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Simone Biles Leaves Nike for Athleta

Gap Inc. has scored the biggest coup yet for its growing Athleta label.

Four-time Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles is joining the women’s performance lifestyle brand in a long-term deal, leaving behind a partnership the gymnast held with Nike since 2015. Biles, the most decorated gymnast in World Championships history with 25 medals overall (19 gold), will have her own signature activewear line with Athleta.

Terms of the agreement have not been disclosed.

Biles and Athleta will collaborate on initiatives with a particular focus toward the Athleta Girl line, encouraging millions of girls to “rise and own their limitless potential,” the company said. Biles will work with Athleta’s design team to develop signature products for aspiring athletes, including plans for multiple capsule collaborations for Athleta Girl.

Biles, regarded by many as one of the greatest female athletes of all time, will also play an activist role for the brand, connecting directly with women through Athleta’s active and engaged community to inspire honest conversations and help develop programming focused on supporting and lifting up young women and girls.

“Using my voice has been very empowering for me and I am grateful to embark on this new journey with Athleta to inspire young girls and women to do the same,” Biles said. “The opportunity to encourage young girls to reach their full potential and be a force for change is incredibly powerful. I admire Athleta for their commitment to recognize and support women’s individual and collective strength and, together, I believe we can help girls to confidently and passionately take on the world in their athletic endeavors and beyond.”

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Biles said she felt Athleta supported her “not just as an athlete, but just as an individual outside of the gym and the change that I want to create, which is so refreshing.”

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Athleta has also pledged support of Biles’ planned post-Olympics tour, which will not be through USA Gymnastics.

Gap Inc. is angling to make Athleta a power player in the athleticwear and athleisure space, with the company surpassing $1 billion in 2020 sales, a 16 percent year-over-year jump. But to reach this growth, it is also looking to empower and accommodate a more size-diverse audience. To kick off 2021, the company extended its sizing to include sizes 1X-3X (equivalent to sizes 18-26) across 350 styles in its collection, before expanding it to 500 in March. By the end of 2022, Athleta has committed to offering extended sizes across all of its product categories.

By the end of this year, the brand will have opened 20 to 30 new Athleta locations in its goal to double sales to $2 billion by 2023. Later this year, the B Corp brand will launch its first two stores in Canada, one in Ontario and another in British Columbia, as well as a dedicated e-commerce presence fulfilled through an existing Ontario distribution center.

Biles brings a new level of star power to Athleta. It signed its first major sponsored athlete, Allyson Felix, the most decorated woman in U.S. track and field history, in July of 2019. Interestingly, Felix also left Nike for Athleta, saying that the athleticwear giant wanted to pay her 70 percent less after her pregnancy.

Parent company Gap Inc. has hoped it can leverage names like Biles and Kanye West to lift its overall brand relevance, with the latter already appearing to pay dividends before a single product has dropped. UBS Group estimates that the Yeezy x Gap collaboration could be worth as much as $970 million, which would be massive on its own but even bigger for a retailer that has largely struggled to connect with shoppers in recent years.

And with Biles and Felix on board, Athleta can further its commitments to diversity, inclusion and representation for all, giving the athletes another platform to serve as voices for change and empowering the next generation. Athleta says its workforce is 97 percent female, making the brand “designed by women for women.”

“We are excited to welcome Simone to the Athleta family and work together to further our mission of empowering women and girls,” said Mary Beth Laughton, president and chief executive officer of Athleta. “Simone believes in championing the next generation of female athletes as much as we do, and we are confident this partnership will continue to build community with our customers and enrich our brand.”

Biles’ announced exit from Nike comes only one week after the estate of the late Kobe Bryant ended its nearly two-decade partnership with the company.