There’s nothing like an NBA ban to send sneakers flying off of shelves. That’s what Adam and Ryan Goldston learned after they received a fateful email from the league announcing the basketball shoe they had engineered in their free time during college was barred from use on the court for providing an “undue competitive advantage.”
In the surreal hours and days after that, hundreds of news outlets picked up the story. Their company name, Athletic Propulsion Labs (APL), shot up to become one of the top search terms on Google. Their website crashed for eight hours. The twins, then 23, were thrilled.
Though they had once hoped the NBA might endorse the shoe–which uses forefoot compression springs to give players a vertical boost–they now realized a ban carried even more marketing value. “We sold nine months’ worth of inventory in three days,” Adam says. “There are few people who can point to an exact moment when the trajectory of their life changes, but that literally happened for us that day.”
In the fours years since, they’ve managed an even greater accomplishment: The Goldstons have proven that APL is more than a one-trick-sneaker brand. The Los Angeles company now sells several models of basketball and running shoes, and in November is set to launch its first collection of men’s and women’s athletic apparel, featuring lightweight fabrics and streamlined silhouettes. APL’s products, already sold at Saks Fifth Avenue, will also soon be available through Nordstrom and Net-a-Porter.
Adam and Ryan–who would be tough to distinguish were it not for Adam’s full, bushy beard–built buzz for their company by touting high-performance materials and splashy technology: Their patented six-spring mechanism, they say, makes people jump higher and run faster. But their toehold in the footwear industry goes back much further.
The twins grew up around sneakers; their father, Mark Goldston, oversaw the creation of the iconic Reebok Pump and in the 1990s was president and COO of L.A. Gear, where he helped develop L.A. Lights. Ryan and Adam were some of the original product testers. “We were 5 years old when our dad brought home the first samples of L.A. Lights for kids,” Ryan recalls. “We ran into the bathroom and closed the door so it would be pitch-black, and then we started stomping all around. But we couldn’t see our own lights, because they were on the back of the shoe. We were like, ‘Dad, we can’t see the lights–you should put them on the side of the shoes.’ So he called the factory and they moved the lights to the side. We like to say that’s how we got started in the industry.”
In college at the University of Southern California, the brothers both played basketball. But at under six feet tall, they had to work harder than their peers on the court. “For us, it was always about trying to get more of an advantage athletically–working out, training programs, anything we could do,” Ryan says. “But there was nothing that could give us an instant increase.”
So they turned to technology. The pair spent their undergrad years trying to create a footwear mechanism that could make the wearer jump higher, experimenting with prototypes at their dorm room dinner table. They came up with the Concept 1 basketball shoe, outfitted with their proprietary “Load N’ Launch” spring device. Ryan, a business major, presented a business plan in class. It didn’t go over well. “My professors were saying, ‘You’re too smart to be doing something like this,’” Ryan recalls. “But to us, it was about doing something we’re passionate about and something we love.”
The Goldstons founded APL just before they graduated in 2009 and released the Concept 1 in 2010. They wore the shoes to basketball games and players began to take an interest. But the NBA told them they needed official approval if they wanted the pros to wear them. Adam and Ryan flew to New York and presented their design to executives. “If they allowed it, we really thought it would change the game of basketball in terms of the stuff the guys could do on court,” Ryan says.
Instead, the NBA outlawed the shoe. “That was, for our brand, the best thing that ever happened,” Ryan says now. Their next reaction, Adam recalls, was, “Where do we go from here? How do we make this count?”
The answer, unveiled earlier this year, turned out to be adapting their technology to other markets. In June APL released a spring-loaded running shoe, the Windchill, also branching into women’s footwear for the first time. The shoes–marketed on the assertion that they improve a runner’s speed–garnered plenty of hype, even if some test runs produced mixed results. Yet the Goldstons stand by their claim, borne out by testing at USC’s biokinesiology lab.
Now, they’re hoping their athletic apparel will add to their reputation for performance-enhancing gear. They focused especially on the fit of their clothing, creating, among other pieces, slimmer basketball shorts and running tights big on support and compression.
Ryan acknowledges theirs was an unlikely success story: a new brand peddling unknown technology, selling their product primarily through their website, and at price points considerably higher than consumers were then paying for sneakers (the Concept 1 debuted at $300; newer models cost less). But where mentors saw risk, the twins saw an opportunity suited to their brand of un-jaded, youthful eagerness. “Since we were so young and we didn’t have prior experience, we felt like there was no reason why we couldn’t do it,” Adam says. “If someone’s going to do it, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be the ones.”