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Can Kohl’s Private-Label Athleisure Launch Take Activewear to 30% of Sales?

The aggressive push into activewear and casual wear continues to be a theme for Kohl’s in 2020, with the department store now launching a new private label specialty athleisure brand, FLX, to complement its slate of partnerships. FLX will debut in select stores and on the Kohl’s website beginning in March.

Kohl’s CEO Michelle Gass said at Goldman Sachs’ Global Retailing Conference in September that Kohl’s would launch a new line next spring to “fully address the athleisure opportunity.” While athleisure and activewear categories drove 20 percent of business at Kohl’s, Gass said that it could grow to at least 30 percent of the retailer’s business. Sales in this category have doubled since 2013, with the compound annual growth rate reaching 10 percent over the past three years, according to a Kohl’s investor presentation published Tuesday.

Kohl’s indicated that it wants to raise operating margins from 6.1 percent in 2019 to between 7 percent and 8 percent in the future through its merchandising, supply chain transformation, inventory management and sourcing changes. The goal is lofty for the department store, which has only reached that operating margin once in the past eight quarters.

With offerings for both men and women, FLX, pronounced “flex,” is an athleisure brand featuring style-conscious active separates made with high-quality performance fabrics and functional details. In addition to a year-round collection of core apparel—including bottoms, shorts and tees—Kohl’s plans to seasonally refresh the brand assortment with key transitional items, including fleece, jackets and layering pieces.

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“As customers have been increasingly shopping for a more comfortable and casual lifestyle, Kohl’s identified a plan to more aggressively serve as the most trusted retailer of choice in these categories,” Doug Howe, Kohl’s chief merchandising officer, said in a statement. “With an emphasis on high-quality athleisure, FLX fills a white space in our current private brand portfolio and will be a great answer to these growing consumer trends.”

The FLX brand is designed for “premium comfort and style,” Kohl’s said, offering versatile pieces for life at home or on-the-go such as a comfy traveler pant, multi-use loungewear or a packable jacket. The entire FLX collection was made using sustainable methods and materials, although the retailer didn’t reveal specifics.

Kohl’s already expanded its athleisure mix this year by increasing the number of Champion products sold, and wants to further grow the Champion and Vans brands.

And last month, the department store launched the Adidas x Zoe Saldana collection of active apparel, footwear and accessories for women on and in nearly 500 Kohl’s stores. The collection was curated by Saldana herself, and is the latest extension of the two-year partnership between Adidas and Kohl’s. With the partnership, Kohl’s has launched Adidas shop-in-shops in 175 of its 1,100 stores across the country.

As the retailer’s active business continues to grow, the company has also increased square footage of the area dedicated to activewear by 25 percent in approximately 160 stores.

The changes don’t stop there, with the increase in casual wear coming alongside the athleisure side. Kohl’s recently introduced Lands’ End and Toms shoes, with plans to launch as many as 150 shop-in-shop boutiques for Lands’ End with room to grow. Additionally, footwear from Cole Haan is coming to 200 Kohl’s stores starting in spring next year, with an expanded assortment arriving at the department store’s website.

Kohl’s portfolio of national apparel and footwear brands also includes Nike, Columbia, Carter’s and Levi’s.

The merchandise changes extend to Kohl’s overall structure. The company has integrated merchandising, planning and product development under a “single source of accountability.” Kohl’s eliminated 250 positions as part of the restructuring.