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Athleta Challenges Lulu With Big Plans for Canada

Gap Inc.’s B Corp brand is eyeing growth opportunities north of the border.

Athleta, the apparel giant’s newly size-inclusive activewear imprint, plans to put down roots in Canada later this year, offering an array of pajamas, yoga pants, joggers, bras and more through a full omnichannel experience.

The move marks the performance brand’s inaugural “company-owned” foray outside of the U.S., where its 200-plus stores and digital channel cracked more than $1 billion in net sales last year, on top of 16 percent year-over-year sales growth, the San Francisco clothier said.

Gap Inc. will fulfill orders placed on Athleta’s forthcoming e-commerce site, planned for a late-summer launch, through its existing distribution center in Brampton, Ontario, where an Amazon warehouse was forced to pause operations last month amid surging coronavirus infections. This strategy will eliminate international taxes and improve shipping and delivery timeframes from the customer experience it, says.

Athleta next has designs on opening a pair of brick-and-mortar outposts in the fall, with stores slated for North York in Ontario and British Colombia’s West Vancouver area.

The brand’s incursion into the land of hockey and maple leaves seems to take aim at Lululemon, Canada’s native daughter and an active leader in its own right whose warrior-pose wares have cultivated throngs of loyal devotees. Athleta stressed the inclusivity of its women’s apparel assortment, which it says offers 500 styles in “extended sizes” of up to 3X across physical and digital channels. By contrast, Lulu—whose founder Chip Wilson famously said the brand’s leggings “don’t work for certain women’s bodies”—tiptoed into larger sizes in September, but opted to test the waters with just six core leggings styles that now span 0-20. Lululemon operates about 490 stores in North America, including 20 in British Columbia where it was founded in 1998.

Athleta, Gap Inc.'s size-inclusive women's activewear and a B Corp brand, plans a Canadian expansion with two stores and a new digital site.
An artist’s rendering of an Athleta store. Courtesy

Planting a flag in Canada might be just the beginning of Athleta’s global ambitions, which brand president and CEO Mary Beth Laughton described as “a key component of our growth strategy to reach $2 billion in net sales by 2023.”

“As a purpose-driven brand, we are excited to expand our community of empowered and confident women and girls to Canada,” she added, “and bring them a differentiated and inclusive offering in the performance lifestyle category.”