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NEW YORK — Paiva, the new upscale women’s athletic concept from The Finish Line, will be launched April 14 with the opening of its first store at the Barton Creek Mall in Austin, Tex.

“We see a lot of possibility for this concept,” Finish Line chairman and chief executive officer Alan Cohen said in an interview. “We have spent years doing research and focus groups to find out what customers and vendors were looking for.”

The company is aiming for Paiva to be a national chain selling high-end performance and fashion offerings for active women ages 25 to 40. Industry sources said it might reach or exceed sales of $50 million in five years.

Four more Paiva stores are to open within the following month, in the Natick Mall outside Boston; in Westfield Annapolis in Annapolis, Md.; in Bellevue Square in Seattle, and in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., Cohen said. There are plans for 15 stores the first year. Cohen said the company is eyeing mall and street locations.

“We are going to tweak the stores for each market,” he said. “Right now, we are trying to put it in different types of markets so we can get a read on what works best and what we need to do.”

Eventually, there could be 200 Paiva locales in markets around the country, Cohen said.

The initial stores will all be about 4,000 square feet and are designed to be a comfortable environment, with wood floors, soft lighting and understated graphics, he said. Merchandise will not be too close together so customers can easily move around in the store. Apparel will account for about 70 percent of the offerings and footwear, 30 percent.

Paiva will carry performance offerings from brands including Adidas by Stella McCartney, Nike and Speedo, as well as yoga looks from Marika and Om Girl, and lifestyle labels rooted in athletics, such as Puma’s Nuala line, Lacoste, the Y-3 line from Adidas and Yohji Yamamoto, and Fila’s Biela collection. Prices will begin around $20 for T-shirts and go as high as a few hundred dollars for some of the special fashion items. The company has also developed a private label, Paiva line.

This story first appeared in the March 21, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The name, pronounced PIE-va, is Scandinavian in origin, and refers to a sun deity and light as a source of energy. The concept is being overseen by Jeff Ponksy, who was most recently senior women’s apparel buyer at Target. In addition to the stores, Finish Line is launching a Paiva Web site and catalogue in mid-April as part of a multichannel approach.

The launch comes at a time when performancewear has become more fashion-forward. Nike, for example, now sells corset tops and shrugs as part of its performance collection. At the same time, established firms, including Puma and Adidas, have linked up with fashion designers to generate new interest in their brands and provide more directional offerings.

Paiva will compete with Lucy, a fast-growing chain carrying performance and leisure looks for women, as well as Nordstrom, which is one of the few department stores with a developed activewear business, and NikeWoman, the retail concept from Nike.

Based in Indianapolis, Finish Line had sales of $1.3 billion last year. It operates about 650 Finish Line stores that target teenagers and young adults with performance and lifestyle looks, as well as 51 Man Alive stores that cater to urban male customers.

Cohen said there is no overlap between Paiva and the core Finish Line concept.

“This is an entirely different concept,” he added. “The stores will look nothing alike and no one will know they are the same company.”

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