Once or twice a year, a new grooming brand emerges and I get an instinct like, “This one is gonna be big.” Not to brag, but I had that gut feeling with hims, Harry’s, Bevel, and V76. Whether it’s backing from big-time investors, beautiful design, or formulations from chemists with deep industry knowledge, each of these lines had some factor that made them a force as soon as it landed.
When Art of Sport launched in 2018, that factor was Kobe Bryant’s involvement. He had signed on a a founding partner, and the brand seemed like a canny play: high-level grooming products at a fair price for a consumer that might be more used to taking their cues from professional athletes than skincare influencers. It was just one piece of the Lakers legend’s exciting flurry of post-retirement moves, tragically cut short almost exactly a year ago.
The brand has carried on. AOS is already in Target and is a category best-seller on Amazon, but early 2021 brings an expansion into more than 10,000 US locations, thanks to placements in places you might expect to find skincare products—drug and grocery stores—and some you might not, like big-box sporting goods stores. In other words, you’re going to see Art of Sport everywhere, and the brand stands to be one of Bryant’s many lasting legacies.
“Most people know Kobe as an athlete, but don’t forget that he was in board meetings for years. He had a front row seat for knowing how sports relate to culture and could create something that people could be excited by,” says Art of Sport co-founder Matthias Metternich. Case in point: When Metternich and co-founder Brian Lee approached Bryant with their pitch, it was on the tails of Bryant’s success with Bodyarmor, the sports drink brand he invested $6 million into in 2014. (Last spring, Bryant’s stake in Bodyarmor, still owned by his wife Vanessa, were reportedly valued at more than $200 million.)
With Art of Sport, Metternich says Kobe’s impact went beyond his scrutiny of product formulas and packaging, helping to identify the athlete who would be spokespeople for the brand. “He wanted someone who transcended their sport, diverse people, culturally rich people with strong, emblematic personalities,” Metternich says. Among Art of Sport’s current athlete endorsers are NBA all-star James Harden and Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Juju Smith-Schuster.
It’s an impressive roster! Of course, none of that matters if the product isn’t any good. Happily, the stuff is great almost across the board, especially for the price. Art of Sport isn’t exactly on the cutting edge of the clean skincare movement, but they did hire the former chief science officer of Honest Company (who had been in charge of making products safe for babies and mothers), and the formulas are billed as clean and cruelty-free. They’ll use ingredients that wouldn’t cut the mustard at a boutique all-natural skincare company, like aluminum salts, but the products are free of bogeymen like parabens and phthalates. What’s arguably more important is their line smells great and generally does what it says on the tin. At least for products marketed directly to to young men, that’s enough to make it a real standout.