Christian Brecheis, 43, always goes all in. He either aims for perfection or he doesn't do it.
Some of you might know him as a photographer, who has made himself a name through his work in snowboarding and running, some others might have bought his socks without even knowing they’re from him.
I met Christian on his favourite running route along the Isar, the local river in Munich. On his off days, he's often there with his kids or he runs along the little muddy trails to the south. But even more important, he never wants to miss a good scoop of ice cream.
Talking to Christian, you can feel his drive and passion about what he does. Next to working as a freelance photographer, his running sock brand Near Earth, which he founded in 2022, is his most recent project. I spoke to Christian about the challenges of setting up a business from scratch, his experiences at the super brutal running race called The Speed Project, his goal of making his brand truly sustainable without all the marketing greenwashing and how an asteroid that was supposed to hit the earth in 2029 and Egyptian gods are responsible for the name of his brand. We also touched on the positive developments in the Running Community, especially when it comes to the flourishing run groups that seemed to have suddenly appeared in the last few years.
Let's start with our classic beginning: Could you describe your brand to someone who has never heard about it?
Near Earth is a true running brand and our first product is the Distance Running Sock. Developed with an essentialist approach, the aim is to only have what's really needed and to make that as good as possible. A lot of thoughts went into this and my goal is that these socks just work for you without needing a fancy word explanation.
Where does your name 'Near Earth' come from?
Do you want the long story?
Ok, so I went to the Egyptian museum in Munich with my son one day. There was a sun god called 'Ra' and at the end of every day he goes down into the underworld. And everytime he goes down there, he gets attacked by the god of chaos. What this pattern means is that the sun will come up again, every day. It might not be a beautiful sunrise, but nevertheless there will be one. At that moment it felt so relatable to endurance sports where consistency pays off but randomly things can happen. But if you keep working, if you stay consistent and have long term goals, there will always be a sunrise.
This is also why there's chaos and balance stitched into the socks. In the story chaos and balance are equally important and the name of the god of chaos, Apophis, directly appealed to me as a proper brand name. It turned out that it was a bit of a mouthful and super hard to say, so I checked if there was an alternative for it. In my research I found out that an asteroid, named after the god of chaos, was supposed to strike earth on the 13th of April in 2029. More recent calculations turned out that it would just be a Near Earth object, so it would pass us.
Most of us knew you primarily as a photographer, but now you're also the man behind Near Earth. What made you start a sock company? And why running socks, especially?
My background in photography is snowboarding. There have been snowboard crews, competitive snowboarding and the media guys who produce images and films and the backcountry crowd. There's always brands that support a sport and present it in the best possible ways. If you are close to a sport it becomes your life and you become really attached to brands that are super involved in the sport.
I myself was fascinated by running because it's not only a performance sport but it also has this lifestyle aspect of it. There's running crews, there's unsanctioned races and, almost like in snowboarding, there's some freestyle or freeride element in it. It's not always you running a certain distance and trying to be faster every time, it's not that kind of rat race. There's also something that feels different and I wanted to explore that with my camera.
While I was working in the running scene I realised that as soon as brands pull out of some efforts, people aren't very loyal in the end. They're disappointed, they're not really involved and then they start to try out different gear. When you see someone who's dialled into some gear they like, it's hard for them to add something new to the rotation. So sometimes I saw people wearing the weirdest shoe-sock combo and asked myself why there wasn't a true running sock brand. Obviously you can buy socks from a shoe brand or from other sock brands, but those brands will show you generic running, while always talking about blisters. I just felt that this way of showing didn't portray my view on running.
You’ve mentioned the social aspect of running and running crews. As a runner yourself: what is it that makes running crews so successful at the moment?
I think we’ve been through multiple phases of crew running in the last few years. What's always there is some mysterious energy of a collective, shared goals, shared miseries, that bond and friendship. I remember the time when I started training for my first marathon without knowing what to expect.
To have people that guide you through that process and who tell you, what it really means if it hurts, to get that feedback of people who have done it before you, that was super helpful to me.
If you're not into the performance running in a way of joining a running club or racing, an easier way would be to find a running crew in your city and that will open up a whole new world.
You also have a cooperation with Roses, NYC. What's your relationship to them and which ideals do you share with them?
I lived in New York for a little while and in that year Jessy and Knox founded Black Roses for many of the reasons that I just touched on. Just to be a hub for training ideas, to gather people and also to give them a different perspective of being able to run a great marathon while still having a life next to running. It's not one or the other. It might be hard to combine but we're here in this together.
You do have lots of experience as a runner since you ran lots of marathons yourself, but you've also been to a very extreme running event, the Speed Project. How did this experience affect your view on running, the community, and also on racing, since it's quite different to other events?
It is super different. There's no prize money, there's no medals but people give it all they have. It's full on, it's the speed project not the slow project. I might have to give an image so you can understand my experience.
It starts super early in the morning, you run all day and even through the night. Then there's a second sunrise in the event and the runners are still racing, doing hand-offs since it's a relay race. It's super exhausting just to follow it.
The second sunrise is in the Death Valley with its super long, straight roads. The temperature climbs up from almost freezing to ultra hot and super dry conditions. The RV where the handoff takes place is parked all the way on the horizon. That's where your air condition cooled place is. You want to reach it but it doesn't come closer. 30 hours into that race, the runners were still giving all they had.
If they can do that, you can do your sunday park run for sure and that feeling never left. It got stuck in my mind and that gave me something to look up to. I always look at running in terms of how you approach your challenge. Are you racing yourself, your ego or a time. It's hard to hit that sweet spot where you feel well and still run a good race. That always makes you question whether you could've gone faster. On the other hand - what do you gain?
Talking of challenges: You've launched your brand in 2022, so you're still very young. What were the biggest challenges that you had to face during your first year?
The main challenge was to develop something from the ground up, to find a partner. If there's been one good thing about the pandemic, it was that the people in Italy helped me to bring the product to live. Otherwise I'm sure they wouldn't have picked up the phone.
The next big challenge that became very real very quick was that it's super hard to do something that is truly sustainable. It's very hard to get the right yarns, it’s very hard to find the right production, it's very hard to figure out where the materials come from. In an ideal world I would be somewhere else but I'm at a place where I know what I have to change. No one on the outside will recognise that, but to me it's a goal I’m working towards.
People always ask me what's unique about my socks, whether these are the best running socks. But my goal is to make something in the best way I can so it will become a sustainable product in the future.
These are tough choices but for us it would be interesting to get to know how you make these decisions. Could you take us with you on that journey?
A good example would be that right in the beginning you choose a fabric that caters to your idea of a performance product. Then you give them your designs and the first questions were about how many kilos of yarn I would want to buy. You quickly realise that it's not just stock, it's not something of the shelf and that you have to take that into consideration. So you'll either end up with less designs, meaning less options that you're giving yourself, or you spend a lot more money to make more prototypes. But that's very daunting, too.
Now that you've mentioned fabrics and factories, how does a good running sock feel? What makes a good running sock a good running sock?
A good running sock is a sock you don't think about. I want it to be a peace of mind product. You should be able to try different racing shoes and see what works for you, but the socks should be a given. They should always work for you.
But, in all honesty, it's just socks, right? There should be a certain amount of technology in them, to prevent you from blisters for example, but in the end you don't need to deepdive into some nano 3D marketing buzzwords to figure out whether this is a good sock or not. I think you should be able to trust the brand. In the end, it's just personal taste and there will be people who don't like the product. That's legit, as well.
In the beginning you've said that you've been to the Egyptian Museum and that that was the place where you got the inspiration for Near Earth. Is there anything else, when it comes to cultural inspiration, that you can highly recommend?
I've been reading a book by Lindsey Addario lately called 'It's what I do'. The work ethic and the journalistic standards that she holds herself up to, as well as the work that she puts into getting a story and balancing out her challenges to produce authentic images that are visually interesting while only telling the truth, really made me consume that book. That's something real!
On your website you talk about the motivation of exploring runners stories. Which one is particularly outstanding for you?
Clearly Good Vibes Track Club in LA. If you join one of their track workouts you'll see all kinds of people. Fast people, 'fun runners’, and everything in between. They run out of South-Central LA, which isn't a place that's known for avocado toasts or expensive lattes. Despite the location, every Track Tuesday is treated as a sacred day and their members look forward to the joy and positivity that comes from running.
Their team comes together to work towards a common goal, they're building a super strong community. From our perspective, we mostly only hear about the Lebrons of this world building basketball courts and making big gestures. But when you realise that many people who live in these communities are uplifting and encouraging each other positively through sport, that's huge. They've done a great job and that's something I would definitely want to highlight.
Interview pictures by Lorenz Gohlke
Speed Project pictures by Christian Brecheis