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ATLANTA — After 15 years as general manager at Jeffrey Atlanta, Jim Whitlow realized an entrepreneur’s dream — turning a personal passion into a business concept.
“I combined the two things I love most — high fashion and fitness,” said Whitlow, a competitive runner and personal trainer who opened Deka, a specialty store with high-end athletic and leisure apparel, a formula he said was nonexistent.
“The only shopping alternatives are big-box or sporting goods stores, which usually didn’t offer the fashion,” he said.
Whitlow considered naming the store for a Greek goddess but settled on Deka because it is Greek for the number 10 and he said he liked the association with the idea of “the perfect 10.”
After opening in January 2007, Deka increased space from 1,400 square feet to 2,500 square feet last February, opening up the second floor of the freestanding building in the Buckhead section of Atlanta. A second 3,200-square-foot store is planned for Alpharetta, a north Atlanta suburb, in fall 2009. Sales for 2008 are projected at $1.3 million, from $850,000 last year.
This fall, the store will exclusively carry Y-3, among its 30 lines, which include international designers such as Stella McCartney for Adidas, Puma, London’s Millie Fox, Brazil’s Blue Fish and California’s Rese Pilates. Shoes are 25 percent of the mix, with 12 lines, including Nike and Asics, edited with a focus on fashion items such as Puma’s gold ballerina flats.
Yoga and Pilates are the big categories, with skirts, skorts and vests as hot spring trends. Prices start at $45 for T-shirts, and reach $350 for a nylon jacket by Stella McCartney. Cardio, golf and tennis items also work for soccer moms who want cute looks for lunch, carpool and shopping dates, Whitlow said.
Deka is colorful and rustic, with antique sports equipment doubling as display fixtures. Shoes are shown among old wooden barbells, a Fifties’ basketball scoreboard hangs behind the register and gym clothes drape over century-old parallel bars Whitlow found in London.
“Our customers want workout wear, but a large number just want comfortable, fashionable clothes to live in,” he said. “Advances in performance fabrics and design have made this category work for everybody.”