Omorpho recently closed a $6 million seed funding round, led by VC firm KB Partners, at a post-money valuation of $26 million. The sportswear company uses its proprietary MicroLoad technology to strategically place light weight on the wearer’s body. The goal is to make the individual fitter, faster and stronger without restricting their natural movement during training.
“[Micro-weighted clothing could be] the biggest innovation in workout apparel since Under Armor introduced its line of compression apparel over 25 years ago,” said Keith Bank (Founder and CEO, KB Partners). “There has been little, if any, functional innovation in the space for a long time. The Omorpho product line helps athletes of all skill levels train harder, smarter and with measurable results.”
JWS’ Take: Historically, sportswear companies have sold the idea that lighter is better. And during the competition it was. However, “when you’re training, lighter isn’t necessarily better,” Bank said. “Heavier is better – to the point where it doesn’t affect form or interfere with natural movement.”
Omorpho heat-prints weighted beads across the surface of its Gravity Sportswear™ line, making any activity just a little more challenging for the wearer. The product is intended to help an individual burn more calories and build more muscle during training. But Bank said the “holy grail” is when a carrier takes off his clothes and can “jump higher, throw the ball harder, run faster.”
The research behind this is still in its infancy, according to a 2016 systematic review Sports medicine. A 2019 study showed that weight-bearing resistance training can help improve sprint times over 40 meters, and a 2021 study on weight-bearing resistance sprint training produced inconclusive results.
Sportswear is a difficult category to break into due to supply chain challenges, inventory and a crowded landscape, Bank explained. In fact, the venture capitalist said his firm “wouldn’t normally touch the apparel business with a 10-foot pole,” but the rare opportunity to help create an entirely new sportswear category was too attractive to pass up. Omorpho is KB Partners’ first investment in the clothing sector.
Omorpho is not exempt from the aforementioned headwinds. However, the Bank was able to overcome his concerns in part because he is so forthcoming with Omorpho co-founder and CEO Stefan Olander and COO Gareth Hosford (along with the rest of the senior management team). “They’re in the top few percent of founders I’ve seen in my career. They can be trained. They are smart. They are innovative and have more than 20 years of Nike experience behind them,” he said.
Olander and Hosford also bring deep factory relationships to Omorpho, developed during their time with Nike and Converse. “They know where to go to get reliable production and where [the] the costs would be known”, said the Bank. The startup has added advisors and strategic investors who “know the cold space and have great industry relationships.”
As a DTC business, Omorpho doesn’t have “nearly as many concerns about inventory, returns and things of that nature,” Bank said. If the company had taken a mass retail approach, Banka said his firm would likely have moved to the investment. “It’s just necessary [too] a lot of money to build a store brand and the margins are nowhere near as good.”
To date, Omorpho has relied heavily on brand ambassadors (see: NFL star Julio Jones), “show troops” at top clubs and word of mouth to sell its products. Strategic corporate partnerships with Equinox and Carbon38 have also been effective in raising brand awareness and driving authentication. The recently raised $6 million will be the “first [real] marketing dollars behind the company,” Bank said.
While the Bank said, “99.9% of the country has probably never heard of it [Omorpho]”, seems to appeal to those who have managed to find his products. Since the launch of the Gravity Sportswear™ line last November, less than 5% of purchases made have been returned, compared to average retail return rates that typically range from 30-35%.
Wearing ankle or wrist weights, or weight vests, while training is not a new concept. But the weight isn’t evenly distributed throughout the body, Olander explained, and the practice can put unnecessary strain on joints and tendons. Omorpho sees its line of micro-weighted clothing as a better fitting and safer way to improve performance.
There are other brands that have resistance methods built into their clothing – including Agogie, Physiclo and Titin – but Omorpho considers itself a new category, making it hard to gauge how big the potential market is. Omorpho can be successful if it remains only a weighted line of sportswear products. But Olander said the company has plans to eventually “introduce really compelling day-game collections without weighting and lifestyle” similar to what Nike, Under Armor and Adidas have done after establishing a large lead in one category.
Greenchain Capital and Madison Square Garden Sports Corp. have also participated in a recent round. When asked about their investment, a spokesperson for MSG Sports said: “Omorpho has revolutionized fitness training, and this investment was an opportunity to align with one of the leaders in the industry, furthering our efforts to partner with new and innovative companies.”