To Sidney Baptista, ownership is everything: It’s risk and reward, respect and responsibility. Perhaps most of all, it’s a chance at reinvention.
Baptista was working at a Big Four accounting firm, making and spending lots of money and, at least temporarily, feeling like maybe he had “made it.” But then, why the panic attacks? Why was going to work such a drag? He noticed a friend who seemed happier since he started running; Baptista, in search of something similar, took it up himself.
Running changed everything.
Seeking community as much as he was seeking himself, Baptista founded Pioneers Run Crew in spring 2017. His goal was to create a run club that could reflect the diversity and authenticity of his Boston hometown. Rather than leave his neighborhood to meet friends for runs in posh areas, he wanted to see runners on the streets of Dorchester where he grew up. Over the years, Pioneers Run Crew has become a full-fledged running community with two regular runs a week and several running captains.
Three years later, having built a sizeable following and gained recognition for encouraging everybody and every body to get out and run, Baptista’s run crew started getting noticed by brands. Especially, Baptista says, after the summer of 2020, when representation and diversity became urgent buzzwords: Offers of photo shoots, exposure and gifts rolled in but, Baptista says, no one in the crew was ever paid for their influence like other recruited talent.
That’s when making something of his own—of the community’s own—began speaking to him again. Wanting not only creative control, but also an active part in truly changing the face of running, Baptista created the apparel line PYNRS later that year to serve the folks he runs with, those who haven’t started running yet and, of course, himself and the runner he has grown into. “I pick ownership over influence every day of the week,” he says.
Now, PYNRS is an emerging brand of streetwear-inspired running apparel, focusing on more inclusive sizing as well as sustainability features like recycled fabrics. By building apparel that fits and feels good on more people, PYNRS hopes to help more people enjoy time outside. And more people means more community. More connection. More joy. And more stability for Baptista and his growing family.
“The most important thing about ownership to me is generational wealth,” Baptista says, and his ability to overcome the historic discrepancy between white and Black family income. This is why REI Co-op believes it’s important to address the fact that founders of color represent only around 1% of entrepreneurs in the outdoor industry today.
PYNRS, Baptista says, is currently the first Black-owned running-specific apparel company in the country, poised to help transform the industry. In order to expedite its development and capitalize on its momentum, the brand joined REI Co-op’s Path Ahead Ventures inaugural cohort with the 16-week Navigate program, developed in collaboration with R/GA Ventures.
Navigate is an acceleration program designed to support and uplift new entrepreneurs from Black, Indigenous, Latino/a/x, and Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. The collaborative project provides mentorship opportunities, funding, programming and access to the production, distribution and marketing expertise held by REI Co-op. Each of the participating brands receives a $25,000 equity-free grant, along with potential access to additional funding.
Right now, PYNRS is essentially a business of one: Baptista does nearly everything himself, from managing social media to receiving and tracking stock to packaging shipments and developing product. He knows thatwill change as the company grows, but right now he seems almost energized by the challenge. “I say, ‘I’m on the cusp of it all,’” Baptista says. “What does ‘it all’ mean? I don’t know, but I’m on the cusp of it all.”
The outdoors is for everyone: By creating space for founders of color to have the opportunity to learn, grow and network, REI Co-op believes that the outdoor industry can be for everyone, too.
Want to join the next Navigate cohort?
Applications are open February 6–March 12, 2023. Learn more at rei.com/path-ahead/navigate.