NEW YORK — Speedo has been all over the Olympics this week with its high tech swimwear, and now the company is looking outside the pool for its next lap of growth. For spring, the swimwear giant is launching Axcelerate, a fashion-forward activewear line, marking its first significant move into sportswear.

“This line is designed to appeal to active women who want fashionable clothing for the gym and beyond,” said Kathy Van Ness, president of Warnaco’s designer swim brands. Warnaco owns the North American distribution rights for Speedo, and Axcelerate was developed by Speedo USA for initial distribution in the North American market, she said. “I envision women also wearing some of these tops under their suits and out at night on the town.”

The company has retained Angelo Anastasio, formerly a product designer at Adidas, to head up design and development of the line. He is based in Warnaco’s Los Angeles office, and oversees all product development.

The company is entering an apparel segment that is dominated by giants such as Nike and Adidas, which have widespread distribution and clear market share. The women’s activewear category, which has sales of $16.2 million, also has seen a number of new entrants and upstarts in recent years. Nonetheless, Speedo feels there is room for its concept, even given the competition, said Van Ness.

While the line has bright colors and contemporary styling, it is made of technical fabrics that will hold up well on the sports field, such as polyester microfibers and Lycra spandex stretch wovens, as well as mesh and nylon. Many of the offerings have moisture-management systems and antibacterial treatments. “We have used technical fabrics combined with fashion colors that will allow the consumer to use it as lifestyle and/or while working out,” Anastasio said.

The initial offerings include a wide assortment of bodies and silhouettes, including fitted mesh T-shirts, camisoles, sports bras and boyshorts, as well as capri pants, hooded jackets and stretch pants. There is even a performance unitard which resembles some of the one-piece Fastskin swimsuits Speedo developed for the Olympics. Other elements include contrast piping, mesh panels and reflective heat-transfer logos. The collection is available in a bevy of bold and bright colors such as yellow, orange, pink, light blue and lime green. There is also a selection of footwear, hats and bags.Wholesale prices for the collection start at about $16 for sports bras and reach up to $41.50 for the performance unitard. Mesh T-shirts wholesale for $18, while capri pants are $24.

Van Ness said the company envisions initial distribution at about 250 department store and specialty retailer doors. She declined to divulge sales projections, but said the line is expected to rack up sales in the multimillions. She noted Axcelerate will be expanded into men’s next fall, and will likely grow into other categories. The launch also will be accompanied by an advertising campaign next spring.

Speedo, which has revenues in the U.S. of some $240 million and is the dominant player in the competitive swim market, now makes a number of products, including towels and goggles, and also licenses its name for categories such as sunglasses. Warnaco Swim Group’s revenues, including Speedo, were $361 million in 2003.

The move into activewear is part of an aggressive growth strategy for Warnaco and its swimwear group, which was formerly known as Authentic Fitness. The fast-growing group recently debuted a number of new divisions and brands, including Choice Calvin Klein and Speedo Platinum and Speedo Sport, and also just signed a deal with Michael Kors to produce swimwear under that label starting with cruise 2006. The division also will house Op, which Warnaco just purchased for $40 million in cash and the assumption of $1 million in debt. In addition, Warnaco Swim owns Catalina and Anne Cole and makes Nautica swimwear under license.

“This has been a particularly busy time for the swimwear group,” said Van Ness. “We are focused on innovation and newness here, but each of the brands has its own identity and target customer.”

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