BOSTON — Two years ago, when activewear buyer Roger Taylor joined J.C. Penney Co., the small section looked perpetually "like a clearance sale," he recalled. Some 15 brands fought for space on eight racks, causing a jumble of fits, styles and colors. It was turning in the worst performance in the women’s department, but Penney’s management had an inkling the category was due for a resurgence.

"We knew elsewhere it was starting to be a hot-trending area and we needed to cover it in a better way," Taylor said. "We hired design teams and a sourcing team to focus on activewear and to go after a younger customer. At the same time, we cut back from 15 brands to four."

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