With a Series Seed II investment of $3 million, Foot Locker has acquired a minority stake in Super Heroic, a maker of children's playground shoes. Foot Locker will become a board advisor to Super Heroic, and the Kids Foot Locker chain will be the first brick-and-mortar retailer of Super Heroic shoes in the U.S.

Foot Locker has been striving to appeal to what its chief executive, Dick Johnson, has called an “increasingly demanding youth culture,” and this new investment in a unique brand of sneakers will ensure that the retailer will continue to have some exclusive and fresh products to offer for its youngest customers.

This is the second investment made by Foot Locker in a year. Last January, the company contributed $15 million in Series A funding to Carbon38, a women's fitness retailer based in Los Angeles (see SGI Europe Vol. 29 n°9+10 of March 9, 2018), and this move appears to have been prompted primarily by a desire to better understand the women's market. Carbon38 also sells the high-end fashion activewear collections of brands like Stella McCartney and Sweaty Betty.

Both investments can also be viewed as a response to Nike's growing direct-to-consumer offensive – online and offline. With the Swoosh still representing more than 60 percent of its business, Foot Locker evidently wants to diversify its product range, at least in special niche areas like kids.

With this deal Super Heroic will have raised a total of $10 million through three funding rounds in December 2016, August 2017 and January 2019. Other investors in the company include Accel (unrelated to Accell Group), UP2398 and Magic Johnson Enterprises, the eponymous investment company of the retired NBA player.

Based in Palo Alto, in the heart of California's Silicon Valley, Super Heroic was founded in 2016 by Jason Mayden and Harshal Sisodia, who are respectively the company's chief executive and chief marketing officer.

Mayden spent about 13 years with Nike, mostly as senior product designer in footwear for sponsored athletes, among them Michael Jordan, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Derek Jeter. There he conducted “ethnographic consumer research” and “experience design,” which he describes on his LinkedIn page as extending from concept to commercialization to consumption. He later became director of innovation for digital sport, responsible for the Nike Fuel Band and the Nike+ platform, and eventually senior design director for the Jordan brand.

Sisodia is another Nike alumnus, having spent three years as global digital brand director, notably for the Jordan brand. He was also a creative director at Havas Discovery, a marketing firm specializing in customer relationship management, and previously worked on campaigns for Burger King, Nike and Sprite for the advertising agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

According to the “Origin Story” video on the corporate website, the idea for Super Heroic began with a medical problem suffered by Mayden's son. This then evolved into a mission to “encourage, enable and enhance pure physical play” in children. Part of this strategy goes in the sneaker design, with its outsoles, seamless interiors and heel bumpers, but much of it goes into the packaging – what Mayden calls “narrative.”

Super Heroic shoes come in what is essentially a mailing tube decorated with color graphics and line drawings. The side reads, “For playground use only.” The shoes themselves ride in a frame, shaped like the company's lightning-bolt logo, which triggers electronic sounds as it slides out of the tube. Included in the package is a child-size superhero cape, which also bears the lightning-bolt logo.