Art of Sport Sprints Ahead After ‘Harrowing’ 2020 Challenges

    • Art of Sport co-founder Kobe Bryant died in January, but his legacy is being cemented into the skincare brand he helped build.
    • Just after Art of Sport launched in Target stores nationwide, consumers were told to stay at home amid a global pandemic — sales have still quadrupled.

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Kobe Bryant’s fingerprints can be found all over Art of Sport, the personal care brand the late basketball star co-founded. Matthias Metternich, AOS co-founder and chief executive officer, is making sure Bryant’s legacy is cemented within the brand.

“It was the hardest moment of my career,” Metternich said. “His legacy is incredibly important to us. As a founding partner, there’s an expectation to continue to serve the athlete, remain authentic and focus obsessively on the brand message and accessibility.

“He’s the greatest athlete of our time and continues to be central on our outlook of the world and part of his legacy is to drive it forward.”

Art of Sport was primed to enter its second full year on the market for growth. Less than two months after Bryant’s death, the physical retail world shut down because of COVID-19. Brick-and-mortar was supposed to be the growth driver for the Art of Sport, which launched as an online, direct-to-consumer brand. 

On the backs of its athlete partners — like Chicago Cubs shortstop Javy Baez and Houston Rockets guard James Harden, among others — Art of Sport became the fastest-growing new men’s care brand online in its first year. Along with the online growth, Metternich said there was a grassroots marketing approach as the company introduced “upwards of a million young athletes” to products at events across the nation.

As the company was moving forward online, other men’s care brands have also flooded the social media channels with advertisements. Still, Metternich doesn’t think there’s a better time to launch a men’s skincare brand as the demographic is paying more attention to what they put on and in their body. He also believes fitness is becoming more ingrained in daily routines than in the past.

“If I had to rewind 10 years, starting a skincare brand would have been a tough slog,” he said. “We have social media to thank, that’s partially because the audience has changed in the last decade and discovering brands online and voting with their wallets.”

“Now, more than ever, the timing is right and I think the validation is the consumer group waking up, but we will continue to be ahead and pioneers in creating the narrative for better skincare,” Metternich added.

In March, the brand launched in Target stores nationwide. The physical store entry was meant to help bridge the gap between an up-and-coming internet and legacy brand — 95% of men buy deodorant offline.

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Unlike the legacy brands, like Old Spice or Gillette, Metternich said Art of Sport has the advantage of being purpose built with a mission to solve a problem, and therefore a leg up because it has a narrative built on its athlete brand ambassadors.

“We’re highly accessible,” he said. “The nice thing about business is generations decide what brand to get behind. We are seeing enormous traction with the next generation, they don’t want to wear the same deodorant their dad wore.”

“We see interplay between the two channels, we view ourselves as omni-channel with a tight construction of complementary elements that weave nicely together,” he added.

Despite the pandemic’s throttling of retail foot traffic earlier this year — Target was down 35% in the third week of March — the push into Target helped quadruple Art of Sport’s 2020 revenue. The company is also poised to expand its physical retail presence six-fold in the next year. 

Art of Sport also recently closed a $6 million round of funding, which included investors like Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and former NBA player Wilson Chandler.

“I could not have predicted this particularly challenging year,” Metternich said. “I would imagine one of the hardest examples of launching a new consumer brand full scale nationally when people are told to stay at home, that’s a harrowing journey.”