By  on November 10, 2005

NEW YORK — Corsets, shrugs and cargo pants aren’t items women usually think about wearing for working out.

But Nike has been steadily adding more fashion to its women’s styles, and those are some of the bold new looks for spring in its fast-growing women’s fitness division.

“We have always addressed fashion in our products, but what you are seeing now is a real heightened focus on dance, which is so influenced by what is happening in fashion and entertainment,” said Darcy Winslow, global general manager of women’s fitness for Nike. “The corset has been an iconic piece for years in women’s wardrobes and it is emerging once again as a fashion trend. We are using the corset as the iconic piece within our dance line.”

To that end, Nike has a selection of performance corset styles available for spring in colors such as hot pink. The corsets are structured so they offer support and are made of performance materials. Other spring looks include dance skirts and dresses, as well as leggings, tank tops in bright hues such as teal and green and loose-fitting cargo pants. For the first time, Nike is  also offering a shrug.

Winslow said the company worked closely with dancers to design the corsets and other offerings to ensure they could achieve the full range of motion.

Last year, Nike launched the fitness dance line as a way to reach a new consumer segment and tap into the growth of hip-hop and cardio activities. This division contains some of the most fashion-forward elements for Nike, and its retail prices range from about $35 for T-shirts up to $125 for the Speed corset.

Many of the items have moisture management and incorporate Nike’s proprietary Dri-Fit technology, while the footwear styles use Nike Shox cushioning. This line is targeted at health clubs and gyms, as well as boutiques that offer Nike a way to reach a wider audience.

In conjunction with the launch of this category, Nike tapped celebrity choreographer Jamie King to develop a dance-based workout series under the title “Nike Rockstar Workout,” which bowed at Crunch fitness locations earlier this year and is now being rolled out to regions around the world.In recent years, Nike has been stepping up its focus on fashion under the direction of Mindy Grossman, the company’s global vice president of apparel, who formerly helmed Polo Jeans Co. The company has reorganized some of its operations to fall under the women’s fitness division that is divided into four categories: yoga, running, cardiovascular and dance.

Nike doesn’t break out sales by collection, but last year women’s products accounted for about 18 percent of the Nike brand portfolio, and had a 20 percent growth rate, according to company executives.

Other companies have also been adding more fashion to performance activewear. Stella McCartney’s collection for Adidas has been a hot seller since it bowed in the spring, and firms such as Reebok and Everlast have pumped up their women’s looks with more colorful and stylish apparel.

Winslow said running remains the largest segment of Nike’s women’s business, since it has been established for decades, but dance and other women’s categories are expanding quickly. Tenniswear, for example, has also been enhanced with more fashion-forward looks, including a consumer version of the baby-doll dress worn by Nike-sponsored athlete Maria Sharapova at the U.S. Open.

“We are gaining momentum in the women’s business,” she added. “We are establishing a closer relationship to women and really understanding what they need and what they look for.”

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