Ones to Watch | Fall/Winter 2022
By Andrew Barone
Andrew Barone (@AndrewBarone) is Senior Vice President and Director of Sales for Rosenthal & Rosenthal’s Pipeline division, helping d2c and e-commerce brands grow their businesses.
Ones to Watch spotlights the future front-runners in the fashion, retail, & consumer industries. These high-potential direct-to-consumer brands are breaking away from the pack and showing great promise, plus the foundations to make a significant impact on the industry. Andrew Barone of Rosenthal & Rosenthal highlights the latest Ones to Watch brands that are attracting attention from consumers and investors alike.
BALA Footwear co-founders Brian Lockard and John Eberle met early in their careers while working at Nike on footwear and apparel products for elite athletes. The idea of footwear for nurses came up in one of Eberle’s business school classes. The duo became committed to improving the experience of healthcare workers who are on their feet for extended hours every day. At Nike, they were taught to “always listen to the voice of the athlete,” so they applied the same concept to nurses and began interviewing healthcare professionals around the country. They have since spoken with more than 500 nurses and other health professionals and came away from those conversations with a new brand – BALA Footwear. That early first-hand feedback led to the 2021 launch of the brand’s signature product – the Twelves – the shoe designed for 12+ hours of stability (and a nod to the back-breaking 12-hour shifts that nurses regularly endure).
Lockard and Eberle knew they were on to something big. With 22 million healthcare professionals in the U.S. spending a collective $4 billion on shoes, there was a huge market for them to explore. “No one in this category was designing completely in service for healthcare professionals,” says Lockard. “We’re bringing the same level of consideration and zero-compromise mentality that you typically see with products designed for athletes to the healthcare industry.” BALA engages monthly with a dedicated group of 60 healthcare professionals who provide regular product feedback, share real stories, and help to ensure that the brand’s values reflect the needs of actual frontline healthcare professionals. The brand has only been in the market for a year and a half, but Lockard says they regularly see high repeat purchases. People and The Today Show have reported on the brand’s immense popularity among nurses.
BALA has raised $2,275,000 to date from family and friends and launched the company with a $1 million presale. In early 2022, the brand entered wholesale and is looking to new partnerships to help continue the brand’s expansion both online and with brick-and-mortar retailers. They’ve teamed up with world-class footwear design talent from PENSOLE Footwear Design Academy, led by former Air Jordan Design Director, D’Wayne Edwards, who is helping to guide continued innovation and product expansion. In addition, a recently announced partnership with Scrubs & Beyond, the largest medical apparel retailer in the U.S., will help BALA to further expand its reach across the healthcare space.
As a former ski instructor and fly fishing guide in Vail, Colorado, perhaps no one embodies the concept of “own less, experience more” than Western Rise co-founder Will Watters. Before launching the men’s performance brand with his wife, Kelly, Will was always on the go, duffel bag in hand. But his outdoor apparel was usually sport-specific, over-branded, and never quite fit the way he needed it to. Both hailing from entrepreneurial families, Will and Kelly set out to create a new kind of premium men’s performance clothing that would have broad appeal and utility for the active modern man for travel, outdoors, and every day.
Men’s performance lifestyle is currently one of the fastest-growing categories in apparel, with a market size of over $48 billion and the category is expected to scale by another 23% in the next three years as it takes market share from other traditional menswear categories. As a third-generation textile developer, Will relies on his knowledge to create proprietary fabrics for Western Rise that are versatile, durable, comfortable, and stylish. “Being a founder of a consumer brand has been a roller coaster of challenges in the last several years, from the uncertainty of COVID to navigating ongoing supply chain delays, both of which have kept us on our toes,” says Kelly. “There are also challenges that come up when leading a primarily DTC company that’s experiencing high double and triple-digit growth year over year.”
Since its inception, Western Rise has relied on a mix of funding sources, profitable unit economics, and just plain scrappy operations. The brand recently completed its first close on a seed round in September 2022. The brand plans to double product styles and a new project launch is slated for next year. The brand is also continuing its expansion into national wholesale, with launches at major regional and national retailers expected in 2023.
For years, collagen supplementation has been a primary focus for people over the age of 60. The protein that holds our hair, skin, nails, and joints together has often carried a stigma – it is something that only older people need to worry about. However, science has shown that our bodies stop producing collagen in our mid-20s. Ronak Shah and his cofounders at Obvi have set out to prove that collagen should in fact be introduced much earlier as a preventative measure.
When they launched Obvi in 2019 to normalize collagen as part of a daily regimen, Shah and his two cofounders made themselves a promise: “We told ourselves that no matter the growth or the revenue, we want to educate first, empower second and provide third.” Obvi is now in 300,000+ households across 75+ countries around the world and has surpassed $40 million in revenue. As the only collagen product with licensing collaborations with mega-brands, Obvi has sold over 5 million servings.
With an addressable market of $8.67 billion, Shah says innovation is the key to staying competitive. “There is no barrier to entry right now in our industry, which makes it very hard to be different,” he says. “That is why our innovation pipeline is so robust. We have at least 1-2 launches every single month.”
Shah and his co-founders have raised $2.2 million via angel investors but have not yet had to tap into that money. In this tough climate, while other brands are pulling back, Obvi is focused on scaling. Their marketing efforts thus far have been limited to Facebook and Google, and there is significant opportunity to expand the brand’s reach to more channels. The future looks bright for Obvi, with several major potential licensing deals in the works and products expected to be available at retailers like Sam’s Club, Walmart, and Target in 2023.
Cousins Mark Zheng and Ray Li, co-founders of Sene, realized that clothes that fit poorly can make someone feel like they have an unusual body type. The duo wanted to create a solution that would empower people of all shapes and sizes to feel their best.
Li says Sene is the first company of its kind to take a designer approach that’s also size-less. Customers take the SmartFit Quiz—a proprietary, easy, at-home method of extracting body measurements through a simple set of questions. Li and Zheng have referred to the SmartFit Quiz as “the Netflix of fashion,” offering a seamless process for the customer that relies on data science to determine fit instead of a tailor or measuring tape. All of Sene’s products are hand-crafted, custom-fit, and delivered to the customer’s doorstep in two weeks. According to Li, the addressable market for Sene’s products is enormous. “Because most companies only carry five standard sizes (XS to 2XL), there are roughly 5 billion people currently in between sizes. That’s a $258 billion market size,” says Li.
Li and Zheng have raised $1.1 million to date from angel investors and one VC, including Nike’s former head of strategy, Under Armor’s former Chief Digital Officer, FedEx Supply Chain’s former CEO, and Li and & Fung USA’s former President. With new products rolling out regularly and a major collaboration on the horizon for Spring 2023, the two say they never lose sight of their mission-driven approach and their focus on sustainability and inclusivity.
Ones to Watch is produced in partnership with Rosenthal & Rosenthal — a proud supporter of growing brands through factoring, asset-based lending, production financing, and d2c and e-commerce inventory financing. Click here to learn more about Rosenthal’s newest division, Pipeline™, offering growth capital solutions exclusively for high-growth DTC and e-commerce businesses.