Augmented reality headsets have been around for years, but none of the market players has really expanded beyond the techy demographic and broken into the mainstream. An AR startup hopes to change that by partnering with an eyewear fashion brand.
Nreal, the well-funded Chinese AR headset maker that's been making aggressive global expansion, said Thursday that it has raised $15 million from Korean sunglasses brand Gentle Monster’s parent company, IICOMBINED.
The investment, which came just five months after its $60 million Series C extension, boosts its total raised to $240 million since its inception in 2017.
The fresh capital will enable Nreal to accelerate its global expansion and double down on the company's consumer business in the U.S., the company said.
Neither Nreal nor Gentle Monster said much about how they might work together, but it's almost certain that the single-investor capital infusion marks a step toward a strategic partnership. It won't be surprising that Nreal's glasses -- which have aimed to be fashionable and lightweight from the outset -- would hit the shelves of Gentle Master's global retail stores someday.
Indeed, Nreal's co-founder Peng Jin said the firm's goal for the next twelve months is to "scale and reach more audiences and aggressively grow adoption for AR technology starting with our latest AR glasses, Nreal Air."
Nreal has already carved out a global distribution network, much of it through its enterprise partners like Qualcomm and LG, in countries including the U.S., U.K., Japan, South Korea, Spain and Germany. It only debuted in China, where it's based, in August.
Nreal's demand is currently the highest in the U.S., Japan and Korea, though the company expects China to grow soon to be one of its top markets.
Earlier this week, Nreal unveiled an array of its products, including AR glasses such as Nreal Air and Nreal X (Chinese version) and an AR adapter for Apple devices in its home market.
“Fashion and design will be important aspects in the future development of AR glasses as we continue to expand the sector’s consumer base,” said Jin. “As such, having Gentle Monster as our investor will open up interesting opportunities not just for Nreal, but also for the wider AR industry as a whole.”
Gentle Monster, which entered China in 2016 and partnered with Huawei in 2019 to make smart glasses, opened its seventeenth store in Beijing in early August for further expansion in China.
“This investment is exciting for the combination and exploration of the boundary of fashion and tech,” said co-founder of Gentle Monster and CEO of IICOMBINED Hankook Kim. “We will leverage both parties’ strength and make joint efforts to create more possibilities.”