Hylo, an athletic footwear startup founded by ex-professional footballer Michael Doughty, has closed a £2.5 million Series A round. Led by Eka Ventures, with participation from Redrice Venture and angel investors that included Leeds United and England footballer Patrick Bamford, Hylo plans to enhance their brand profile and develop new products.
The brand, which seeks to have a positive impact on athletic performance and the planet, was launched in 2020 by former footballer Michael Doughty, who spoke to TFN about Hylo and what motivated him to leave the pitch to get into footwear.
Building on an athletic and business legacy
Doughty did not have a lengthy football career — his resignation at just 29 prompted speculation and rumour among fans — but football was in his blood. His father, Nigel Doughty, was the owner and chair of Nottingham Forest FC, as well as being an investor. Michael Doughty was in Chelsea’s Academy when he was nine, signing for the youth team at Queen’s Park Rangers when he was 14, becoming a full-time professional as an adult.
But it was during this time he began to question what the brands he wore actually stood for. “I was always an advocate of the many different brands of the teams that I played for,” he told us. “But after a while, I started to question that relationship, and think about my platform as an athlete and what I was supporting by wearing these brands.” While he never came to the conclusion he couldn’t support the brands he wore, he felt they could be more, and they never quite combined the values that were important to him. The result was Hylo, the company he launched in 2020. “I wanted to create a company that brought together my passion for sport, my passion for winning, but also my passion for the environment,” he explains.
And sports have an environmental impact. With performance the key consideration, almost all shoes and athletic wear use man-made fibres that have an environmental impact in manufacture and are difficult to recycle. The only recycling option for Nike shoes, for example, is their Nike Grind programme, which only available through their limited retail outlets.
Doughty has adopted a different, circular, model for Hylo, with sustainability built in throughout the product lifecycle. They will even give customers a credit against a new pair of shoes when they return their old pair. The need for change was one of the reasons that attracted Eka Ventures to the company. “The sportswear industry has a huge environmental footprint, but it also has a huge influence on the athletes it elevates,” said Jon Coker, Aka Ventures’ Managing Partner. He was impressed by Hylo’s different approach. “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.”
Run like the world depends on it
Hylo’s launch product, the Run Two, sets itself apart for its minimal environmental impact. With a CO₂ footprint of just 6.56 kg, the shoes are made from renewable materials, totally recyclable, and are also vegan. “It’s all about our ethos of ‘run, like the world depends on it,’” Doughty says. But he’s also committed to the all-important performance of his product. “We were constantly obsessing over the data from our customers and their feedback, we evolved the product seven or eight times.” The result is a highly reviewed shoe.
Doughty plans to use the funding to help more people find the shoes. Currently only available direct from Hylo, brand awareness will be a major focus for Doughty. Using their Athletes for Planet network — which includes footballer Patrick Bamford, Olympic cyclist Jack Carlin, and Rugby World Cup winner Vicky Fleetwood — they want to influence positive change through the brand. He will also be expanding the Hylo product range with new launches during summer.
A personal mission
Doughty feels there is something personal at stake at Hylo. The birth of his daughter and launching Hylo came in the two months before he retired from football. And the events are linked. “I became a dad and I started to question ‘what is going to be my impact on her future?’,” he explained. It resulted in his decision to quit football to focus on Hylo. “And that’s one of the main driving forces that I have day-to-day at Hylo is: can we connect people more with the environment?”
Doughty is confident that Hylo can help by bringing the positive social force that sport can be, and using the motivation and discipline it involves, to result in pressure and positive change for the world. “For us, we’re at both touch-points of product and brand,” he says, “constantly trying to further the message of positive action around climate change.”