In 2015 former business execs from the capital F fashion world, Max Vallot and Tom Daly, launched District Vision to bring both new products and a new perspective to the running space. With a holistic message and philosophy centered on mindfulness, meditation, and wellness, and a product development approach weighing functionality, aesthetics, and performance equally, the ever evolving brand struck a chord with runners who didn't buy into the prevailing narrative of competition.
In the years since, District Vision has steadily grown not only its range of products but also its popularity among runners and non-runners alike, thanks to collaborators that include Salomon, Saturdays NYC, and The North Face. With a product offering now spanning eyewear—with which the brand launched—outerwear, apparel, socks, and baselayers, District Vision is quietly becoming a major player in the general outdoor recreation space. Though a growing catalog doesn’t mean a change in mission. A holistic approach to life and sport remains center stage.
I had met Vallot a few times over the years in Manhattan. At the time, District Vision seemed to be a constant presence around the city as the brand aligned itself with New York's running community. Max would turn up at an event or at lunch, hair perpetually disheveled, casually dressed in a hoody or T-shirt, his unhurried demeanor always comforting in a city that seemed to be moving very, very fast all the time. He'd tell me about the latest silent retreat he'd been on or extol some sage wisdom just when I needed it, and I envied his ability to move at his own pace yet still accomplish so much.
Fast forward to late summer 2020 and we’d all had to adapt to a slower life. During a period when most brands became unsure of their message, District Vision carried on over social media, with Max and Tom taking to IG Live for candid conversations with diverse figures from across the worlds of sports and wellness including Knox Robinson, Ali Michael, Alex Olsen, and Conrad Anker.
Late last summer, on the eve of the brand’s move to Los Angeles, I visited Vallot at his home on Long Island for an afternoon of reflection. I found Max, pensive as ever, taking in the final days of residing in New York. The above short film and below conversation capture Vallot’s thoughts on a number of topics relevant to both his brand and every one of us, from strategies to dealing with social media to the intersection of running and meditation, and how to get the most out of each day.
What advice do you have for folks getting into running for the first time or returning to it after some hiatus?
I'm by no means an expert runner and I definitely go through phases with any of my practices. So I would say, do whatever feels right for you at any given point in time. There's value in giving ourselves a little push up front to get going, but then beyond that, it's really all about the mindful approach. Follow your own pace, follow your own instincts for whatever it is you're doing. So with running, that might be—and this is how many of our friends start—to run for a minute and then walk for a minute, run for a minute, and just alternate in this way.
I am generally a massive advocate of getting out into nature if you have that ability, whether that's in the city, in the park or by the river, or obviously, out in the woods, I just feel like being in nature and being able to breathe that fresh air and maybe getting on the trail, being able to sit down on the grass before and after you run, just adds so much to the experience.
How do you apply this mindfulness approach to other areas of your life as well, beyond running?
Mindfulness in some ways starts with a formal practice, as in sitting down to meditate, placing your attention on the breath, on different sensations in the body, emotions, and so on. That is really an incredibly useful tool to stabilize your attention and to get to know the mind. Ultimately the practice is as much about taking these moments of awareness with you into daily life, as it is about the seated practice. It's almost like two wings of the same bird. The same endeavor, the same practice. So you stabilize the awareness with seated practice and this is something I do for anywhere between an hour and two hours a day.
Then bringing it out into the world, bringing it with you into whatever you're doing, whether that is having a meal or taking a walk in the park, repetitive tasks that don't require complex cognitive function are really most appropriate to start working with. So walking down the hallway, waiting for the train, lying down on a couch at the end of the day and just watching the breath, feeling into the sensations of the body. This is something that can be done pretty much wherever you are and whatever you're doing.
What does a typical day look like for you?
So, I keep my phone off all night. I turn it off like an hour before I go to bed and keep it in a different room. I get up in the morning not too early. I like to get my eight hours of sleep. So I get up at 6:30 am, 7ish and I have a large glass of water and go straight into my seated practice, my longest set of the day. I really make sure I get that in before any potential distractions might come my way. I sit down for 45 minutes and as to the specific technique, it really varies, but could start off with something as simple as focusing on the breath. And again, bodily sensations, emotions, it can be more focused at times, can be more one-pointed focus or it can be more open.
Then I usually make some tea and go into a mindful movement for 30 to 45 minutes. That's sort of like an easy flow yoga. I hold some of those poses for longer. Have some tea and then go into another 20 to 30 minutes seated session. That’s the formal part of the practice done for the morning. And then I go about my day, have breakfast and read the news.
I try not to even look at work email before 9:30 am. This is to prevent me from going insane. Then it's work, it's emails and calls and then lunch around 1. And whenever I have the chance, I'll do an evening run. I have been doing this throughout the pandemic pretty much every day. Nothing crazy, 30 to 45 minutes, on the trail around 5:30, and come back, shower, do another seated meditation session. I like to do one session a day unguided. For the guided session, I use the Waking Up app, Sam Harris' meditation app. I try to get to dinner before seven, no later than eight. Do more work in the evening or talk to friends.
I would say, I have been able to get into a much healthier routine throughout the pandemic, because there's so few distractions and, and you’re essentially eliminating transit.
What are your thoughts on the role of social media in life and the culture at large?
I feel like social media might be the single biggest threat to our mental wellbeing. I think it deserves a lot of our attention. For me personally, I don't know how I would possibly be able to deal with it if I didn't have mindfulness in my life. Just the simple awareness of knowing what's happening to me as I feel the urge to open Instagram, as I feel the urge to post or not post something, as I track my emotions as I post something, and I look at who has watched it, and I look at who is liking it or not liking it. And just tracking how that affects my mood in the moment and how it colors my emotional state throughout the rest of the day is really quite fascinating.
You know, there is no doubt that using Instagram makes me less happy in my life. Turning it off for a week or 10 days when I go on meditation retreat just feels like such a relief. Just for the simple purpose of being in nature and without your phone. I mean, if anyone could just experiment with that, and was open to experimenting with that for a long weekend, I think it would go a long way. I think in some ways, our generation is lucky because we still remember the world without social media, without smartphones. At least we have some reference point for what life is like without this technology. I'm pretty concerned about the kids now growing up into their teens that have just not known life without TikTok and Instagram, it’s become so intertwined with their sense of identity—I am seriously concerned with what that's going to do. There's a lot of studies now showing suicide rates and treatment for depression in young people have been going through the roof in recent years.
And the epiphany, as if it wasn't clear already, is that, of course, the technology keeps improving. There's something called, I think it's Moore's law, according to which technology keeps improving at a certain rate at any given point in time or over a certain period of time and the human brain doesn't know. So we are still left with antiquated, biological mechanisms, and the machines keep improving and keep learning how to manipulate us more effectively. What that means, as we head into a new age of artificial intelligence, what that does to this country or what that has already done politically to this country, is just enormous.