Walmart is investing in fashion activewear, and is hoping a celebrity cycling instructor and a contemporary womenswear designer will cement its success.
The apparel giant is releasing a new fitness apparel and swimwear line, Love & Sports, with Stacey Griffith, a senior master instructor at boutique cycling chain SoulCycle, and Michelle Smith, the former head designer for fashion house Milly. The label, which hits Walmart’s website and 1,500 company stores today, features over 120 pieces, including colourful leggings, cropped logo sweatshirts, nylon rain jackets and vibrantly patterned swimwear. Activewear sizing ranges from XS to XXXL and the price range is $12 to $42.
With its new line, Walmart intends to compete more meaningfully in the growing fitness apparel category, which hit $384 billion in global sales last year, according to McKinsey.
Brands are seeing activewear grow in response to increased exercise activity, as well as consumer demand for comfortable clothing. Activewear in the U.S. grew 31 percent in 2021, according to the NPD Group.
“We have activewear brands but not at this elevated, on-trend aesthetic, and in quality and price point,” said Denise Incandela, executive vice president of apparel and private brands for Walmart US.
Activewear is an important growth category for Walmart, said Incandela, noting that while categories like dresses are selling well, shoppers are also snapping up fitness apparel. The Love & Sports line was two years in the making. Smith and Griffith, who met at SoulCycle and are now partners, incorporated bright colours and contemporary fitness apparel trends into the collection, like matching bra and legging sets.
“I have seen every possible outfit, every bra, every unitard,” said Griffith. “The market was so drab. Everything was oatmeal, blush colour or black. But we’re such pop culture girls, inspired by ‘70s and ‘80s fashion, and Björn Borg, Farrah Fawcett and neon.”
The launch of Walmart’s Love & Sports line is the latest example of the mega-retailer’s larger effort to become a fashion destination. Last year, the company hired American designer Brandon Maxwell as its creative director, with Maxwell designing in-house labels like Walmart’s Free Assembly. In 2019, Walmart relaunched Scoop, the beloved New York Fashion brand that shuttered in 2016, as an exclusive in-house line.
But even with the mighty force of Walmart — the company sold about $33 billion worth of apparel in 2020, per one Wells Fargo report — Love & Sports faces fierce competition. The fitness apparel category is jam-packed, with activewear giants like Nike, Adidas and Lululemon, which just reported record growth and plans to double sales to $12.5 billion by 2026. There are also upstarts like Gymshark and Vuori, which is backed by Softbank’s Vision Fund. Mall brands Abercrombie & Fitch and Express have both recently debuted in-house activewear lines of their own too.
Where Walmart believes it can compete is with lower-priced activewear. The company will allocate ample space for Love & Sports within its stores, and will also roll out signage, aiming to introduce the label to customers who might not be buying trendy activewear yet. It also hopes to attract more up-market activewear enthusiasts who don’t want to spend as much on their gym outfits and appreciate Smith and Griffith’s colourful styles.
“Extraordinary value … is where we think we can really shine and be differentiated,” said Incandela.
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