Why Mark Webber swapped the race track for the running track

It's said that to build a successful start-up you must solve a problem.

For former racing champion Mark Webber, designing outdoor gear free from negatives was a challenge that came about when he was training for an event in the Colorado Rockies in 2014.

Two years later he set the wheels in motion – spearheading a start-up called Aussie Grit Apparel with the goal of creating truly functional off-road trail running and cycling gear for men and women.

Off-track perfection

In the high-stakes of Formula One precision matters, and this focus on perfection has carried over into Webber's pursuits off the tarmac.

"After retiring from racing I had more time to indulge in my love of the great outdoors," he explains.

When not behind the wheel he was physically preparing by running and cycling off-road trails around the world.

"Throughout my career, I needed to be in incredible shape," says Webber, who is in Australia for this weekend's Grand Prix in Melbourne.

"I did that on the trails. I needed that escapism…I needed to get outdoors...Training in all sorts of natural environments around the world I found it was the small details that made the difference between being distracted by the gear I was wearing or simply enjoying myself.

"Instead, you want to be able to enjoy the spontaneity of going where you want to go on your day out. The journey should be unlimited rather than your gear letting you down. "


Ground level gear

Webber says Aussie Grit Apparel was built from the ground up, with free scope to create the best possible gear to allow him and other runners to get out there on the trails.  

The start-up's first range, dubbed "Flint", launched in January and features nine off-road running specific men's and women's garments including running shorts, a merino long sleeve top, tights, singlets and t-shirts.

Design Director, Roland Wimbush says it's the company's motto – no stone unturned – that sets Aussie Grit Apparel apart from its competitors.

"Working with Mark has been a real eye-opener for me as a designer and a real learning experience," says Wimbush.

"It's been interesting to work with someone who's normal environment is a cockpit, where everything must serve a specific function. It's the ultimate example of having an absence of negatives. This mindset is an integral part of our DNA and is ingrained in everything we build."

Storage facilities

The garments are designed in Sydney; made in Vietnam, and feature wind and water protection, snag free outer material, high quality fabrics such as Italian soft-touch four-way stretch and single knit performance merino materials, flatlock seams to prevent chafing and laser cut holes for ventilation and moisture wicking.  

The teams' focus on quality meant it took time to get the products just right. Wimbush says the men's and women's running short with an elasticated waistband and the reversed auto-locking zip on the women's shorts took a while to nail.

"In-built garment storage has an impact on how a product performs," says Wimbush.

"To get around valuables banging and causing a runner problems we discovered the best place to put a credit card, keys or phone was in the short's inner, right up against the thigh where there's no movement. It might seem a little unorthodox but it's the best solution, so we developed a hidden pocket in the inner. We've had really positive feedback from our testers, so we know we're on to a winner."

More fun for your run

Webber says his start-up has already sold garments to runners in the US, UK, Germany, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.

"We already have a good presence in key speciality retail in the UK," he says.

"We are very proud of our world-class fabrics and so it's important to us that people feel and touch our garments in-store, which in some cases can be the extra security they need before purchasing online. We'll be rolling out the in-store presence in Australia very soon. 

"Early sales and the positive customer feedback that's called out how comfortable our garments are on long training sessions has given our team a tremendous amount of energy moving forward," says Webber.

"We simply love people being in the outdoors and whatever we can do to make runners enjoy being out there for longer, the better."

The goal of one day completing an ultra-marathon inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. With a day job in the corporate world, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to clear her mind and challenge her body.

Follow Laura Hill on Twitter