“Clothing was really just a vehicle to push forward the scene that we wanted to create,” says Gabriel Eng-Goetz, the founder and creative director of the Durham-and-proud-of-it fashion brand Runaway. “It was the thing that actually made the money to do all of the fun things that we wanted to do.”
Eng-Goetz sent shockwaves through the Triangle arts community in November, when he announced that Runaway’s Winter 2018 collection would be its last, bookending a prolific run for a clothing line that’s served a much larger purpose for Bull City. Over the past seven years, Runaway functioned as a multifaceted platform—a nexus of creative interest that ultimately brought people together in ways unparalleled by most local street brands. And it’s accomplished all of this through choices that have intentionally honored the history of Durham in ways both big and small.
In January, after just two successful years on West Main Street, Runaway will close the doors of its brick-and-mortar location as its team moves on to different projects and endeavors.
“When the brand first started out, we felt that the scene in Durham was really not where we wanted it to be,” Eng-Goetz says. “But instead of just going to New York or Los Angeles, we decided, let’s just try to create it here. We were young kids. But how do you convince people that they can stay here, making amazing things, and how do you share that with the public—and ideally the world?”
Eng-Goetz and his team pursued this vision from different vantage points, producing and collaborating on art shows, podcasts, concerts, and documentaries. They saw Runaway outside of the limited framework of a fashion line and more as an art and lifestyle brand that informed Durham creatives. As Eng-Goetz puts it, “It was all a way to capture the subculture of art, music, and fashion here in Durham in a way that had never really been done or captured before through media.”
The brand was born in 2011 in Eng-Goetz’s basement through clothes he screen-printed with a six-color, six-head printing press. A Durham native, he’d recently returned home after earning an art degree at Syracuse and developing an interest in fashion during his four years in New York. Eng-Goetz says he launched Runaway as a way to reconnect with the Triangle arts community, which he’d previously dabbled in during high school.
Runaway exploded in 2012 with the launch of its locally iconic “DURM” imagery, a nod to Durham authenticity that allowed Eng-Goetz to build Runaway into an influential community institution while paying tribute to the hometown he loved.
Eng-Goetz began to honor the legacy of the Bull City through his products in other ways. While a design of the Durham skyline may seem like low-hanging fruit, the incorporation of Black Wall Street into his clothing acknowledged and honored a history of racial tension and inequality in this part of North Carolina. One of Runaway’s last projects is also intimately intertwined with the city’s history. The crew interviewed and photographed a number of “Durham OGs”—people like former mayor Bill Bell and local barber Akeen Miller, who grew up and charted a positive path to success in Durham—and plan to share the interviews on its website and social media channels in late December.
“All of these people have been in Durham forever,” Eng-Goetz says. “A big part of the brand has always been that we want to create clothing for people who really are invested in this city and have been here for a while. But we also are making clothing for people who just moved here, whether they are moving back or are new residents or Duke students or whatever. The only thing is, we really want them to know the history of the city.”
“We were lucky to get him for the seven years that we did,” says Pierce Freelon, a friend of Eng-Goetz’s and the founder of the Afrofuturism digital makerspace Blackspace. “Gabe has an incredible talent, and Runaway was an opportunity, from my perspective, to see his talents on the canvases of the people of Durham. If Durham is nothing else, it’s multifaceted and multitiered and multitalented.”
Eng-Goetz wouldn’t discuss his plans for a post-Runaway world, other than to say he’ll be turning his focus to fine art and freelance graphic design. But no matter what he does next, the impact of the amalgamation of Durham history and local art, music, and fashion that he created will resonate for years to come.
“I want to think that Runaway provided a positive light for Durham,” Eng-Goetz says. “And then ideally provided an opportunity and platform for young kids who chose to do something positive instead of negative. And I feel like that’s what our crew chose to do—make something positive out of nothing.”