PARIS — French sustainable athletic brand Circle Sportswear has raised 4 million euros in a series A funding round aimed to facilitate further research and development on new bio-sourced fabrics and strengthen its distribution network.
The round was led by Alter Equity, a Paris-based private equity fund dedicated to social and environmental impact companies. Historical investor and former Nike executive Thierry Peuchot also joined the round.
The young circular sportswear brand cofounded by former L’Oréal executive Romain Trébuil in 2020 will also use the cash infusion to open its first own-brand retail store. That is slated for February, timed to support the release of the SuperNatural Runner shoe in April, the launch of the Legend marathon line for summer, and establish the brand’s presence during the Paris Olympics in July.
The store in the Marais will also serve as a meeting space for running groups, as well as have a podcast studio for the brand’s own show. The programming will include guests from a mix of the sports, design and sustainability worlds. Circle has collaborated with the McCann agency on developing the concept.
“This is very strategic, and we wanted to do it before the delivery of the running shoe, because this is our star product. We have invested a lot [in developing the shoe] so it is important to communicate and raise brand awareness now that we are ready and have all the key elements. It’s time to move forward and accelerate,” Trébuil told WWD.
Circle is behind the SuperNatural Runner, a fully recyclable running shoe that has long been in development and is a pillar of their strategy. The recyclable sole is made from castor bean and natural rubber, while the biodegradable upper is made from a textile blend of wool and wood that had a former life as tables and chairs.
It has sold 2,500 pairs on pre-order.
“There is a huge gap on the market for real sustainable and circular running products,” he said. “Bear in mind that we only launched these on pre-order, which people could not try on the product and have to wait for a year. I think the willingness of customers is pretty high,” said Trébuil.
“Alter Equity has chosen to invest in Circle in order to support its successful eco-responsible approach on the sportswear market, itself profound and driven by the prospect of the Olympics in 2024,” said Alter Equity partner Marion Chanéac. The highly anticipated launch of the SuperNatural in April “increased the company’s growth potential tenfold,” she added.
Circle was launched via crowdfunding in March 2020 to create an athletic line from natural fibers.
Trébuil noted that many sportswear brands that market themselves as “responsible” use polyester, which can be sourced from plastic bottles or recyclable, but is still petroleum-based. The brand is also fully produced in Europe, creating a short supply chain and cutting down on transport.
The brand is now distributed in more than 50 points of sale and more than 25 countries. Trébuil’s objective is to have 200 to 250 spots in the next 18 months with a retail mix of specialty running specialists and upscale department stores.
“It would be easy to have thousands quite fast but we also want to have really good retailers that understand the brand and believe in our values, that are also premium,” he said.
For example, Galeries Lafayette, Printemps and Samaritaine Paris are currently on the roster.
Currently 60 percent of the company’s revenues comes from e-commerce, predominantly in France, Switzerland, Germany and the U.K., as well as Scandinavian countries.
With the funding, the brand will also accelerate the business and expand in new markets, including the U.S., after strengthening its base in Europe. The company laid some groundwork in the U.S. through an early partnership with SoulCycle, but Trébuil added that dedicated expansion there is “clearly in our roadmap in the next three years.”
The company raised 2.5 million euros from London-based venture capital fund AA & Sons backed by the Affelou eyewear empire, French state-owned investment bank Bpifrance, and individual investors in March 2022.