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An ex-Adidas designer who helped launch Yeezy’s is trying to make it easy for anyone to start a sneaker brand

FCTRY LAb cofounders Omar Bailey and Abhishek SomFCTRY LAb cofounders Omar Bailey and Abhishek Som

Carlos Acosta /FCTRY LAb

  • Omar Bailey is co-founder of Fctry Lab, a Los Angeles-based startup that makes sneaker prototypes. 
  • Bailey previously worked at Adidas as head of the Yeezy Footwear Innovation Lab.
  • On Wednesday, Bailey and cofounder Abhishek Som announced a $6 million investment round. 

A Los Angeles startup that hopes to “democratize sneaker production” on Wednesday announced a $6 million investment round.

Fctry Lab, cofounded by Omar Bailey and Abhishek Som, will work with new and existing brands to develop sneakers, including prototypes or models. Prototypes are a critical – and expensive – phase of sneaker-making. Fctry Lab also will help smaller brands get products to market through consulting and possibly investments. Industry experts said Fctry Lab will give young sneaker companies easier access to the tools and expertise needed to get sneakers to market. 

“This is MUCH needed,” said D’Wayne Edwards, founder of Pensole Lewis College of Business And Design and this year’s Footwear News Person of the Year, in a text to Insider.

At Adidas, Bailey was head of the Yeezy Footwear Innovation Lab, managing a team of makers that included engineers and creators and that brought some smash hits to market, including the Foam Runner and Yeezy 450. Bailey’s also developed footwear for entertainers ranging from Jay-Z to Lady Gaga. 

Bailey left Adidas in May. (Adidas and Yeezy also have since split.)

There are other companies that help sneaker companies get off the ground, including Revobit, but factory resources are typically in Asia, which drags out production timelines. It can take 12 months or longer to design a sneaker, make a prototype, then place an order with a factory in Asia and get it on store shelves. 

Fctry Lab’s Los Angeles location could shorten the development timeline for sneakers from around a year to one to three months. 

“Manufacturing is a very big, very heavy lift,” Bailey told Insider. “The alternative (to Fctry Lab) is get on a plane, go to China, and figure it out.”

Industry giants, such as Nike, have company-owned facilities where designers can quickly turn concepts into reality. The lack of similar options for smaller companies puts them at a disadvantage. 

“This is the main area of footwear design that is the hardest part,” Edwards said, via text. “Yes, having the right designers is the first step, but along with having the right designers to design something that can be manufactured, the prototyping process works out all of the engineering, sourcing, and pricing challenges before it can be manufactured.”

Fctry Lab also has a venture arm that’ll work more with brands, and less on specific projects. 

“There are going to be lots of interesting projects that come up where not only can we help develop the shoe, but we might be able to help bring it to market and sort of co-own part of that and invest in part of that,” Chief Operating Officer Ravi Bhaskaran told Insider. 

Eventually, Fctry Lab could be turning out small batches of shoes and serving as a sort of music studio for sneaker-makers. 

“We can invite collaborators and creators and they can come and cook and play and develop new ideas,” Bailey said. 

Industry experts said more places like Fctry Lab are needed. 

“Anytime someone can do concepts and try stuff, it’s great,” said Aaron Miller, an 18-year Nike veteran and founder of SoleWorks, which provides product-development and branding services for athletes, artists, and brands. 

Bailey hopes Fctry Lab’s work leads to the development of more products that can be made in the United States. Most athletic footwear today is made in contract factories in Asia because of the cheap labor required for traditionally-made cut-and-sew athletic shoes.

Contract factories in Vietnam, Indonesia, and China accounted for 94% of Nike’s footwear manufacturing in the company’s most recent fiscal year, according to its last annual report.

But as shoes become more automated and less labor-intensive, more footwear could be made here.

In February, Edwards and Pensole announced a $2 million investment that would be used to open Jems by Pensole, a small footwear factory in Detroit.  Edwards expects Jems and Fctry Labto to work together. 

“There are so many obvious synergies,” Bailey said. 

The $6 million, which Fctry Lab considers a seed round, will be used to grow the business. Investors include co-founders of Tinder and WeWork and unnamed NBA and NFL players via Aurelien Capital. Slauson & Co. led the venture capital round.

The company formally launched this week and expects to be fully up-and-running in its roughly 3,000-square-foot space in January.

Som, Bailey’s cofounder, previously worked in private equity and investment banking, according to his LinkedIn profile. Satyan Gohil, who worked on footwear prototyping and development for Adidas and Yeezy, is Fctry Lab’s new head of innovation.

In a press release, the Fctry Lab called the investment one of the largest in a company with a Black founder this year. 

“It’s bigger than just shoes,” Bailey said. “It’s about empowering others, empowering creators, athletes, entertainers, the next Virgil Abloh, or the next Jerry Lorenzo, and having a platform to give these individuals to bring them to life.”

Read the original article on Business Insider