Karlie Kloss in the "I'm Here to Create" Adidas campaign.

Ath-leisure is something of a bad word to Christine Day, the former head of Lululemon Athletica Inc., who’s now helping Adidas up its game in the women’s market.

“I really absolutely hate that word,” she told WWD. “In some ways, it’s kind of demeaning. It means that women aren’t really serious athletes, they’re just wearing clothes that look like they’re athletic. When you live in just ath-leisure, there’s permission to take quality down…it’s permission to commoditize it. That’s what I find kind of offensive, meaning you’re not serious about working out, but also taking quality down to a level where it isn’t really performance.”

Day said brands going for the ath-leisure look probably don’t have four-way stretch and other performance attributes that help active women manage their busy lives.

“As people become more urban and their schedules are more packed and you want to fit in more things, you want your sports bra to double as the bra that’s underneath your clothing while you’re still going to evening volleyball,” Day said. “It’s about what is true performance clothing versus what is casualwear cross-over clothing. The women’s need will only get more intense in today’s society, to go from one thing to the next.”

Day left Lululemon in 2013 after clashes with founder and chairman Chip Wilson and costly recalls of the brand’s signature black Luon yoga pants. The following year, she became chief executive officer of healthy food brand Luvo the following year and clearly needed to be coaxed back to fashion.

Nicole Vollebregt, who is vice president of women’s at Adidas, reached out to Day repeatedly at Luvo.

“Nicole has been chasing me for a while, sending me e-mails and I kept ignoring her,” Day said. “Finally, she said, ‘I want to talk about nutrition’ so I said, ‘OK, I’ll get on the phone.’”

Vollebregt has been spearheading the athletic brand’s efforts to re-energize its women’s business and is taking a particularly holistic approach that’s still being developed.

The connection led to Day holding a workshop on branding for the Adidas team and then another on making the shift from a wholesaler to a retailer (the brand is wholesale-heavy in the U.S.) and finally a more formal relationship.

“They had a lot of great assets. They just weren’t telling their story with the right point of view,” said Day, noting some of her input can be seen in the brand’s current “I Create” campaign.

Vollebregt said she and Day “really understand this consumer probably better than anyone. Christine is looking across each one of our pillars to help give some strategic guidance.”

Adidas is very clearly a company on the move, tapping into what Vollebregt sees as significant changes in attitudes.

“There’s this emergence of what we’re calling the versatile female athlete,” Vollebregt said. “This is our obsession at the moment. How do we make sure we’re completely addressing her in a holistic approach. She’s very different, she’s not on a team. She’s not necessarily motivated by competition.”

Vollebregt said nutrition was a big opportunity — an indication of just how broad the new approach at Adidas is.

“It’s product, the holistic experience, it is the digital experience, looking at what apps and opportunities through our mobile environment that we’re going to be able to give her,” she said. “It’s coaching and it’s shopping, that’s a really big component of our plan as well.”

To pull all that off, the brand is looking to lean on both the fashion credibility and its sports pedigree.

“The pinnacle relationship we have on the women’s side is Stella McCartney,” Vollebregt said. “It is a fantastic collaboration for us and I think it even has a lot more potential than we’ve seen so far. And we are looking at other opportunities to leverage the style side of our brand and those relationships and the performance side. We haven’t even scratched the surface. As long as you’re a brand that has the technical capabilities like we do, you don’t have the femininity out of it or the style side out of it.”

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