Michael Krajicek will be the first to tell you he likes to keep things simple. He grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana, a blue-collar city known for blues music, petrochemical refineries and the waterways that ribbon through its downtown. It’s here that Krajicek adopted a philosophy that’s guided him throughout his career: Find the right tools for the right job.
This thinking is now the foundation of Atreyu, the running brand of stripped-down, no-frills kicks that Krajicek founded in 2020—initially as a running shoe subscription (the first of its kind) and now as a brand available at retailers like REI.
Atreyu’s mission has always been to create running shoes that get the job done—no need for flashy features or myriad colorways that could come at a cost to the customer. Instead, the designs are clean; the sizes are unisex; and each shoe features a 6 mm drop, which Krajicek considers a middle-ground geometry that can work for runners of many levels. Because that’s another part of his mission: Make shoes that both newbie runners and elite athletes can train in.
“We [are] about tools, blue collar-town tools.” Krajicek says during a video interview. He’s sitting in his Austin, Texas, loft, which doubles as his office. A road bike hangs from the ceiling. His fiancé, Lena Reese, reclines on a couch behind him, a computer open on her lap. She helps manage Atreyu’s social media. “Nobody was showing up with flashy stuff [in Louisiana]. … Tools were just something to get the thing done, so I hope that I’ve taken that kind of idea, that mentality into [Atreyu].”
The Atreyu Line Up
One of Atreyu’s first shoes, The Base Model, is described on the brand’s website as the embodiment of their guiding principle: Honor simplicity. There are three other core running shoes: the Daily Trainer, The Artist and The Base Trail. They’re all designed to be used in a rotation: The Daily Trainer for shorter runs, intervals as well as for recovery miles and long runs; The Artist for race day; The Base Trail for miles on mixed terrain. At $85 to $115 each, the prices are more approachable than many other shoes on the market. Prioritizing the essentials is a way to simplify a sport that, in recent years, has focused on maximal running shoes—think thick cushioning, broad bases, fortified structure.
“The thought was to strip it down and let people feel the ground again, let people feel their bodies and let the weight of their bodies hit the ground how they’re supposed to naturally,” says Jake Martin, athlete experience manager for Atreyu (pronounced uh-tray-you). “That’s why [a beginner runner and an expert runner] can both wear these shoes.”
But there’s still work to be done to attract new people to the activity. In 2022, Krajicek polled customers who had purchased three or more times from Atreyu, and most identified as intermediate or advanced runners.
“Very, very few runners designated themselves as beginner, and I wasn’t very happy with that,” Krajicek says. “The thing that I think we can give back the most … is inviting people into running culture and making that accessible and using running as a life-change tool.”
Finding Community in Running
Krajicek himself leaned on running while still living in Louisiana. It was a way to dedicate himself to personal wellness after becoming sober in 2013. In his hometown, Krajicek says runners didn’t seem to care about what everybody else was doing or what running trends were popular. They just ran. That type of running community is something he wants to recreate within Atreyu. He wants others to have that outlet and to feel that sense of belonging. “The whole game was the community,” he says. “Something about it was just enhanced in that small-town environment.”
At Atreyu, community shows up as weekly run groups in Austin, where the brand —and its 3-person team—is based. Fostering a sense of community also plays a major role in how Krajicek and Martin do business. The brand has never had a dedicated marketing budget, Martin says. Instead, they rely on forming lasting relationships with their customers. The goal is that people will learn about the brand through word of mouth—happy customers beget happy customers.
“We want every single person that comes through the funnel to really feel the experience and really enjoy it and get behind it,” Martin says. “If everyone is coming through in that way, it’s going to grow itself and it’s going to be a really tight community.”
Where Individuality Meets Simplicity
This community aspect is also about finding ways to celebrate runners’ individual qualities, all while designing for many types of runners. Again, Krajicek credits the shoes’ uncomplicated design in helping them achieve this. It’s a traditional shoe without a lot of extra cushioning. This allows runners to feel their feet hitting pavement, which Krajicek says can enable them to more easily detect when something is off with their stride. Runners can then improve their individual weaknesses. “My desire was to build a product that could work for everybody, knowing that everybody’s different,” says Krajicek.
Still, Krajicek says that not every runner will want a pair of his brand’s shoes. And that’s OK. He considers the shoes to be one of many tools people can choose from. A pair of Atreyu runners may be the perfect fit for someone, or they may be one of several shoes in a person’s rotation. “We are an option. We’re not here to solve every single problem,” Krajicek says. “That’s what REI is for—to have a marketplace to buy the right tool for the right job.”
So, what’s next for Atreyu?
Maybe an app or a blog to provide educational tools, like training plans and running tips. Maybe additional colorways. Maybe, in time, another shoe.
“I love the idea of building off the next one. I call it a software update. We’re on 1.1,” he says. “To get to a 2 will be a meaningful change.”