A Runaway Success: Cultivating Durham’s Lifestyle Brand

A Runaway Success: Cultivating Durham’s Lifestyle Brand

The clothing brand's founder tells the story of Durham and gives back to the city he grew up in through his art

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Photo by Briana Brough

Gabriel Eng-Goetz’s signature “DURM” line of clothing has caught on since he launched in 2011, but the sheer velocity of enthusiasm still takes him by surprise. “People embrace [our Runaway] brand so much, and that is so powerful and special to me,” he says. “But at the same time, it’s like, ‘Who am I?’ I’m just some dude from Durham who decided to take his art and really put it out there.”

The Jordan High (class of ’04) alum’s inspiration for the line came while traveling abroad after graduating from Syracuse University. “I knew that I wanted to start a fashion label, but I just didn’t quite know the identity of it yet,” Gabe, 31, explains. “And I was searching for my own identity, too – really, Runaway is an exploration of identity not only for myself but also for the city of Durham.

“At first it was mostly just an artistic experiment; I was making clothing for me and my friends,” he says. “Once people started taking notice, they’d offer to buy the T-shirt off my back. I was like, ‘Okay, maybe I can make a little money off of this.’”

He first took his shirts to Morgan Imports, to see if they’d be interested in selling his products. “Luckily, they gave me a shot,” he says, becoming the first of many retailers who have carried Runaway items. As Gabe continued to find more stores interested in stocking his items, he took the entrepreneurial plunge, quit his day job as a graphic designer – his B.F.A. is in illustration – at Body Billboards and after a months-long trip to Central America to prepare himself, went full-time into Runaway and freelance art.

Photo by Briana Brough

That was almost six years ago. Today, Runaway produces everything from T-shirts to socks to pants to hats to shirts to jackets – you can now dress top to bottom in Runaway gear for prices ranging from $12 for a pair of “DURM” gym socks to $100 for a Durham Bulls replica jersey. They sell online at runawayclothes.com and at a handful of local outlets, in addition to their flagship store on West Main Street.

Runaway has also collaborated with local groups. “A lot of the brand is just trying to quench a creative thirst, and working with other people really does that for me,” he says. “Never underestimate the power of collaboration.”

Gabe says the company has experienced 300% growth over the past year, but he measures success in other ways as well. “[The brand] is taking not only my message, but Durham’s message, all over the world,” Gabe says. “It’s starting conversations with people, creating a link, creating friendships. And that’s really what it’s all about.”


FAST FACTS

No. of Employees

4, currently looking to hire another retail associate and then fill a sales and marketing role in second quarter this year.

No. of Seasonal Collections Produced

14

Room to Grow

“Obviously we’re a Durham-centric brand. This is our home base, but we do want to cover the rest of North Carolina to highlight all the amazing things that are happening here.”

No. of Artists Featured in Shop

4 – Printmaker Raj Bunnag; tattoo artist Kohen Meyers; fiber artist Ann Tilley; and photographer Carter McCall.

Best-Selling Product

“It’s the DURM Bull Shirt, by far. When I made the design, I was on the ropes of [whether] I was going to put it out, and I just decided to do it.”

Collaborations

Durham Bulls, American Underground, Moogfest, Hopscotch, Blackspace, American Dance Festival, Carolina Hurricanes, Beyú Caffé, among others.