LONDON — Can professional athletes pool their strengths to fight global warming and create social change?
Michael Doughty, cofounder and managing director of Hylo Athletics, a footwear start-up, certainly thinks so.
Doughty, who played professional soccer for 10 years for Queens Park Rangers and Swindon, believes that the world of athletics has a potentially powerful voice in the fields of sustainability and social impact.
He’s using his own voice to promote Hylo’s vegan running shoes, and to build a community of fellow sports professionals called Athletes for Planet.
The Hylo sneakers, which are created for athletes and sold direct-to-consumer, are made from renewable materials, are recyclable and have a 52 percent lower carbon footprint compared with the average running shoe.
The shoes are made from corn fiber, natural rubber, algae and cotton. Each pair has a unique barcode containing information about its carbon footprint, and the raw materials that went into its production. Hylo said it documents everything it makes, and is constantly measuring its total business impact.
In July 2021, Hylo joined the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, the apparel, footwear and textile industry’s alliance for sustainable production. It also publishes an annual impact report.
Hylo has also partnered with Common Goal, and donates at least 1 percent of its net revenue to the organization founded by the professional soccer player, Juan Mata and Jürgen Griesbeck. Common Goal urges members of the football industry to drive progress toward global social change and improving people’s lives.
On Monday, it will reveal a Series A fundraise of 2.5 million pounds, or $3.3 million, led by Eka Ventures, with participation from Redrice Ventures and angel investors including Patrick Bamford, who plays for Leeds United and the English national soccer team.
Hylo, which was founded by Doughty, Jacob Green and John Prescott, said the funds will be used for product and brand development, as well as sales and marketing expansion.
Prescott’s background is in global sourcing for brands including Asics, Puma and Adidas. He has also worked on the production teams at Nike and Timberland. Green is an entrepreneur and investor in sustainable businesses.
Doughty said he, Prescott and Green founded Hylo with the aim of providing athletes with products “that not only perform, but that drastically improve the impact that sportswear is having on our world.”
Jon Coker, managing partner of Eka Ventures, one of the largest impact-focused, early-stage venture funds in the U.K., said his team backs founders who are “building positive, system change in large and impactful industries. The sportswear industry is exactly that. It not only has a huge environmental footprint, but it also has a huge influence on the athletes it elevates.
“When we met Michael, Jacob and John, it was clear their vision for Hylo was genuine system change. Everything they do is focused on the unique combination of performance and sustainability, whether it be the advanced materials they use, their sales models or the way they work with athletes. We are thrilled that they chose to partner with us as they deliver on their vision.”
Bamford said the company’s focus on blending performance and impact is what drew him to Hylo. “Products that perform, that don’t compromise the planet have been long overdue in the sportswear space. I am excited to be part of the journey and shape what future products the brand brings to market.”
In an interview, Doughty said he cofounded Hylo, and Athletes for Planet, to channel his sportsman’s energy, commitment and a love of the outdoors into a venture with impact.
“I love winning, I love competing and I wanted to do something that would not compromise my values around the environment, which is the most important existential issue of our time. I wanted to use my motivation from the [soccer] field to make it happen,” Doughty said.
He wanted to bring other athletes on board, too, hence the Athletes for Planet initiative, which asks sports figures to use their own platforms to create a positive impact.
As for the shoes, they’re simply designed, and made in China with as short a supply chain as possible. “We stripped them back, knowing that fewer materials would mean less impact. They are still made for performance,” and the goal is to create “game-changing products,” Doughty said.
The running shoes are priced at 110 pounds, or $135, and sell on Hylo’s U.K. and U.S. websites.