Athleta is getting a major makeover.
After the Gap Inc.-owned brand saw sales stumble earlier this year after a lackluster performance last year, a new chief creative officer came on board to breathe some newness and energy into the vision of the collection of leggings, yoga pants, trousers, shorts, joggers, skorts, skirts, tops and dresses.
Julia Leach joined the San Francisco-based company in May after the company’s president and chief executive officer, Mary Beth Laughton, stepped down in March due to continued product missteps. Last month, Laughton was replaced by Chris Blakeslee, who recently was the president of Alo Yoga and its sister label Bella + Canvas. Under his six-year guidance, sales there nearly doubled to more than $1 billion last year.
Athleta’s sales in 2022 hit $1.48 billion. Expansion is on the way with the company saying it wanted to add 30 stores this year to its retail lineup, adding to the current 340 outposts.
Leach, too, has years of experience as someone who has started her own label and worked with other brands. Most recently, she was chief brand officer at La DoubleJ, a Milan-based trendy women’s fashion brand. She is also cofounder of Sublime, a strategic brand studio in Los Angeles and cofounder of Chance, a Los Angeles-based lifestyle brand.
In her new job, Leach has been analyzing ways to revamp the image and message of the company’s extensive collection of athleticwear and casualwear that can take a woman from the yoga studio to work and back home again. Her mission is to see sales soar again after Athleta’s revenues fell 11 percent in the first quarter to $321 million due to what the company called “continued product acceptance challenges.”
A deep dive into the collection made Leach feel the brand’s merchandise had too many silhouettes that were boxy and less figure flattering. “The brand had gotten a little bit off into a place that had softness and, honestly, was a little sleepy,” Leach explained. “We are making the brand much clearer in terms of its point of view and more elevated with a more aspirational look and feel.”
Leach will be working with the chief product officer on that when the position is filled.
In the upcoming holiday collection, that performance value is illustrated in a video showing runners attired in Athleta wear whipping up hiking trails framed with snow-capped peaks near Whistler, Canada. “It is much more driven by fitness apparel,” Leach said, noting there are innovative fabrics to keep winter joggers warmer. “What we do better than really any other brand is the bottoms category.”
But the holiday collection, she said, also has some exceptional outerwear, including a puffer jacket and vest with recycled down. Holiday colors range from dove gray and black silver to citron yellow and aquamarine.
The brand is still centered around its “The Power of She,” mantra, established in 2016. It will guide the way Athleta’s offerings fit into consumers’ everyday life.
“The Power of She really has a kind of broader application about women supporting women,” Leach said. “So, the collection is anchored in performance with beautiful feminine design and thoughtful innovation to support all facets of her active life.”