Hands-free sneaker company backed by Nike raises $20 million

  • HandsFree Labs today announced a $20 million Series B funding round. He has now raised around $34 million.
  • Nike invested in the company in 2019 and remains a minority owner and licensee.
  • HandsFree Labs also sells shoes through its Kizik brand, which grew 400% last year.

HandsFree Labs, backed by Nike, has raised a $20 million funding round, the latest sign of the growing popularity of slip-on sneakers.

“We believe this is the future of footwear,” the Monte Deere CEO told Insider. “Convenience in today’s world is a clear and obvious uber trend. Whether you’re talking about pre-washed jeans, TSA preclearance, a camera in your phone, or a key fob for your car. In footwear, there’s never been a functional change to convention like what we’re bringing to market.”

HandsFree Labs plans to use the funding to expand its Kizik brand, including adding a children’s line and bringing in new hires. Kizik sales grew 400% last year, Deere said. He expects sales to rise 300% this year to one million pairs.

Kizik shoes look like traditional sneakers, but a spring in the back allows wearers to step into the shoe without undoing the laces. They sell for between $99 and $139. They are sold directly to the consumer.

HandsFree originally planned to develop a licensing business and a brand, but Deere said the Kizik brand had grown so “explosively” that it would likely be the future of the company. Yet it was the licensing business that caught Nike’s attention and received funding.

Monte Deere, CEO of HandsFree

Monte Deere, CEO of HandsFree

Courtesy hands-free

In 2019, Nike invested in HandsFree in its Series A. The size of the tower was not disclosed, but Deere said the $20 million Series B tower, HandsFree, raised approximately $34 million from capital.

Nike has also licensed the right to use HandsFree technology.

In 2021, Nike released the GO FlyEase, a shoe that articulates near the rearfoot and allows for hands-free entry. The shoe was somewhat controversial considering the limited initial supply. Nike has since released the shoe in larger quantities, but some sizes are still sold out.

The investment in HandsFree suggests that Nike sees significant sales potential in slip-on sneakers. Donahoe was even photographed wearing a pair of GO FlyEase sneakers in an August Wall Street Journal article.

Deere said HandsFree has about 130 patents, including applications. He was forbidden to say more about Nike’s involvement in the company or whether Nike used HandsFree technology in its sneakers.

Nike did not respond to an email about how it uses HandsFree technology.

Tom Clarke, President of Innovation at Nike, said in a 2019 press release, “Our partnership with HandsFree builds on Nike’s leadership in using innovative technologies to meet consumer needs.”

Mike Pratt founded HandsFree in 2017. He previously founded and sold bag company Ogio to Callaway golf for $75.5 million.

Pratt began developing HandsFree technology at Ogio, then bought it from Ogio before the company sold it to Callaway. Deere, a corporate and M&A lawyer, helped Pratt buy the technology, then he became a corporate adviser and later the company’s CEO.

Skip Lei, who worked for Nike for over 30 years, is Kizik’s product manager.

Boston’s Newcastle Network led the $20 million Series B seed round. Deere said Newcastle has already helped HandsFree better understand its customers. For example, Newcastle has determined that two-thirds of Kizik customers wear their Kizik four or five times a week.

For now, Kizik caters directly to consumers, but Deere said it is making plans to open retail stores, starting with one in the Salt Lake City area. He thinks physical stores will help convert new customers.

“When people put on our shoes and take that very satisfying first step, it shows on their faces,” he said.

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