Athleta’s Evolution: Next Up, Intimates

·5 min read

Athleta is launching a line of “Rituals” intimates, building upon efforts to portray itself as a lifestyle brand and achieve its goal of $2 billion in annual sales by 2023.

In recent years, Athleta, founded in 1998, has been broadening the scope of its collection with new products for a balanced approach, beyond the performance activewear that it’s been best known for and supported by ongoing campaigns with Olympic champions Allyson Felix and Simone Biles.

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“All-day lifestyle” offerings for work, going out after, traveling, weekends and sleep represent 45 percent of the assortment. Active performance styles represent the other 55 percent, though executives say all of Athleta’s product offerings are rooted in the brand’s performance DNA. Athleta executives acknowledge there’s room to raise awareness of the non-performance side of the collection, which is important particularly this year as retailers confront shifting consumer preferences toward dressier, going-out and wear-to-work styles, and less spending on the active and cozier, casual merchandise.

“Customers want a wardrobe that provides a seamless transition between workout and lifestyle,” said Ebru Ercon, vice president of design for Athleta. For a wardrobe like that, “layering is incredibly important,” Ercon added. “Women don’t want to feel compromised or uncomfortable.”

Athleta’s layering look for fall.
Athleta’s layering look for fall.

The Rituals intimates collection launches Sept. 20 on Athleta.com and will include bikini, boy short and thong underwear in inclusive sizing from XXS to 3X. An adjustable strap bra will be available in sizes A-DD, as well as a T-shirt bra in sizes B-G. The underwear and bras come in a variety of colors: magnolia white, black, amaryllis pink, dark sardinia, tinsel purple and yellow. The underwear will be priced at $16, or three for $36; bras will range from $59 to $69.

Athleta piloted a handful of intimates in 2018, but Rituals is the first full-fledged launch in the category. The new line doesn’t include sports bras, though the underwear can be worn with leggings. Sports bras are offered separately.

Rituals intimates was developed after the company gained some customer insights. Fifteen percent of searches by customers on Athleta.com have been for underwear, Ercon said. In addition, there’s growth in the U.S. intimates market, which is projected to become a $16.2 billion business by 2026 with a two-year compound annual growth rate of more than 9 percent, according to Euromonitor and NPD.

At a showroom in Manhattan’s Flatiron district, Ercon showed off Athleta’s new fall collection beginning with quick drying and wicking workout wear including flat pants and tops. Over that, “cocoon” hoodies, long-sleeve shirts with thumb holes, and long, down quilted vests and short jackets can be worn.

Next, she showed the new intimates line. “Rituals is about offering her the first layer against her skin,” Ercon said. “At the other end of the scale we have outerwear which is the third layer,” and there are sportswear pieces in between.

“Women are looking for lifestyle product with comfort and versatility and more attributes with insights from performance built into the product,” Ercon said, citing durability, non-pilling and elements of utility “so she looks put together even if she is hiking.” Then Ercon held up Athleta’s “Excursion” lightweight waist bag designed with a mesh back body for comfort, and compression straps and a zipper pocket to secure and stash items.

“As a customer-focused brand, we are consistently engaging with and listening to her needs and know the intimates category is growing,” Felix del Toro, Athleta’s chief product officer, said in a statement. “By introducing the Rituals collection, we are inviting even more customers into our brand and giving her an opportunity to build a complete wardrobe at Athleta layer by layer. Continuing to develop innovative products for our customers is a priority for us, and with Rituals, we’ve created a base wardrobe layer that enables freedom of movement and comfort through no-dig fit and flattering silhouettes while being beautiful, versatile and inclusive.”

There have been several recent maneuvers to expand the collection. In 2016, Athleta launched Athleta Girl, and last July, a Simone Biles back-to-school girls collection was introduced. About a year and a half ago, Athleta began offering many styles in sizes 1X to 3X (or sizes 18 to 26) in-store and online. “We first invested in Athleta branded accessories beginning in 2020,” a spokeswoman said.

Asked how else Athleta will expand its collection going forward, Ercon replied, “Accessories is really the next exciting realm for us. We have true performance accessories, but we are constantly evolving.

Products that are seamless is another area for growth at Athleta. “It’s a tubular technology — traditional sport technology where there is no chaffing because of the lack of seams. We are one of the only brands that offer seamless in the 1X size range.…It’s accessories, seamless, then really outerwear is the next piece after that,” she said.

For the second quarter of this year, Athleta reported net sales of $344 million, up 1 percent compared to last year. “While the brand continues to make progress in driving awareness and establishing authority in the women’s active and wellness category, it is experiencing softness related to the shift in consumer preference from athleisure to occasion and work-based categories as well as modest spring product acceptance challenges,” the company indicated last week in its financial report. Last year, Athleta generated $1.43 billion in sales, well on route to $2 billion.

“One of our biggest selling styles is the Brooklyn ankle pant,” said Ercon, when asked about bestsellers. It’s made with recycled “featherweight” stretch fabric, a rib knit waistband and side panels for mobility and comfort. “We also really have a strong business in yoga tights and yoga leg shapes.”

Athleta’s layering look for fall.
Athleta’s layering look for fall.

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