Athleta is the star performer in the Gap Inc. portfolio — and now it wants to raise its profile even more.
As the activewear market becomes increasingly competitive among both existing and new entrants, Athleta is expanding its offering with the introduction of a girls collection, continuing to roll out more stores and is unveiling a major marketing campaign to strengthen its message of female empowerment — and hopefully the loyalty of its core consumers.
The campaign is slugged “Power of She” that’s “all about the positivity that comes from collaboration” among women, Athleta president Nancy Green said.
The effort includes TV, video, print and a digital hub, the latter of which will serve as an online resource where more information about the campaign and the company’s work with the nonprofit Girls on the Run can be found. Visitors will also have the option of pledging to the movement.
“It’s big,” Green said of how the campaign stacks up against past Athleta marketing initiatives. “It’s the first big, purpose-driven campaign we’ve done. So it’ll feel different.”
The campaign will be followed by the company’s expansion into girls’ wear.
“The timing is really right for us because it’s timed with the launch of our girls line,” Green said. “Now it’s about instilling that confidence with the next generation of girls.”
The line is set to launch April 26 with a summer offering comprised of 25 styles. That will double for fall to about 45 styles, which will be available in early August.
The exposure comes as parent Gap has plans for Athleta to open about 15 stores for the current fiscal year ending in January, which follows what Gap chief executive officer Art Peck told analysts in February was a “strong back-half performance” for the activewear brand. The new doors will include a mix of new markets for Athleta as well as growing its presence in existing areas. Green declined to discuss details of the new markets it plans to enter in the future as well as what the company typically looks for in terms of retail square footage. A company spokeswoman confirmed the average store size to date is about 4,000 square feet.
The company, totaling 120 stores in the U.S., has seen rapid growth under Gap considering that Athleta didn’t even enter brick-and-mortar until after its 2008 acquisition. Before that the business was largely built on its catalogues, which still exist. Visibility on the broader business in terms of financial performance is less clear. Gap does not break out the brand’s financial information and the company declined to discuss how Athleta’s same-store sales have been trending in more recent quarters, although Gap Inc. chief executive officer Art Peck told analysts in February the brand saw a “strong back-half performance.”
The company at the time of its quarterly update said it expects Athleta to open about 15 stores for the current fiscal year ending in January, which would follow 19 openings last year. Those doors will include a mix of new markets for Athleta as well as growing its presence in existing areas. Green declined to discuss details of the new markets it plans to enter in the future as well as what the company typically looks for in terms of retail square footage. A company spokeswoman confirmed the average store size to date is about 4,000 square feet.
The growth comes amid an arms race of sorts within the ath-leisure and performance segment as more and more brands look to nab market share via brick-and-mortar growth. There are brands such as Lululemon, Nike, Sweaty Betty and Under Armour that fill out the competitive landscape, but there are also newcomers. Ivy Park, by Beyoncé and Sir Philip Green, launched at retail last week. Alo Yoga, which is parent Color Image Inc.’s fastest-growing brand, is set to open its first-ever brick-and-mortar store, with a rooftop deck for yoga classes, in Beverly Hills this week. Alo has managed to gain a loyal following through social media by getting its trendy yoga pieces on the likes of Gigi Hadid and Khloé Kardashian.
“The market is going to continue to grow because the lifestyle is not going to go away,” Green said. “I think there are a lot of people that want to get into the business. It’s not an easy business to get into. It requires a lot of fabric expertise. Technical expertise and really understanding this customers and how they live.
“We’ll see,” Green said of whether activewear continues to see accelerated growth. “There will be people who do well and people who don’t do well.”
Part of doing well will come down to market differentiation. As ath-leisure’s popularity continues to rise, many of those brands are looking to retail to create more experiential spaces in a point of conversation that’s taken hold of the broader brick-and-mortar market.
“So for the whole brand, events are very important for the Athleta experience, where we want to help share with her what’s going on in terms of health and wellness activities,” Green said. “Athleta is a lifestyle brand and we’re here to support her lifestyle needs….I think it is important where we see ourselves standing out. We’re not just a performance, activewear brand.”
Part of creating spaces that are more than just transactional is also about maintaining relevance with the Athleta customer’s lifestyle, Green pointed out. Last year, for example, the company opened a fitness studio at its Flatiron store in Manhattan.
“We have some amazing space in the Flatiron; it’s now called the Fitiron,” Green said. “We thought it would be a great opportunity to experiment with the space that we had.”
Broader plans to roll out the concept to other stores aren’t in the works, Green said, adding “it’s more a unique experience for that market.”