Four years ago, Carbitex bet its future on footwear – it’s paying off

Junus Khan

Carbitex Inc., the Kennewick tech manufacturer that turns carbon fabric into flexible carbon composites, had a choice to make when it debuted in 2012.

Its patented, flexible-yet-rigid composite material could be used in any number of products. Junus Khan, founder and chairman, had to figure out which one to target.

Four years ago, Khan and his team chose footwear.

Embedded in athletic footwear, Carbitex’s carbon composite plates provide strength and lift thanks to its capacity to transfer power from the foot to the ground. It is a marquee addition to high-end shoes – boots in Europe – worn by some of the world’s most elite athletes.

The footwear-focused planning, development and marketing efforts are paying off.

Carbitex boasts repeat orders from its stable of footwear customers, including Adidas, growing revenue, about $15 million in capital from investors across several rounds, a payroll that has grown to 50 and a new CEO.

It even put its highest profile shoe to date, the Adidas model formerly known as the X Ghosted, on Argentine soccer legend Leo Messi. The X Ghosted was rebranded in his honor.

Kahn called it the culmination of four years of effort to promote its carbon composite as a key component for high performance footwear. In addition to Adidas, it supplies a broad array of footwear manufacturers, including Scott, DC Shoes and Lake Cycling.

The roster is growing, though Khan said he could not announce anything concrete.

But tellingly, its existing clients have all reordered and are using Carbitex in a growing number of applications, including running shoes, bike shoes and more. Khan said outdoor footwear is a growing category.

Carbitex gains a foothold

Carbitex posted a five-fold increase in revenue in 2020 and is set to double again this year. It doesn’t disclose revenue, but in a 2016 notice to the Securities and Exchange Commission it said sales totaled less than $1 million.

Today, employment is up to 50. Khan expects that to rise to 200 in coming years.

In its most recent SEC disclosure, filed in September, it reported $6.3 million in new equity investments, its second round this year.

A month later, it welcomed a new CEO, Rob Langstaff, a former Adidas North America president, who succeeded longtime CEO Ron Boninger, who retired.

Welcoming a new CEO

Rob Langstaff

Khan spent half a year searching for a CEO who would take Carbitex to the next level after Boninger announced plans to retire.

Khan said Langstaff is the right fit.

He has held high level development roles at Brooks Running and more recently, at Portland-based Keen Footwear. He is commuting from his Willamette Valley home to Carbitex’s east Kennewick quarters.

For Khan, Langstaff’s footwear background is important. But so too is his work to develop regional offices. A young but growing company needs a leader who understands how to build bandwidth.

“Rob has done it for large company regional offices and on his own,” Khan said. “We really lucked out.”

Langstaff is not the only new addition. In January, Khan announced two new executives. Erika Canfield joined as vice president of global marketing, and Clark Morgan, as director of global footwear business development.

Both have long backgrounds in the industry and developing brands. They join a team that includes Dave Lajeunesse, director of operations, and Tom De Shiell, principal engineer.

Partnering with Leo Messi

Adidas, the German-based sneaker brand, released its $250-plus X Ghosted “football boot” in 2020 with Carbitex composite plates embedded in the front sole.

The technology reportedly helps soccer players push off the ground and was such an important part of the package that Adidas made the outline of the plate visible on the sole.

Messi, one of the worlds’ most successful and highest paid athletes, signed on and the X Ghosted was rebranded as the X Speedflow.1 and given a colorful makeover.

It is an unqualified win, Khan said.

The Adidas X Speedflow 1 includes Carbitex-made carbon composite plates in the sole. Argentine soccer legend Leo Messi endorsed the $250-plus “football boot.” (Courtesy Carbitex)

“It has been an awesome success for Adidas and for us as well. We are one of if not the featured technologies in that boot,” Khan said.

Adidas released a pared-down “.3” version that sells for less than $100. The .3 doesn’t have the Carbitex plate in the heel, but it does feature the outline on the sole.

Private investors

Carbitex continues to turn to private investors to support growth, which includes expanding manufacturing capacity. It opened a second facility near its first in Kennewick and is outfitting a third.

Since 2016, it has raised about $15 million in equity investments, according to disclosures to the SEC. The latest round was reported in September and includes a contribution from Richland’s Fuse Fund, where Boninger, the retired CEO, is a leader.

The three manufacturing facilities in Kennewick are within a mile of one another. Khan said the arrangement will work for the time being. But he expects to consolidate in a single facility in as soon as two years.

He said the company is developing a new strategic plan under its new CEO.

Carbitex: 1426 E. Third Ave., Building B, Kennewick;

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