Boston is one of the world’s most iconic running cities, so it only makes sense that the idea for a community built around supporting and inspiring runners would hatch here.
Several years ago, self-described “fairweather runner” Jillian D’Amato was struggling to finish a run across the Longfellow Bridge when a stranger smiled at her, giving D’Amato the fuel she needed to keep going.
“I was exhausted and about to walk,” said D’Amato, a Somerville resident. “I saw another runner and that acknowledgement that he had been in my shoes got me to finish. I wanted to make that acknowledgement more tangible.”
D’Amato hit upon the idea for RUNFELLOW, a running clothing company that makes shirts that say “I like your pace,” as a way to give fellow runners what D’Amato calls a “hands-free high-five.” RUNFELLOW is also a running community that stages a Run Club on Tuesday nights at various locations in Somerville and Cambridge.
“RUNFELLOW organically grew out of the Longfellow and motivating your fellow runner,” D’Amato said of settling on the company’s name.
But it took D’Amato a few years to get here after she first landed on the concept for RUNFELLOW. An interior designer by day, she had no business development experience and worried about the launch being less than perfect. Her boyfriend, Josh Howell, urged her to “just start.” And so she did.
“Boston’s a big running city so I wanted to build a community around that,” D’Amato said. “Whether you’re walking or running, you’re doing a good job, you’re out there.”
Last fall, D’Amato did a small run of T-shirts, which she sent to family and friends as a test run for a more official launch. She put up RUNFELLOW’s Facebook page and worked with a developer to create a website.
“People started getting excited so I had more shirts made,” said D’Amato, who began hitting the local race circuit with Howell and her friend Myra O’Neill to sell shirts and spread the RUNFELLOW message.
D’Amato sold 18 shirts to the 300 runners who participated in the M.O.M.’s Run that took place this spring in Davis Square and things have only picked up from there. RUNFELLOW will be at the upcoming Race to the Row put on by the Somerville Road Runners at Assembly Row on August 24 and she plans to end the race season at the always-popular Jingle Bell Run in Davis Square on December 14.
RUNFELLOW brought a team of eight runners to the Tory Row 5K in June who all started together, wore RUNFELLOW shirts and cheered each other on at the end. “I hope to be able to do that more often,” D’Amato said.
If the success of the recently launched RUNFELLOW Run Club is any indicator, she’ll have no trouble with that. Only a few weeks old, between 25 and 30 people have participated in the casual group runs, which are anywhere from three to five miles. The Run Club meets at different locations in Somerville and Cambridge each Tuesday night so people who live all over the city can participate.
“We’re building this community and network of runners,” D’Amato said. A lot of the Run Club participants are Boston-area transplants looking to meet new people. “We’re keeping it casual. Everybody that comes to Run Club feels like they’re a part of the group.” That means no one gets left behind and everyone comes together for socializing over beers at local bars after the run is finished.
Right now RUNFELLOW offers T-shirts for men and women in two colors and D’Amato said that tank tops will soon be added to the shop. In addition to being a positive force in the running community, RUNFELLOW gives $1 from each shirt purchased to the Young Survival Coalition, an organization for young women facing breast cancer. D’Amato’s best childhood friend was diagnosed with the disease a few years ago and passed away from it last summer.
“It was another reason to launch it,” D’Amato said. “She would have been the biggest cheerleader. She was an amazingly positive person and this is a running community about positivity. It’s in honor of her.”
While D’Amato loves her job working as an interior designer in Cambridge, she has big hopes that RUNFELLOW may someday turn into a full-time gig. But for now, she’s happy being part of a community full of grassroots organizations.
“I moved out to Somerville in 2009,” D’Amato said. “I loved that culture of the proximity to the city and still being a part of a community. There are so many small start-ups in Somerville. It’s just young, fun, adventurous and creative.”