgrounds. I just came from Chicago wearing a KRC sweater. When people look at me as a Black man [from France], to wear something that says Koreatown, it’s me crossing the boundaries as well. We are here — and that’s something people need to know, especially as areas change. They can lose their culture, they can lose their identity. With a crew like KRC, we keep the community alive.
Oscar Tellez, 30, East L.A., KRC runner since 2020
[I was drawn to KRC] because I felt like they embodied L.A. Everybody does tend to have their own style.