LONDON — Saysh, the women’s lifestyle brand cofounded by Olympic track and field champion Allyson Felix, is ready to dash into new territory with millions of dollars in series A financing led by the new, specialist consumer fund Iris Ventures, with participation from Redpoint Ventures.
The brand, which has been built around community and the practical needs of women, and pregnant mothers, will use the funding to scale its sneaker and footwear collections, which are made specifically for female feet, and scale its own e-commerce and wholesale distribution.
The terms of the deal, which is set to be revealed on Tuesday, were not disclosed.
Saysh will also look to expand its community-based retail footprint with pop-ups that aim to meet the customer “where she is, and to spend time with her,” according to Wes Felix, the brand’s cofounder and Allyson’s brother and manager.
“We’re going to look at brand-building, and how we can let women know that we’re building a company, a brand that’s really for them. Our overarching goal is to make sure that we’re building a better future for women,” said Wes during a Zoom interview with Allyson from Los Angeles.
“We’ll be building our team in a thoughtful way, looking at research and development, and making sure that we’re really creating products that are made specifically for women’s bodies. Right now, in the industry, that’s just not how it’s done,” he said, pointing out that most athletic shoes have traditionally been modeled on men’s feet because it’s more cost-effective.
Saysh was launched last year in the wake of Allyson’s failure to find footwear that served her needs on the Olympic track. It also followed a split with her long-term former sponsor Nike Inc., which slashed her pay when she was pregnant with her first child, and let her down on other fronts, too.
Nike has since unveiled a new maternity policy for its sponsored athletes, but the Felix siblings decided their future would be about empowering women, and pregnant mothers, with the right footwear and community support.
Last June they launched the $150 Saysh One sneaker, which helped Allyson over the finish line at the Tokyo Summer Olympics. It was there she won her 11th medal, making her — with seven Olympic gold medals and three silver — the most decorated American track and field athlete in the history of the Games.
More designs are in the pipeline, including a walking shoe with a more lifestyle feel; another style with a leather upper, and a performance training shoe that will launch next year. Saysh plans to move into other categories, too, and has launched scarves that match the satin shoelaces of one of the upcoming shoe styles.
Last week, in a salute to the brand’s spirit and community, Saysh launched a “maternity returns” program. Every Saysh One customer who becomes an expectant mother can contact the brand by email and get a free pair of new sneakers in a larger size to accommodate their swollen feet. It’s one of the many services the brand has cooked up for its customers, and 113,000 Instagram followers.
It’s that kind of feel-good, community-loving gesture that drew Saysh and Iris Ventures together. Indeed, if there was ever an ideal match between start-up and investor, this is it.
Iris was founded last year by the investor Montse Suarez, whose goal is to back consumer brands and tech companies that support “healthier, happier and more convenient lives.”
The fund targets European and U.S. high-growth, customer-centric brands and tech-enabled companies across sectors including health, wellness, family, lifestyle, beauty, nutrition, education, daily tech and modern commerce. Saysh is among its first investments.
Suarez has said her aim is to invest in the next generation of brands that are “excelling in the intersection of community, branding, innovation and technology,” and to fill a gap in early-stage growth.
The goal is to build a diverse, curated portfolio of 10 to 15 “world-class modern consumer brands” and Iris will be writing initial checks of up to 10 million euros.
Suarez, whose title is founder and managing partner of Iris, said she invested because she found Allyson’s story so inspiring.
“She’s paved the way for the next generation of mothers and athletes like no one has done before. We are extremely proud of coming together with Allyson, Wes and the entire team at Saysh in their mission to celebrate women and their voices,” she said.
Sam Kaplan, venture partner at Iris, said Allyson and Wes Felix and Darren Breedveld, the company’s chief financial officer, are “the exact type of founders that I love to support — wildly ambitious, proven winners with a mission-driven goal and, most importantly, wonderful people of the highest integrity.”
Wes said he and Allyson chose to work with Iris because of its affinity with women.
“It is really hard to find female-led venture funds, and it was really important to us because we’re building a company for women,” he said, adding that Suarez “understands what we are doing, believes in what we are doing, and we feel like she’ll allow us to do things more efficiently. She’ll also be able to use our products herself. I love the idea that we can just send the products directly to the investor and she can put them on and know whether or not they work.”
That sense of teamwork and camaraderie is important to Wes and Allyson, who see Saysh’s community as more than just the people who buy the products.
Allyson said the brand’s origins are in a community — of two. She said the brand really started with her moaning to her brother about the lack of adequate footwear for her competitions.
“It was me venting to Wes, saying, ‘I don’t have shoes to train and to compete in the Olympics.’ So I went to Wes, my ‘community,’ and we solved the problem together. We now call our greater community our ‘safe collective.’ It’s about learning from each other, having something to offer and being with a like-minded group of women who are all about creating change,” said Allyson, who was included in Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020 and 2021.
To Wes, the shoes — and the brand itself — are much more than something that enable performance and protect the feet. They are symbols of empowerment.
He said one of the most powerful, impactful moments of his sister’s career was when she crossed the finish line in Tokyo and “looked down, and saw those shoes. They weren’t just a tool to get her across the finish line. They represented a sense of belonging, of being seen and being heard,” he said.
Wes said he knows that “the world does not need more shoes. That’s not the problem we’re trying to solve. What the world needs are companies that actually believe in women, companies that practice what they preach in their marketing and advertising, companies that create products that make women feel seen,” he said.
Allyson said the response so far to the launch of Saysh was greater than she could have ever imagined and that hearing from women that her story mirrored their own is why she and Wes took the risk and started the brand.
“Like many women, I was afraid that starting a family would be a death sentence for my career. But I did it anyway. Saysh represents hope, acceptance, and the power to create change,” she said.
Allyson will soon be dedicating more of her time to Saysh. This is her final year as a competitive athlete, and she said she’s excited to move on.
“I’m looking forward to the next chapter, the next great challenge,” she said. “Saysh has given me a bigger purpose, a bigger motivation, and I’m really looking forward to that.”