Omorpho recently closed a $6 million seed-funding round, led by VC firm KB Partners, at a $26 million post-money valuation. The sportswear company uses proprietary MicroLoad technology to strategically place small amounts of weight across the wearer’s body. The goal is to make the individual fitter, faster and stronger without limiting their natural movement during training.
“[Micro-weighted clothing could be] the biggest innovation in workout apparel since Under Armour introduced its compression apparel line over 25 years ago,” Keith Bank (founder and CEO, KB Partners) said. “There has been little, if any, functional innovation in the space for a very long time. The Omorpho product line helps athletes of all skill levels train harder, more intelligently and with measurable results.”
JWS’ Take: Historically speaking, sportswear companies have sold the notion that lighter is better. And during competition, it is. However “when you are training, lighter is not necessarily better,” Bank said. “Heavier is better—to an extent that it does not impact form or hinder natural movements.”
Omorpho heat-prints weighted beads across the surface of its Gravity Sportswear™ line, making any activity just a little bit more challenging for the wearer. The product is intended to help the individual to burn more calories and build more muscle during training. But Bank said the “holy grail” is when the wearer sheds the garments and is able to “jump higher, throw the ball harder, run faster.”
The research behind this is still in its infancy, according to a 2016 systemic review in Sports Medicine. A 2019 study found that training with wearable resistance on the thigh could help improve sprint times over 40 meters, and a 2021 study on sprint training with weighted resistance produced inconclusive results.
Sportswear is a difficult category to break into, due to supply chain challenges, inventory and the crowded landscape, Bank explained. In fact, the venture capitalist said his firm “ordinarily would not touch an apparel deal with a 10-foot pole,” but the rare opportunity to help create an entirely new category of sportswear was too attractive to pass up. Omorpho is KB Partners’ first investment in the apparel sector.
Omorpho is not exempt from the headwinds referenced. But Bank was able to get over his concerns in part because he is so bullish on Omorpho co-founder and CEO Stefan Olander and COO Gareth Hosford (along with the rest of the senior management team). “They are amongst the top couple percenters of founders I’ve seen in my career. They’re coachable. They’re smart. They’re innovative and they have 20-plus 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] costs would be known,” Bank said. The startup has added advisors and strategic investors that “know the space cold and have great industry relationships” too.
As a DTC business, Omorpho does not have “nearly as much concern around inventory, returns and things of that nature,” Bank said. Had the company taken a mass retail approach, Bank said his firm likely would have passed on an investment. “It just takes [too] much money to create an in-store brand and the margins aren’t anywhere near as good.”
To date, Omorpho has largely relied on brand ambassadors (see: NFL star Julio Jones), “trunk shows” at high-end 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 recent $6 million raised will be “the first [real] marketing dollars behind the company,” Bank said.
While Bank said, “99.9% of the country has probably never heard of [Omorpho],” those that have managed to find its products seem to like them. Since launching the Gravity Sportswear™ line last November, less than 5% of the purchases made have been returned, compared to the average retail return rates which typically range from 30-35%.
Wearing ankle or wrist weights, or a weighted vest, while training isn’t a new concept. But the weight is not evenly distributed across the body, Olander explained, and the practice can place unnecessary strain on joints and tendons. Omorpho sees its micro-weighted clothing line as a better-fitting, safer way to improve performance.
There are other brands that have resistance methods built into their apparel—including Agogie, Physiclo and Titin—but Omorpho considers itself a new category, which makes it difficult to assess how large the potential market is. Omorpho can be successful if it remains solely a weighted sportswear product line. But Olander said the company has plans to eventually “introduce really compelling non-weighted game day and lifestyle collections” akin to what Nike, Under Armour and Adidas did once they established a large lead in a single category.
Greenchain Capital and Madison Square Garden Sports Corp. also participated in the recent round. When asked about their investment, an MSG Sports spokesperson said, “Omorpho has revolutionized fitness training, and this investment was an opportunity to align with one of the industry’s leaders, furthering our efforts to partner with new and innovative companies.”