December 3, 2020

Kobe Bryant-Backed Startup Wants To Be The Nike Of Skincare. It Just Raised $6 Million To Advance Its Game Plan.

Art of Sport, the skincare and grooming brand launched two years ago with the backing of basketball legend Kobe Bryant and other athlete investors, is preparing to grow its retail presence six-fold next year.

The company today announced it has closed a $6 million funding round designed to fuel its retail expansion.

The round, the first external funding announced by the Los Angeles-based company, was led by CircleUp Growth Partners and includes Mark Cuban, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Bam Ventures, Darco Capital, and NBA veteran Wilson Chandler.

The brand, currently sold in Target
TGT
stores and on Amazon
AMZN
.com and its own website, is planning to use the capital in part to ramp up production in preparation for a rollout to new retail partners early next year.

The ultimate goal of Art of Sport is to do in the skincare and grooming category what Nike
NKE
did in apparel: create a brand that is synonymous with sport excellence, that is purchased by lots of non-athletes.

The late Kobe Bryant was a founding partner, and an active participant in shaping the identity of the brand, giving the fragrances used in the brands body washes, shampoos, and deodorants their names: Compete, Rise, Victory. His investment firm Bryant-Stibel invested in the company and retains a stake in it.

Other athlete investor partners include NBA star James Harden, NFL Wide Receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, World Cup Soccer Champion Abby Dahlkemper, World Series Champion Javier Baez, X-Games Gold Medalist Ryan Sheckler, and motocross racer Ken Roczen.

Brian Lee, who previously launched The Honest Company, Legal Zoom and ShoeDazzle, and Matthias Metternich, founder of direct-to-consumer brand Cocodune, and other e-commerce tech ventures, developed the plan for Art of Sport, created a line of products, and took their idea to Bryant.

His response, said Metternich, the CEO of Art of Sport, was “I completely understand this playbook.”

Bryant felt that the brand had the potential to create “the next generation skincare brand of choice,” Metternich said.

Bryant, in an interview with Women’s Wear Daily in late 2018 said he liked the products and felt it was a business he could make valuable contributions to.

“Our vision is to build what Nike did in apparel in the skincare category,” Metternich said. While a lot of men’s grooming and personal care products use the word sport in their names or marketing, there weren’t any brands working with athletes to address their skincare needs, he said, the way a Nike, or Adidas or Under Armour
UAA
does with apparel.

“Those are brands that were born with a certain philosophy to service the athlete, to use that athlete in their journey as their north star, and bring everyone else along with them on a platform about empowerment and reaching your potential,” Metternich said.

Art of Sport products are made in the United States and are formulated with more natural ingredients, and fewer chemicals, or ingredients such as aluminum, parabens, talc, and sulfates, without sacrificing performance, he said.

Art of Sport sells 14 products at Target, including body wash, antiperspirant, shampoo and conditioner, bar soap, face wash, lotions, sunscreen, and body wipes.

The products are priced to have mass appeal—all are $10 or less, and it recently lowered prices on its deodorant and antiperspirant by $2 to $6.99—and marketed to attract both the 14-year-old who wants to grow up to be an NBA star, and the 40-something trying to reach the next level on his Peloton.

The brand, which focuses on men in most of its marketing, has also proven to be popular with female consumers, who either use the products themselves, or buy them for sons or spouses, according to Metternich.

By being linked to athletes popular in different regions, the brand can take a hyper-local approach to advertising, for example placing billboards near Wrigley Field, where Javier Baez plays for the Chicago Cubs, or near the football field in Los Angeles where Juju Smith-Schuster was a college star. The billboards direct local fans to the nearest Target where they can buy the product.

The brand also sought to build its sports cred, before the pandemic ended in-person events, by handing out the product at youth sporting events and sports camps.

Target began selling the products in its stores nationwide in February. Art of Sport also has a brand page on Amazon.

The response on Amazon and at Target stores helped propel the added investment interest, Metternich said. The company doesn’t reveal its sales, but it quadrupled its revenue in its second year, Metternich said.

It plans to increase its retail store footprint six-fold next year, Metternich said. He isn’t revealing the new retail partners yet, but said they will include several national retailers and “some exciting specialty retailers.”

Deodorant and body wash are two consumer product categories that still are purchased more than 90% of the time in stores, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, Metternich said.

Art of Sport is looking to score big in a category that is forecast to enjoy strong growth in coming years, but that also has lots of tough, heavy-hitter competitors.

Allied Market Research in 2019 predicted that the men’s personal care industry would grow to $166 billion globally by 2022. In 2018, sales of men’s skincare products increased by 7%, according to research firm The NPD Group.

Metternich said he expects retailers will be eager to carry the Art of Sport because they are “looking for brands that bring platforms to their retail environment.”

With so many brands out there, he said, “retailers are really thinking about what kind of platforms are there to connect with the consumer in the skincare category.”

A sport brand that shoots to be the Nike of skincare can be that platform, he believes.

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