As athletic apparel sales slow, Athleta is turning its attention to new categories

Athleta, the Gap-owned sportswear brand, is getting into yoga this week with the launch of its first collection of yoga accessories.

Although comprised of just three products—a yoga mat, a yoga pad, and a yoga bag—the collection is part of the company’s play to compete more directly with its contemporaries who have a head start in the yoga category. These include smaller brands like Alo Yoga and larger ones like Lululemon. As activewear sales softened late last year, the new category is also a way for Athleta to diversify and attract new customers. Athleta is known for its leggings.

Athleta’s head of design, Ebru Erkon, told Glossy that the growth of the yoga accessory market was a motivating factor for the new category. She cites August 2022 data from Valuates Reports that shows the yoga mat market is expected to reach nearly $4 billion globally by 2028. What’s more, yoga mat searches on Google have increased by 14% YoY this month.

“With this expansion, we are signaling that we want to improve.” [our customer’s] practice yoga and give her all her yoga essentials in one place, with accessories to complement [our activewear] pieces,” Erkon said.

Athleta did $1.43 billion last year and is expected to do $2 billion in 2023. But Lululemon is still the dominant force in yoga apparel and accessories, with more than $6 billion in annual revenue. Although Athleta makes yoga apparel and incorporates yoga imagery into its marketing — dominating the landing page of its online store since Tuesday — it has so far stayed out of the yoga accessories market.

Athleta’s yoga accessories differ from competitors’ gear in several ways. For one thing, its yoga mat is priced at $118 — more than the $98 charged at Lululemon and slightly less than the $128 mats at Alo. The materials used are also standouts, according to Athleta.

“Most yoga mats are still made from polyurethane and polyurethane derived from fossil fuels, which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions,” Erkon said. Athleta’s mats, meanwhile, are made from 70% Yulex, a natural rubber produced without fossil fuels. The blocks are 51% renewable sugarcane plants and the bags are 100% recycled nylon. As a B Corp, Athleta has made the lack of fossil fuel-derived materials in the new accessories a central selling point.

In Gap’s third-quarter 2022 earnings announcement in November, interim CEO Bobby Martin said that while the women’s activewear market has softened, Athleta has maintained modest positive growth of 6%. Martin attributes this growth to Athleta’s lifestyle and non-active products. The brand is now targeting new categories outside of sportswear to grow.

“By introducing new and expanded categories, such as the Flow Freely yoga collection or our recent Ritual intimatewear collection [launched in September]we are bringing new customers to the brand, fueling our overall growth strategy,” Erkon said.

To market this new category, Athleta tapped athletes. On January 18, the yoga mat debuted at a yoga event in New York hosted by Taryn Toomey, founder of fitness and training studio The Class. Working with famous athletes and fitness influencers is an established strategy for Athleta, which has also hosted personal events with Simone Biles, among others. The brand also posted about the new products to its 830,000 followers on Instagram.

And while the new category aims to attract new customers, Hannah Lane, senior fashion director at marketing firm Power Digital, said existing customers are best suited to create a new category.

“Athleta can get ahead immediately by leveraging its existing customer base with personalized messages that make them feel special,” she said. “These consumers already have a level of brand loyalty, so this is the perfect opportunity to cross-sell the new products while increasing their lifetime value.”

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