Outdoor brand raises £350k in fourth deal by DSW Ventures

A fast-growing Cheshire clothing brand with a mission to become the ‘Levi’s of the women’s outdoorwear market’ has raised £350,000 in a funding round led by Dow Schofield Watts Angels (DSW Ventures), the business angel network.

ACAI Activewear was started by husband and wife team Joe and Kasia Bromley with a sewing machine on their kitchen table. The funding will allow it to expand its product range and keep pace with rising demand.

ACAI’s skinny trousers have proved popular with audiences ranging from dog walkers, horse riders and outdoors enthusiasts to animal workers and other professionals. Kasia, who moved from Poland to study fashion at Edinburgh College of Art and worked at couture houses including Alexander McQueen, came up with the idea while designing for a cycling wear company.

She noticed that typically outdoor brands use a ‘pink and shrink’ approach to womenswear – offering designs created for men but in smaller sizes and different colours. She spotted a gap in the market for stylish, functional and comfortable clothes designed specifically with women in mind.

ACAI now has a mailing list of over 30,000 and a 36% repeat business rate. Since its launch in 2016, sales have grown rapidly and the company is on course to double turnover to over £1m this year. The couple, whose son Oliwer was born just after the company’s launch and who are expecting their second child in October, now run the business from premises in Chester and employ two staff.

Kasia says: “Our customers tell us there are no other trousers like ours on the market. We aim to empower women and encourage them to spend more time outdoors by providing the gear for them to do so. The ‘trail to the street’ look means they can walk up a mountain but still look stylish in the pub afterwards.

“The funding will allow us to offer a wider range of styles and products and boost our stock levels, allowing us to keep abreast of the growing demand and fulfil orders more rapidly. Our mission is to become a global brand and make ACAI the Levi’s of the women’s outdoor apparel market.”

The latest deal is the fourth investment for DSW Ventures, which was founded two years ago to provide much needed scale-up investment to regional early-stage businesses. Last week DSW Ventures secured a £10m commitment from British Business Investments, a commercial subsidiary of the UK government-owned British Business Bank, as the first partner in its Regional Angels Programme.

David Smith of DSW Ventures said: “ACAI is a niche product with loyal and growing customer base and incredibly talented founders. The company has already shown excellent traction on limited investment – considerably better than comparable start-ups we benchmarked – and is on target to double revenue this year. Our investment will turbo-charge its growth.”