To help with its expansion efforts, Athleta this month hired Kyle Andrew as chief brand officer. A veteran marketer with stints at American Eagle and Kate Spade under her belt, Andrew will head up marketing efforts and continue the “Power of She” messaging that has resonated with the brand’s female customers. Sheila Shekar Pollak, formerly Athleta's chief marketing officer, left the brand last year to join clean skincare brand Biossance.
"Today more than ever customers are looking for ways to connect with brands beyond the transaction," says Jana Henning, Athleta's chief product officer, "As a values-driven company, we’ve had a long focus on how we bring to life our mission of empowering women and girls and communicating that we see business as a force for good. Our brand storytelling is a key vehicle for sharing these values with our customer and introducing new customers to our brand."
On an early March earnings call with analysts, Sonia Syngal, CEO of Gap Inc., called out Athleta’s stellar performance in 2020, a time when many consumers were focused on sporting apparel and also the leisurewear items like leggings and hoodies for which Athleta is known. The brand, Gap Inc.’s highest margin business, grew 16% last year to exceed $1 billion in sales—in the crucial fourth quarter holiday season, Athleta saw net sales rise 29%. Syngal says it is on track to reach $2 billion by 2023.
“We have never been more confident in Athleta's path forward,” she said on the call.
Biles is expected to play a large role on that path, particularly by focusing on Athleta Girl, the brand’s kidswear line. The gymnast will work with Athleta’s design team to create signature products and multiple capsule collections for Athleta Girl, and will also assist in advocacy efforts for young athletes. The deal will reportedly include Athleta's sponsorship of a gymnastics tour after the Olympics. Executives noted that Biles shares the brand's values.
"Simone is a once in a generation athlete, who inspires women and girls of all ages with the confidence to go for your goals and use your voice," says Henning.
In a statement announcing the collaboration late last week, Biles said she admired Athleta’s commitment to women’s strength.
“Using my voice has been very empowering for me and I am grateful to embark on this new journey with Athleta to inspire young girls and women to do the same,” she said.
At Nike, which has been criticized in the past for its treatment of female athletes, including by Felix, Biles’ deal was not tied to any products, so the new work with Athleta appears to be more lucrative for the 24-year-old gold medalist.
“Nike was basically just using her as an endorser—it didn’t really support any merchandise play,” says Powell. “As an athlete, wanting to have your own product line is a motivator.”
Many consumers, fans of Athleta for its diversity and inclusivity efforts, applauded the deal.