Lucy doesn’t want to be left behind in the activewear battles.

This story first appeared in the October 3, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The VF Corp.-owned brand is relatively unknown in the increasingly crowded activewear segment compared to competitors like Lululemon and Nike, but a new president and marketing initiative aim to supercharge consumer awareness efforts. Laurie Etheridge, former senior vice president of women’s merchandising and design at Levi’s, is now at the helm at Lucy, which today will launch the Light Forest, a light installation along the DCR’s Charles River Esplanade in Boston that runs for 10 days.

“My decision to come to Lucy was really all about the possibilities,” said Etheridge, who follows Mark Bryden and Shaz Kahng into the president’s post at Lucy. “I see a great brand and a very exciting market segment being enabled by a parent company that believes the possibilities as well of Lucy being the category leader in women’s activewear. It is a brand with a history, but low awareness. It is a brand that is focused on women that is both fun and not too serious, while still being committed to and being serious about performance.”

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Conceptualized by Minneapolis-based advertising and branding agency Mono, the Light Forest was under development when Etheridge joined Lucy, but she has fully embraced it. The installation took two to three days to erect and is made up of more than 10,000 solar-powered LED lights that are placed on reedlike components that move and illuminate when people pass through them. Complementing the movement, there are sounds of nature and civilization to create a multisensory effect.

Dawn Dzedzy, director of brand marketing at Lucy, described the Light Forest as a celebration of fit and active women. “We knew that our target was out there every day moving, and we wanted to find a way to connect with her out there when she was moving,” she said. “We loved the idea that it was showing who we are rather than just telling who we are. It is something that our target audience will respond to on a physical and emotional level.”

Dzedzy and Etheridge experienced the Light Forest last month when it was taken for a test drive on a farm in Minnesota. They remarked that it’s optimal to view the installation at dawn and dusk, although it can be effective throughout the day. Dzedzy elaborated, “It is a beautiful, magical moment. It is a physical representation of what it feels like to have a really great workout, that moment where everything glows and feels calm, but energized at the same time.”

If the Light Forest proves to be successful in Boston, Lucy will bring it to more cities, with a second appearance possibly by February or March. Sales won’t tell the story of the Light Forest’s success, according to Dzedzy. “We really think of this as an awareness builder,” she said. “We are not really saying it is going to have X percentage increase in sales or traffic. We do think there will be some effect there, but the big effect will be around impressions, social-media activity and buzz for the brand.”

The Light Forest is a key element of one of Etheridge’s priorities at Lucy: elevating the brand’s marketing voice. Other priorities include expanding the store count and wholesale distribution, and engaging consumers through strong customer service, education and activities. There will be 60 Lucy stores by the end of the year, and the company will remodel stores and add to its retail fleet next year. Etheridge said the specific number of stores set to open next year is yet to be finalized.

At VF Corp., Lucy is housed within the Greensboro, N.C.-based conglomerate’s fast-growing outdoor and action sports division, which also includes Timberland, The North Face, Vans, Reef, JanSport, Eagle Creek and Eastpak. In the second quarter ended June 29, the division’s sales rose 6 percent to slightly above $1.1 billion, and it accounted for half of VF’s revenues for the quarter, although Etheridge acknowledged that Lucy has faced its share of difficulties.

“We, like much of the industry, have seen traffic to malls being challenging in general,” she said. “However, we have some incredibly high-performing stores that stand out and absolutely break with that overall trend. What that has inspired us to focus on is really making sure that when women come to the store, they are very compelled by the product, the service and the story telling.”

With the fallout from the black Luon pant recall still hanging over Lululemon, Lucy may be able to draw activewear shoppers looking for alternatives. “We see that the landscape continues to be one with room for many players, and we believe that our positioning is very distinctive from Lululemon in particular,” said Etheridge. “What we have seen is women are increasingly curious about what’s new in the space. They are eager to build their wardrobes and view the opportunities for activewear to be about a range of fit that meets their activity needs or their body types.”

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