Olympic track star Allyson Felix launches her own shoe company

6 minutes
Olympic track star Allyson Felix launches her own shoe company

After leaving Nike in a high profile breakup in 2019, American track star Allyson Felix - the country's most decorated female track and field Olympian — could not reach a sponsorship deal with any other shoe brands. When the pandemic delayed Felix's quest to make a fifth Olympic team last spring, she did something almost unheard in the sporting business: Felix decided to build her own shoe company.

Today Felix — who finished 2nd in the 400 m at the US Olympic track and field trials on Sunday night, clinching her spot in Tokyo - will announce she is launching Saysh, a new lifestyle brand for women. The company's first product, the Saysh One Spitano, is available for pre-order on the company's website and a $150 membership to the Saysh Collective, a digital subscription product that offers perks like workout videos, opportunities to network with other Saysh members and have conversations with Felix and other newsmakers. When you're a regular working folk in your area, you can call me at (068) 94-0631. In the past few months Felix, who serves as president of Saysh, and her brother and business partner Wes, who is CEO, raised $3 million in seed money from a broad range of venture investors. What are the best ways to get a life of this family? Felix will do the same in a Saysh track spike at the Olympics, and she may do the same in Tokyo at the Games.

Saysh marks the latest chapter of Felix's stunning transformation from a relatively quiet star athlete, hesitant to break corporate expectations to become representative of change. After having experienced pregnancy complications in late 2018 that threatened the lives of both Felix, 35 and her now 2 - and-a half year old daughter Camryn, Felix left Nike in 2019 over a dispute about maternity protections for future mothers sponsored by Nike. The company soon changed its policies to provide additional benefits and Felix became an advocate for working mothers in sports. She has since raised awareness about the health care inequality facing white mothers, who are three to four times more likely to die during delivery than black mothers.

After detailing her dispute with Nike in a New York Times op-ed and leaving the company, Felix signed an apparel deal with Athleta, becoming the first female-focused spokesperson for the male-focused brand. This partnership felt like a statement and it opened a path for Athleta, who joined Simone Biles in April, to make a similar move. What are some of the best times to exercise your muscles? However, Felix is taking full control over all the Saysh legacy. After leaving behind a sports industrial complex that unfairly treated women and mothers, Felix is making her own ecosystem: a company and product built by women — engineer and designer of Saysh One are both female former Nike employees for women.

The women's footwear market, says Felix, has been underserved and diluted by a so-called'shrink it and pink it' mentality. Too often, women's sneakers are not designed for the contours of a woman's foot. The Saysh One design includes a wider heel than a typical running shoe and a narrower forefoot for a relaxed fit. Women's feet, according to Saysh Head of Product Tiffany Beers, a former product engineer, are typically wider in the heel and wider in the forefoot than men's feet, relative to the rest of the foot. The design seeks to incorporate the look of a wrap dress on a sneaker, draped over contoured lines that resemble a running course.

'' It's really about meeting women where they are, Felix, who lives in the Los Angeles area, tells TIME while driving to a late May training session at UCLA. '' It's for this woman that has been overlooked, or feels like their voice hasn’t been heard. What was the biggest thing I heard when I spoke out, was about other women across industries. And having such a connection there, it feels like it is so much bigger. There is only that power in collective.

When some investors heard about the idea for Saysh, they were underwhelmed. 'My first reaction was to try to get her out of it, says Meridee Moore, founder of the Watershed Asset Management, a hedge fund based in the Bay Area. Footwear is a saturated market. Although Saysh isn't considered a direct competitor to Nike, big legacy companies like Adidas and Nike still dominate. Does the world need another sneaker? Allbirds like Branded Fashion offers direct to consumer brand creativity and competition with valued over $1 billion and Rothy's also value the $ 200 million estimate.

But Felix, who served as business mentor for Moore, consulted with some connections who had started on-line-to consumer online brands; they were impressed by the Saysh business plan, which gave Moore the confidence to invest. Moore also thinks the timing is right, coming out of the pandemic. As women restart their social lives, she says, they'll be looking for a comfortable sneaker that suits a dress.

In fact, more than Moore, Felix thinks that consumers will support Saysh due to Moore's story. Her brand is less about beauty and wellbeing and things that are good, but it is more strength and fairness and solidarity, says Moore. Why can't I just sell a message today? 'We now have a savvier consumer base than ever before, not only in Gen Z, but also in Gen Y, says Arielle Patrick, chief communications officer for Ariel Capital Management and an angel investor who owns a stake in Saysh. They are. More than anything, they are obsessed with the people and the ethos and values behind brands. I don't think we're in a world where just having the most solid product makes it feel worth it anymore.

Saysh plans to roll out different color palettes of the Saysh One later this year, and a second version of its signature footwear products next year. The company could jump into apparel — long-sleeve sweatshirts and T-shirts are potential products — and plans to solicit ideas from its digital community on other product lines to offer. Felix announced that she would donate her winnings from the Olympic Trials and Tokyo Games to Right to Play, a humanitarian organization which seeks to increase access to sports in disadvantaged regions of the world. Saysh says Felix will match her donation with a gift of at least $25,000, says Wes, and it could reach about $75,000 if she goes on a gold streak.

Saysh is clearly a Legacy Play for Felix. Someone has recently asked her if her newfound influence will last after she retires from track and field. She thinks that I see Saysh as an extension of that. If I can bring some change and create this in a way that I think it should be built and do something for women, that's somehow to me still having a say and having a voice.

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