Six years ago, Fredericton’s Ryan Jacobson was training to run his first marathon in Chicago.
Things were going well until he realized there would be around 45,000 other runners and about 1.3 million people watching. He had a problem many runners have.
“Whenever I run or exercise or even think of doing anything like that, my nose starts to run,” he says.
For many runners, a leaky nose faucet means using your hand or sleeve or, if you’re skilled, blowing “snot rockets” into the air. For Jacobson, this wasn’t a flattering or practical option while running a giant marathon with so many people.
“I thought ‘jeez, I’m going to be in Chicago with all these people, I can’t be doing that. I’m going to hit someone with my debris,’ ” he says.
Jacobson’s running shorts didn’t have pockets, so Kleenex was out of the question. He started doing some research and checking out sports stores, but couldn’t find anything designed to help. So the father of three decided to make something himself.
“I remembered that we had these small baby face clothes leftover. I grabbed one from the drawer and I cut a hole in it and I attached to a retractable badge reel I had in my drawer for work,” he says. “I snapped the two together and I went for a run.”
That was the very first Yanky, a sports hanky where you simply yank to use.
Today, after years of encouragement from friends, family and local entrepreneurs, the Yanky is now available for purchase online and in retails stores in Atlantic Canada. Made from
Bamboo/Organic Cotton blend, the Yanky is soft yet durable. Similar to the first prototype, the Yanky is attached by a quick release buckle to a retractable reel that can be clipped onto shorts or running tights. It’s also available in a variety of colours and patterns.
“It’s a New Brunswick product,” says Jacobson. “The fabrication is done in Moncton, the packaging is printed in Fredericton, the logo and artwork are designed in Fredericton and we assemble in Fredericton.”
Though the Yanky was spawned out of a common problem from runners, Jacobson says the product can be used for any physical activity where you break a sweat or get a runny nose. Jacobson also says customers have pointed out uses he never even thought of.
“Golfers seem to really like it, not necessarily for nose or sweat, but for their golf ball. Especially during an early morning golf round where there’s dew on the grass and your ball gets wet,” he says.
“Golfers will often wipe the ball on their shorts or their shirt sleeve … So golfers like to have the little Yanky on their golf shorts or pants. Same with the golf grip as well, just to keep that dry.”
Some Yanky customers use it for activities as simple as walking their dogs.
“I have people telling me they’re buying my products and clipping it to their dog’s collar or the dog’s leash,” says Jacobson. “Then when the dog walk is over and they bring the dog back inside, instead of having a big clunky towel … they use the hanky to wipe the dog’s paws.”
The Yanky is currently being carried in independent sports shops around New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It’s also available online, with orders already shipped as far as Singapore, Whales, Virginia, California and Arizona.
“The numbers are not staggering, but there’s a lot of buzz around it,” says Jacobson. “People seem to be having a lot of fun with it, taking pictures and sharing it with their friends and telling me about it which feels really cool.”
Though still a very young company, Yanky has already done its first collaboration with professional boxer Brandon Brewer.
“His followers, he dubs them as the ‘Plaid Army.’ So we created a Plaid Army version of the Yanky and included his logo on the special clothing tag on it,” says Jacobson. “With that one, we’re donating $5 from every sale to Special Olympics New Brunswick, which is an organization near and dear to Brandon’s heart.”
This summer Jacobson says he’ll be working to get the Yanky into other independent sports retailers in Atlantic Canada as well as into bigger stores such as The Running Room. He will also be bringing the brand to racing and golf events in the region.
There’s still lots of room to grow, but Jacobson is pleased about the reception the product has received so far.
“It feels really cool when people are talking about,” he says. “If I can solve the runny nose issues and make them smile at the same time, then that feels kind of neat.”