By CultureBanx Team
- Simone Biles leaves Nike to align with women’s first brand Athleta
- The U.S. activewear clothing industry is valued at $55B
As the most decorated woman in world championship history, Simone Biles, is ending a nearly six year deal with Nike (NKE +0.70%) and taking her talents over to Athleta. The gymnast just inked a sponsorship contract with Athleta, a Gap (GPS +2.60%) brand fitness apparel company. Does this Athleta partnership exemplify a change in the nearly $55 billion U.S. activewear clothing industry, and start to narrow the pay gap for sponsorship of women in sports?
Why This Matters: The Gap has plans to expand Athleta, which they bought in 2008, a brand it hopes can draw new customers who want to wear athletic clothes to the gym, on the weekends, and even to work. Biles is clearly part of that plan to bring in a new consumer base as it’s set to open 20-30 stores this year. The retailer does not break out Athleta’s annual sales, but the brand had more than 190 stores. In Q4 2020, the company claimed Athleta net sales were up 29%, and same-store sales rose 26%.
Biles, who hasn’t been prominently featured in a Nike ad in quite some time noted that Athleta’s women first focus was very appealing to her. “They are committed to diversity and inclusion, which was really important for me to see in a partner,” Biles said in an Instagram post.
Most importantly, the move by Biles is a blow to Nike, which tried for years with mixed success to grow in the lucrative market for women’s sports apparel, launching yoga, plus-size and maternity lines. She is not the first Nike-sponsored sportsperson to join Athleta. In 2019, six-time Olympic champion Allyson Felix signed up with the company, on the heels of her calling out Nike for a performance-based compensation policy that often results in pay cuts for pregnant athletes. Biles and Felix are likely to be two of the most prominent athletes at the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer.
What’s Next: The brand plans to co-create an activewear line with Biles and design other signature products. Athleta also pledged to support Biles’ post-Tokyo Olympics gymnastics tour that she is planning to mount herself, rather than the usual tour backed by governing body USA Gymnastics, according to the Wall Street Journal. The tour could help reshape professional opportunities for elite gymnasts for years to come.
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