Inside the Birth of Art of Sport and the Future of Sports Skincare Products

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Matthias Metternich was browsing the sunscreen aisle at CVS when he noticed an arbitrary “Sports” on the label.

Growing up as a child in an era when Adidas and Nike advertised their 100-percent commitment and passion about building a product that served athletes and developed products to help those athletes achieve their full potential, sunscreen brands claiming sport struck Metternich as odd.

“When I think of sports brands, I don’t think Banana Boat and Coppertone,” Metternich said. “That led me to look at the formulas and realizing very quickly they’re essentially the same as non-sport. There’s nothing about the formulations that have any sporting integrity to them.”

“It was effectively misleading consumers. I think they realize people are looking for products to keep up with them and better formulations that serve a consumer looking to add to an active lifestyle.”

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He wandered through the other aisles and realized deodorants, body wash and even Icy Hot and Bengay all had similar “sport” variations. A serial entrepreneur, Metternich saw an opportunity and decided to launch Art of Sport following months of due diligence and partnering with two seasoned scientists to develop the product.

Now, Art of Sport has a lineup of some of the most elite athletes in their respective sports, including partner Kobe Bryant, as well as Chicago Cubs infielder Javier Baez, Pittsburgh Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, Houston Rockets guard James Harden, surfer Sage Erickson, skateboarder Ryan Sheckler and motocross racer Ken Roczen.

The scientists Metternich partnered with include Shekhar Mitra, who was a CIO at Proctor and Gamble and helped develop Crest White Strips and Old Spice Clinical Strength, and Laurence Dryer, CSO at Honest Company.

“We spent a good year or so developing the initial chassis of formulas that could perform better, and started adding in other ingredients to amp those up and optimize for better delivery for skin and performance benefits people would expect from a moisture-wicking shirt or a shoe that doesn’t weight a lot,” Metternich said. “We made a lot of progress, but something was missing. Why don’t we get one of the best athletes we can find to put their perspective in?”

Metternich went straight to the top and connected with Bryant, believing he was in the correct headspace to get stuck into a two-man startup operation.

“It was so small, it’s hard to imagine him jumping in, but it kicked off a pretty intensive process,” Metternich said. “He’s very intense, very creative.”

Bryant then led the products through a variety of different tests and looked at them through different lenses, asking other athletes their opinions – and even his wife — on how he smelled. He also helped assemble the “roundtable” of the best athletes across sports and ones that “have an approach to sports, style or attitude that is unique or original.”

“An athlete, at any level, is always focused on how to improve,” Bryant said. “With Art of Sport, the goal is simple – provide innovative body care products designed for sports performance.”

The roster of athletes has helped test and improve the lineup of products, including the 2-in-1 body wash, deodorant, and antiperspirant, recovery cream, and sunscreen.

Metternich said the athletes are crucial to the testing process and offer feedback, ensuring the products are ones they would use and include ingredients that jettison the products to a level that stays with them throughout their performance.

“The goal for the business is if Nike is what you wear, Powerade or Gatorade is what you drink, we want to be that brand every athlete applies to their skin and trusts to do its job,” Metternich said. “Athlete doesn’t mean the gym rat; that means if you have a body and you’re an athlete.”

The roster of athletes involved in the brand is already large, but Metternich said it would be ever-evolving. He also said the teams of the athletes aren’t directly involved, but invariably the products end up spreading through the locker rooms.

“There isn’t a direct affiliation, but last week, I got a request from an equipment manager for a whole pallet for the team,” he said. “One way or another, we’re finding there’s an appetite. What’s been fascinating is there are all these interesting connective tissues between all the athletes. The sports aren’t in silos.”