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Nike-Backed Kizik Nabs $20 Million, Plots First Stores

“Hands-free” sneaker innovator Kizik reported a $20 million Series B that will fuel its plans to open brick-and-mortar stores.

A subsidiary of adaptive footwear technology solutions developer HandsFree Labs, Inc., Kizik will use the funds to launch the Kizik Kids line and open its first retail locations. The company plans to start with a physical presence in Utah, where it is headquartered, and expects to open five locations in 2023, Kizik CEO Monte Deere told Footwear News. By the end of 2024, it plans to have 15 to 20 stores.

The funding round was led by The Newcastle Network, a consumer-focused private equity fund combining expertise in data science, creator and social media marketing.

Hands-free shoes are what we do,” Deere said in a statement. “Kizik’s easy-on shoes provide our customers with industry-disrupting convenience and comfort, and those customers are choosing Kiziks as their everyday shoe. Our online sales growth is phenomenal. Kizik’s partnership with The Newcastle Network will help us expand our Kizik product and reach a wider audience.”

As the name implies, hands-free shoes are designed so that wearers don’t need to use their hands when putting the shoes on. This means Kizik’s sneakers function similar to slippers, so that wearers don’t have to bend down or pull at the tongue or the heel to squeeze their foot in. “Once they are on, they are all the way on,” the company said in a statement.

The shoes, which look like traditional sneakers, are mostly priced at $99 to $139. They include laces in the front of the shoe that don’t need to be tied once the wearer slips their foot in.

The Kizik brand uses HandsFree Labs’ portfolio of more than 100 secured and pending patents to create men’s and women’s shoes designed for both comfort and style.

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The label is bringing more new products into the mix with the funding. In addition to kids’ shoes, Kizik soon will launch hands-free high tops and Chelsea boots.

Deere said the company is profitable and expects 300 percent year-over-year sales are expected to grow for 2022. Kizik expects to ship more than 1 million pairs of shoes this year. The company makes 95 percent of sales through its direct e-commerce site, and the remaining 5 percent comes through Amazon.

Kizik has one very important backer—Nike—with the two businesses sharing an intellectual property licensing partnership. As part of the deal, Nike gets to use Kizik’s portfolio of hands-free footwear technology. HandsFree Labs first received an undisclosed strategic investment from the footwear giant in November 2019.

Though it released its own hands-free shoes ahead of the partnership, Nike dropped the no-hands-required Go FlyEase sneaker last year. Neither company has explicitly stated whether the Go FlyEase is powered by HandsFree Labs technology.

The connection between the two companies strengthened in March 2021, when Handsfree Labs brought in 30-year Nike veteran Skip Lei as chief product officer to help execute the footwear business for Kizik and Handsfree Labs. That month, Kizik procured $3 million in funding led by venture capital firm Frazier Group.

HandsFree Labs also licenses its technology to Original Footwear, which specializes in footwear for military personnel and law enforcement.

The centerpiece of the footwear technology is its “deformable element,” a shell made of “aerospace-grade” titanium designed to immediately adjust with the contoured insole and laces once someone puts their foot in the shoe.

Although the technology is often associated with adaptive footwear for people with disabilities or limited mobility, it also is designed to help consumers who simply don’t want to waste time putting shoes on, or those who have discomfort taking shoes on and off in necessary situations, like airport TSA checkpoints.

“We were drawn to Kizik because of their unique approach to a category that’s seeing tremendous momentum, paired with the unparalleled integrity, drive, and innovation of their team,” said Chris Casgar, managing partner at The Newcastle Network. “Kizik delivers on a new level of simplicity, comfort, and quality for the people who don’t want to compromise total ease with great style in their everyday life. With this new investment, Kizik has the profound opportunity to reshape the footwear industry and support more people nationwide with effortless, amazing products.”

Including Kizik’s $20 million round, HandsFree Labs has raised roughly $34 million in capital.