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Athleta Invests in Former Nike Partner Allyson Felix’s Sneaker Brand

Athleta is investing in Saysh, the year-old women’s sneaker brand of its first-ever sponsored athlete, Allyson Felix.

The Gap Inc.-owned activewear brand and the growth equity fund IRIS Ventures led an $8 million Series A funding round, Saysh announced Thursday. Other investors included Redpoint Ventures and Springbank Collective. According to Saysh, the round consisted of predominantly woman-owned, woman-led investors.

Allyson Felix, a former Nike athlete who left the Swoosh brand for Athleta in 2019 after publicly recounting her experience negotiating with her sponsor while pregnant, launched Saysh with her brother Wes Felix nearly one year ago to the day. In addition to its signature Saysh One sneaker, the self-described “community-centered lifestyle brand” also sells anklets and hosts events and a podcast.

The company plans to use the new funding to scale its branded e-commerce, wholesale distribution and community-based retail footprint, “something the founders see as a big growth opportunity,” Saysh said. It will also support an “expanded” product offering and the launch of “several new activity-specific sneakers,” it added. Saysh said it has already tested “different ideas and concepts” that will inform its future product portfolio.

“This is an exciting next step for the brand, and we’re so grateful to those partners who see the potential for Saysh to help shape a better future for us all,” co-founder and CEO Wes Felix said in a statement. “Saysh, at its core, celebrates women and their voices, and this funding further empowers us to lead in that regard. We are now, more than ever, positioned to understand and meet the needs of our customers, delivering more value than ever before.”

The investment gives Gap Inc. an equity stake in Saysh. It also establishes a partnership between Saysh and Athleta that will see that latter showcase the former’s footwear on its website. Athleta previously offered an exclusive Saysh One colorway following the sneaker’s launch. Gap Inc.’s Strategic Growth Office, a unit dedicated to “seeking out opportunities to fuel growth and accelerate new capabilities,” brokered Athleta’s investment.

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Allyson Felix was one of several athletes to bring attention to Nike’s maternity policy in May 2019. After months of public outcry—and a congressional inquiry—Nike ultimately changed its policies to guarantee it wouldn’t cut a pregnant athlete’s pay and bonuses over an 18-month period around pregnancy. In late July 2019—just a couple weeks before her former sponsor announced its new policy—she signed with Athleta. Felix became the most-decorated American track-and-field Olympian at the Tokyo Olympics two years later.

Last summer, Felix offered more details on her experience at Nike, including how the company requested she participate in an ad campaign celebrating female empowerment following her contentious pay negotiations. “My stomach dropped,” she told Time. “I was like, this is just beyond disrespectful and tone-deaf.”

Athleta, which also welcomed the former Nike athlete Simone Biles last year, is working directly with Felix to support other athlete moms. After last year launching a $200,000 child care fund for professional-athlete mothers, the two partners announced a new initiative Tuesday that will provide free, accessible child care at select track-and-field events.

Launched in partnership with the nonprofit &Mother, the program will kick off during Felix’s last championship race in Oregon later this week. The partners will provide child care for any athletes, coaches and staff participating in the event through Vivvi, an employer-sponsored child care company.

“My final season is not about winning medals but giving back to the sport and future mom-athletes and leaving it better for the next generation of women raising children,” Felix said in a statement. “Athleta and I set out to prove the power in supporting women holistically. As I reflect on the barriers that I faced when competing at the highest level alongside being a mother, I feel more committed than ever to leaving behind this legacy to ensure more women can both raise children and excel in their athletic careers.”

Athleta’s Power of She Fund, Felix and the Women’s Sports Foundation also opened a third round of Child Care Grants that will provide female athletes with $10,000 for necessary child care resources around training and competing. Athletes can apply until July 12. So far, they have awarded more than $200,000 in grants.

“Our latest effort to support mom athletes with child care allows them to flourish in their professional careers while prioritizing their wellbeing and removing a barrier so prevalent in sports,” Kyle Andrew, Athleta’s chief brand officer, said in a statement. “No woman should have to choose between her career and her family.”