Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — Sue Levin, a former marketing executive at Nike, is spearheading a new web site that will specialize in women’s activewear.
The women’s-only site, which is called, is designed to cater to women of different ages with different interests and fitness levels. It’s set to launch in November. For the first three to six months, the site will offer 350 styles of women’s activewear from 30 brands, including major labels such as Champion JogBra and lesser-known ones like Moving Comfort and City Lights. Athletic footwear is expected be added to the mix in the spring, and perhaps special services such as fitness and fashion tips.
The company aims to compete with retailers by offering a broader selection and focusing on service and merchandising, Levin said. The company hasn’t picked a warehouse yet, but Levin said it is expected to be in “the central part” of the country. She plans to have orders shipped within 24 hours of placement and standard markdowns will be offered.
While basics will be offered, there will also be many performance-oriented items. Down vests and jackets, microfiber golf jackets, golf sweaters and lightweight windbreakers will be among the offerings. will offer large-size and maternity activewear, which is not routinely offered by major retailers.
“We’ll be offering stuff you can’t find easily in your neighborhood store,” Levin said.
While’s concept sounds “terrific,” its growth will hinge on fine-tuning the mix, according to Maria Stefan, executive director of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers’ Association.
“It all depends on the product offerings. Apparel has been more difficult to sell online because it involves fit and color,” she said. “There are also a lot of other sites going after the sport market but they’re not gender-specific.”
A common complaint among women is that major sporting goods stores and athletic specialty stores offer too much merchandise suitable for young, muscular women.
“Our core customer will be women who are not comfortable in the sporting goods store environment. We’re not focusing on a specific age range,” Levin said. “We’re going after women who aren’t satisfied with the selection in sporting goods stores and athletic specialty stores.”
Two venture capital firms, Sutter Hill and Foundation Capital, have already invested $7.5 million in the project, Levin said.
In addition to Levin, who exited Nike earlier this year as women’s brand director, has attracted other seasoned executives. Bonnie Choruby, former general merchandise manager of Nike’s retail division, is overseeing the company’s merchandising. Vice president Stephen Hochman was previously senior product manager at Intel; vice president of business development Kate Delhagen was e-commerce research director at Forrester; vice president of engineering Bill Johnson used to work for IBM, Intel and Sun Microsystems.
Knowing that “building a brand online requires acquiring customers quickly,” Levin said the company will spend $10 million on an extensive marketing campaign that will include print advertising, direct mail pieces, grass-roots events and online advertising. At least $5 million of that figure will be devoted to advertising. executives are currently meeting with ad agencies about developing its print campaign, which will break in January.
This week, executives combed through the WWDMAGIC show in Las Vegas looking for labels to sell online. Reached at the show Wednesday, George Horowitz, president and chief executive officer of Active Apparel Group, the maker of licensed Everlast activewear, said he was inclined to work with them.
“Their concept of being the premiere place to shop online for women’s activewear seems like a very good thing. There’s no discounting and the people seem very bright,” he said.
Shoppers will be able to search by activity or silhouette. The latter is a new take for activewear retailers, which have focused on sports-specific looks in recent years. Images of the models, animated figures and illustrations will be used to display the activewear.
Unlike the oversupplied men’s activewear market, the women’s market is not as mature and still is an opportunity, Levin said. If demonstrates a better way to sell activewear to women, that would give the industry a shot of energy, she added.
“Women love to shop for apparel — that’s just a simple fact. At Nike when we did research, we found women hate shopping for active apparel. The SGMA’s research has shown this too. The shopping experience is broken,” Levin said. “Existing retailers are not doing a good job. Traditional sporting goods stores and athletic specialty stores haven’t brought the same sense of style and merchandising that women expect from traditional [department store and specialty store] retailers. Traditional retailers have done a great job with merchandising but sports apparel is not something they have been interested in.”
Kim Leasure, director of sporting goods for Champion JogBra, said Levin and her colleagues understand the women’s activewear business and how to market it.
“From a supplier standpoint, there’s been no learning curve and that’s really important to us. As retail partners, we’re in lockstep,” she said. “What’s also exciting is they know about athletic apparel but they’re going to give it a fashion twist. That should set them apart.”