When Erick Mathelier, a Haitian-American, was growing up in Flatbush, Brooklyn during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Andre Agassi was a tennis star.
“I don’t know if you remember, but he had the long hair. I felt like tennis was exciting,” says Mathelier. “Then tennis went through a lull and I haven’t seen this level of excitement over the sport in a long time. But I hope we can keep that and attract people to the sport from different places.”
Mathelier is referring to newer players like Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff who are bringing new energy and diversity to the sport that he started playing at age 10 and maintained through college. Mathelier never became a professional tennis player, but because of where he grew up, he saw tennis through a different lens and he’s hoping to offer that perspective to others through his brand Furi Sport, which he launched in 2016 with his business partner Michelle Spiro, who previously worked in sales for brands like Calvin Klein and DKNY.
“When people think of tennis, they think, you must play at some country club, which obviously there is that,” says Mathelier. “But I think there’s a brand that’s needed to be like, ‘No, you don’t have to play in this type of environment.’ So we want to be that brand.”
When coming up with the name, Mathelier didn’t want to use the word fury because he believes it could have a negative connotation, but he did want something that channeled the determination someone may have as an outsider who wants to accomplish something.
The line includes basic T-shirts and hoodies with the Furi logo, along with a more developed ready-to-wear line that’s designed by Luis Santos, who has worked for brands including Kenzo and Paco Rabanne. That line features more tennis-inspired pieces, like a white cotton Wimbledon blazer, polo shirts covered in graphics with asymmetrical button plackets, high-waisted, cropped trousers, and oversized, boxy T-shirts. Mathelier says with the line, which is unisex, they wanted to create a uniform and heritage pieces they can build on and appeal to all ages.
But the way he’s created up brand awareness is with the Furi tennis racket, which Mathelier says is a difficult category to infiltrate since players are so brand loyal. But Mathelier says he’s designed a racket that is lightweight while still offering a lot of power and control. It retails for $199.
“When we first said we wanted to make a racket, people thought we were crazy,” says Mathelier, who cites brands like Wilson, Babolat, Head, and Yonex as competitors. “But it’s an entry point to the Furi universe and we’ve been able to convert higher than industry average.”
The brand recently released a collection inspired by the Grand Slams that take place in Australia, Paris, London, and New York. Mathelier says they looked to the court colors and the Wimbledon dress code, which is all white, to inform the line. Up next they want to move into activewear.
For Mathelier, who studied political science in college and got a master’s degree in urban policy, Furi Sport comes after a handful of different ventures, including Fashipedia, an online marketplace that connected emerging fashion designers with micro producers, Runnitt, a dessert delivery business, and Utmost Media. The are all defunct. Furi Sport is a culmination of his interests and a venture that’s bigger than tennis or fashion.
“Growing up, I didn’t see people like me being entrepreneurs, let alone entrepreneurs in the tennis space,” says Mathelier. “So I’m trying to show that it’s possible.”