Athleta has formed a “collective” of athletes to partner on innovating performance products and participate in mentoring and purpose-driven programs for women.
Called “The Power of She Collective,” the new group consists of 13 female athletes, either active in their sport or retired.
Athleta’s partnership program with female athletes to support women started in 2019 with retired Olympic champion track star Allyson Felix, who continues to participate in the collective. Olympic champion gymnast Simone Biles is also part of the program, which she joined in 2021.
Eleven more athletes have just been added, forming the collective, including golfer Albane Valenzuela; Brenna Huckaby from Paralympic snowboarding; soccer star Heather O’Reilly; Jesse “Flex” Labreck from “American Ninja Warrior,” and softball star Jessica Mendoza.
“Athleta has supported me holistically as not just an athlete, but as a mother and activist since day one,” said Felix. “I’m excited for the opportunity to come together with other women and use our collective experiences as athletes, as moms, entrepreneurs and all that we are, to not only support each other but make the world a better place for women and girls. Athleta is giving us the space and support to do that.”
In addition, Athleta through its “Power of She Fund” is donating $175,000 to the Women’s Sports Foundation, founded by tennis legend Billie Jean King in 1974, which promotes women’s equality in sports.
Other athletes joining the collective are: triathlete Katie Zaferes; figure skater Mariah Bell, tennis champion Monica Puig; basketball star Monique Billings; swimmer Natalie Coughlin, and Winter Vinecki, the freestyle aerial skier.
“We’ve seen the impact our partnerships have had on increasing awareness for our brand and reinforcing our heritage as a performance brand for women and girls,” Mary Beth Laughton, Athleta’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “But even more so, we are thrilled to expand our network of powerful women who truly embody the Power of She and give them a seat at our table. We know that when women support each other, we move forward.”
Athleta indicated that it will look to grow the collective beyond sports.
Asked about the criteria for selecting the collective athletes, a spokeswoman responded, “As a purpose-driven brand dedicated to empowering women and girls, we wanted to partner with female athletes of different ages, sports, abilities, backgrounds and different points in their career, who stand for those same beliefs. The athletes we selected are, in their own way, ambassadors for the next generation of female athletes.”
A few of the athletes will appear in Athleta ads. Felix, who has already been in ads, and Coughlin will appear in Athleta’s Mother’s Day marketing campaign. Puig will be in Athleta’s summer marketing campaign for tennis. “As the program gets underway we will identify moments to showcase the collective every season in our ongoing marketing efforts,” the spokeswoman added. Biles will also continue in upcoming marketing campaigns.
“We started the mentoring portion of the partnership by bringing the women together to learn and hear from each other about running their businesses, professional development, brand building, partnerships, and more,” said Laughton. “We are now working with them to build the program to reflect what will benefit them the most and how we can help facilitate sessions and workshops on everything from business to motherhood.”
All members of the collective will wear test Athleta’s performance-based product and provide feedback on aspects like fit, function and use. For example, Valenzuela has already been providing design insights for the golf apparel. Athleta sells women’s and girls’ apparel for working out, yoga, running, swimming and hiking, as well as dresses, jackets, bras and accessories.
Members of the collective will be involved in Athleta’s Power of She Fund, which supports the Women’s Sports Foundation, and will also be involved in community programs to empower women and girls. For example, O’Reilly is launching a mentorship program to foster leadership skills in young women and Puig advocates for tennis outreach programs in underserved communities.
“This collective continues to build on really what the reason of me coming to Athleta has been all about,” Felix told WWD. “Athleta has done such a good job of turning the model of sponsorship on its head. It’s not just about me as an athlete, but also celebrating me as a mother.”
She also characterized the collective as unique. “It’s great that so many different athletes are part of this. We don’t usually get to see athletes coming together from many sports and interacting. This is really a group of strong women from different backgrounds. And the idea is to really celebrate what we are all doing. Everyone has their own passion and we’re giving insights to each other and supporting each others’ causes. That’s something you really don’t see happening within a single brand.”
A little over two years ago Felix launched her own athletic footwear brand, Saysh, with her brother Wes Felix, after parting ways with Nike. She began meeting with Athleta executives to learn about production, design, marketing and branding. Athleta, through Gap Inc., invested $1 million and acquired an equity stake in Saysh in June 2022. Saysh footwear is sold on Athleta.com as well as on the Saysh website, and at Foot Locker, Neighborhood Goods, Kith and few other retailers.
Saysh currently offers two women’s lifestyle footwear styles, one for working out, the other offering a more fashionable appeal. “This fall we will launch a true running shoe,” Felix said, which she insists won’t sacrifice being fashionable for performance. She said the Saysh brand has a value of just under $40 million.
“We’re focused on getting our story and brand out there, but I’m really excited about the launch of our running shoe,” which like the other Saysh styles, is for women only and designed specifically for women. Felix said Saysh footwear is designed with a last based on the dimensions of a woman’s foot, while most other women’s athletic shoes are based on a last used for men’s athletic shoes.
In addition, Saysh has a free-maternity-returns policy for women whose feet change size during pregnancy. They can change their Saysh trainers that no longer fit right for a free pair of trainers in a different size.