By: Richard Collings
Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles has inked a long-term deal with athleisure brand Athleta, the retailer announced today.
The partnership ends the World Champion gymnast’s nearly six-year relationship with athleticwear giant Nike.
In the announcement, Athleta described the collaboration as wide-reaching, bringing to life “the brand’s mission of fostering community, igniting activity and inspiring the next generation to be the best version of themselves.”
As part of the relationship, Biles will have input on the development of products, including multiple capsule collections for the girls’ line Athleta Girl. Athleta also plans to co-create the gymnast’s own activewear line.
“Our team is looking forward to working collaboratively with her to bring the same elements of confidence, strength and grace she demonstrates on and off the mat into future collections for girls,” said Jana Henning, Athleta’s chief product officer, in a statement.
In addition, Biles will engage Athleta’s community to facilitate conversations and programming intended to support and lift up women and girls.
“Simone believes in championing the next generation of female athletes as much as we do, and we are confident this partnership will continue to build community with our customers and enrich our brand,” said Mary Beth Laughton, Athleta’s CEO, in a statement.
Athleta noted Biles joins U.S. track and field star Allyson Felix, who is also an Olympic gold medalist, as a brand spokesperson.
Athleta declined to comment on the agreement.
A coup for Athleta
The partnership is a coup for Athleta and its parent company Gap, which is looking to revive its fortunes in a post-pandemic landscape.
While the largely mall-based conglomerate’s Gap and Banana Republic banners have suffered, Athleta has bucked the trend with sales up 16% to more than $1 billion for the fiscal year ending Jan. 30. In the fourth quarter alone, Athleta’s comparable sales were up 26%.
By comparison, chief rival Lululemon’s net revenue was up 11% for the fiscal year ending Jan. 31 to about $4.4 billion, while comparable sales increased 21% in the fourth quarter.
Given this announcement, the competition between the two banners is likely to intensify.
Another loss for Nike
For Nike, it’s the loss of yet another star athlete in a single week.
“Our contract with Simone Biles has ended and we wish her the very best. We’ve always taken great pride in our leadership in supporting women in sport at all levels for close to 50 years as individual athletes, through their universities, national teams or their competitive leagues. We will continue to champion and celebrate all athletes,” responded Nike, in an email to Adweek.
On April 19, Vanessa Bryant, widow of NBA star Kobe Bryant, confirmed to sports network ESPN she would not renew the expired deal between her late husband and the athletic-wear giant.
“Kobe and Nike have made some of the most beautiful basketball shoes of all time, worn and adored by fans and athletes in all sports across the globe. It seems fitting that more NBA players wear my husband’s product than any other signature shoe,” she told ESPN in a statement.
“Kobe Bryant was an important part of Nike’s deep connection to consumers. He pushed us and made everyone around him better. Though our contractual relationship has ended, he remains a deeply loved member of the Nike family,” Nike commented.
Reports are also circling that Clemson’s star quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who is expected to be selected first in the upcoming NFL draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars, will sign with Adidas, joining NFL stars Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers.
However, while the optics aren’t optimal for the world’s largest athletic brand, it’s likely to have little impact on sales, given Nike’s existing roster of talent, said Neil Schwartz, president of Sports Business Research Network.
The departures have little to do with the strength of Nike’s brand or products, but are likely tied to the company’s culture, he added.
Schwartz said Nike’s current focus is on its distribution strategy, which is moving away from smaller retailers and categories. Most notably, the Portland, Oregon-based athletic-wear giant is emphasizing the growth of its direct-to-consumer business, from online to its physical stores and apps, he said.
Of course, it’s a big opportunity for Athleta and Biles, given the upcoming Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Schwartz said.
The question: “Will Athleta be able to develop the right sort of product around her?”
“It’s incumbent upon Athleta to really maximize Simon Biles every way they can, not just athletically, but socially,” Schwartz added.
Biles takes to Instagram
Biles took to Instagram to post her thoughts on the new collaboration.
“I can still remember my very first pair of Athleta tights when I was a young teenager,” she said. “They were red and I felt like I stood out from all the other girls at my gym. Little did I realize at the time that being different helped build my confidence.”
Biles then went on to tick off the reasons behind her decision for teaming up with Athleta, including the brand’s status as a B Corp and its support of her individually.
“They have a team that’s primarily women and that’s how they design their products, for women and girls,” she said. “They are committed to diversity and inclusion, which was really important for me to see in a partner. They show women and girls of all ages, sizes, abilities, races and backgrounds, and design their products that way, too.”
Three hours after sharing on Instagram, her post had over 130,000 views.