By  on May 5, 2010

Athleta, Gap Inc.’s online women’s sportswear and activewear company, is taking a first step into the world of bricks and mortar.

WWD has learned that, less than two years after Gap acquired Athleta for $150 million in cash, the specialty retail giant will roll out the first Athleta test store in Strawberry Village Center in Mill Valley, Calif.

“We think the Bay area is ideal,” saida Gap spokeswoman in confirming the report. “In all likelihood, we will open another store in the San Francisco Bay area, but nothing has been finalized yet.”

The test store, which will be 2,424 square feet, is slated to open before the end of this month, said a spokeswoman at the Strawberry Village Center Mall.

“We view Athleta as being a very authentic and having a lot of loyalists,” said Weeden & Co. analyst Amy Noblin. “If you look at Lucy [Activewear] and see what Lulu [Lululemon Athletica] has done, they’ve validated the space. There’s a market out there. It’s not shocking that this is where the Gap is going with this.”

Although one can only speculate about Athleta’s impact on Gap’s future sales, “if it can’t be significant, Gap wouldn’t be involved,” Noblin said.

“In our view, Athleta offers a tremendous opportunity to capitalize on the active lifestyle of today’s female shoppers with a brand uniquely anchored in performance,” added Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Thomas Filandro. “We see Athleta as a noncannibalistic opportunity to expand Gap Inc.’s market reach encompassing a 360-degree brand approach via brick and mortar, catalogue and online.”

Founded in 1998 in Petaluma, Calif., Athleta targets women ages 25 to 55.

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