Meet Photographer Christian Brecheis and Your New Go-To Socks, Near Earth
What do snowboarding and running have in common? For Munich-based photographer Christian Brecheis, the answer was culture. Christian has just launched a line of performance running socks, Near Earth, so we caught up with him to hear about the throughline from snow sports to photography, marathon running and, now, launching a product range.
As the capital of Bavaria, Munich is surrounded by some of the world’s best snowfields. An avid snowboarder, Christian received a push towards professional photography around the time he was graduating high school in the early 2000s. A torn ACL had him stuck on the sidelines of the glacier summer camp his friends were attending – so he clipped snow spikes to his crutches and grabbed his camera.
Christian went on to spend about a decade in the snowboard industry and has also worked in marketing and photography for magazines, brands and as a freelancer.
“There’s a little bit of satire to this: I had a portfolio of young and healthy people, and I got into commercial work, where I was shooting for beer and fast-food brands, because I had that kind of portfolio,” he wryly observes.
He also fell in love with running.
“We don’t need another big logo screaming for attention … no one sets out to mix up brands and clashing logos. We don’t put Audi stickers on BMWs, so why on our feet?”
“That was really interesting to me because to me, with the German background that I have, running was purely a performance sport, like it was measured with a stopwatch, but those guys were onto something else.
“They had interesting lives, like Knox came out of his career in music and running The Fader magazine but he also came in the top 100 in the New York City marathon – like, he was fast – and this was really interesting. They had these very high goals but they were open to a really fun life. And that was something I knew from board sports.
“It’s not just all about going the hundredths of a second and going super-number-wise. It’s about respecting the sport and creating the culture. And that’s when I asked Knox if I could come and shoot. The first time we shot was a track workout and I shot Black Roses around 2013.”
Christian’s gone on to photograph campaigns for the New York Marathon as well as grassroots shoots with The Speed Project and crews such as Good Vibes Track Club. He has also run three marathons, starting with Berlin in 2019, despite prior knee and ankle surgery.
More recently he decided to launch a brand of performance socks. Near Earth launched in June and already has stockists in Germany, Finland and the United States. But why would a commercial photographer and amateur runner dip his toe (pun intended) into this new space?
“There was just no go-to racing sock for me, not like how some people have a go-to shoe brand. And I thought, hmm, I’m living in Munich and it’s not too far to Northern Italy, which has some of the best garment makers in the world.”
Christian is motivated by what he sees as the massive leap, from several of the major brands, in carbon-sole running shoes – but also by the fact it’s not always easy to find a quality pair of socks to match.
“I looked at it from an essentialist point of view and asked, ‘What do you really need? Let’s do that well.’ Because either it’s a shoe brand and they do it kind of well – some are good, some are not so good – or it’s a sock brand and they do a knee-high compression sock that costs like US$50 and there’s no real evidence that it helps you. The elites don’t really use them.
“So I was like, ‘Let’s do a simple sock, let’s do it right’: no big logo, no distractions, you can wear it with any shoe and it should have just a few design details, so at a second glance you will still see something that has a story.
Christian distils this “no logo” thinking on his website, where he says Near Earth socks are “designed to be classically minimalistic [and go] with any shoe brand … because we don’t need another big logo screaming for attention. Also, let’s be real, no one sets out to mix up brands and clashing logos. We don’t put Audi stickers on BMWs, so why on our feet?”
So what were the essential ingredients for the perfect performance sock? Start with a breathable lycra yarn that’s not too cushy but instead conforms to the foot-fitting upper on a typical high-end carbon race shoe.
Some of the same “ambitious amateurs” Christian admires road tested prototypes for almost a year before the launch.
“Blue Benadum gave the first wear sample a proper stress test during his 100-mile weeks in the lead up to the Boston Marathon. Other people, like Haas Sullivan, took later samples and ran Speed Project over multiple days, where you have high heat. Haas also ran the OC Half and some other LA races. And Joonas Laurila and a few others were testing them here in Europe. So, people trusted the socks. That was a huge motivation because at some point you have to say, ‘Okay, I have to hit produce now and you have to do thousands of pairs.”
Now, Near Earth socks are available in black or white, have a true left and right fit, fit close around the arch and provide extra protection under the foot and around the toes. Subtle details include the red band around the top and the almost invisible counter-stitched asteroid logo.
And why is the brand called Near Earth, with an asteroid for its logo? Get ready for a brief detour into Egyptian mythology.
“When I was looking for a brand name, I was visiting an Egyptian museum with my son and I read this story about the sun god Ra when, at the end of each day, he goes into the underworld and gets attacked by the god of chaos, but the god of chaos never really wins against Ra. It might not be a very beautiful sunrise the next day, but the sun will always come up.
“And I thought that was such a nice story when you look at distance running – because you have to be consistent, but something will always come up. If you are consistent, you keep running and improving.”
The chaos god’s name wasn’t quite catchy enough to become the brand name, but Christian discovered it had inspired the naming of a near-Earth asteroid (for a minute there the experts thought it might wipe us out in 2029).
“I was looking at the orbit circles and I thought, ‘Damn, this really reminds me of the turns of a running track.’ The angles of the turn look like orbit rings, so those orbit rings are a little design detail – on the footpad there’s protection on your forefoot and I made little breaks in the protection using those orbit lines. And inside the ribs are the words ‘balance’ and ‘chaos’, so if you know that story, and you know about the asteroid, it all starts to make sense.”
Indeed, it does. From the Alps to the New York Marathon, via ancient Egypt and outer space. Near Earth’s tagline may be “Socks. That’s It.” but it turns out there’s a little more to the tale.