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Gap-Owned Athleta Enters Canada with Expansion Plans: Interview with GM Jenelle Sheridan

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Retailer Athleta is expanding its presence in Canada by launching its ecommerce business and opening its first two Canadian-operated stores this fall.

Athleta, a performance lifestyle brand with a mission of empowering a community of active women and girls and part of the San Francisco-based Gap family of lifestyle brands, will open at Park Royal Shopping Centre in West Vancouver and Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto.

Jenelle Sheridan

“Canadian customers are already engaged with our brand and there is demand for performance lifestyle product. Gap Inc. brands have been in Canada for over 30 years and recently Old Navy celebrated 20 years in Canada.  Being part of a portfolio allows us to leverage our sister brands’  existing infrastructure and platforms, which makes it easier and more cost efficient to launch, rather than starting from scratch,” said Jenelle Sheridan, VP and GM Athleta Canada.

“We will also be able to leverage customers across brands and tap into loyalty opportunities. We have an established and engaged customer base already in existence.  And we can leverage our existing Canada distribution centre in Brampton, Ontario.

“We know women in Canada are wearing active apparel – she’s hiking, swimming, and she wants a brand that has versatile product. The active apparel category continues to grow. Our brand values resonate with the Canadian market and align with their active outdoor lifestyle.   We believe our versatile, on-trend performance lifestyle product and our focus on wellness, sustainability and inclusivity resonates across cultures and geographies into the Canada market.  We are confident this decision will drive significant benefit to Gap Inc. in the next 10 years and help deliver on our Power Plan 2023 by attracting new customers and enduring relationships.”

Athleta
Image: Athleta (Gap Inc.)

Athleta was founded in 1998 as a catalog brand with a vision to provide products designed to meet the unique needs of athletic women. In 2011, it opened its first store in Mill Valley, California and in 2016, it launched Athleta Girl and its Power of She campaign. The Power of She campaign was aimed at creating a community of women and girls fueled by the core belief that alone they are strong, but united they thrive. In 2018, it became a B Corp reflecting its efforts to use business as a force for good.

Today, it has over 200 stores across the US.

Sheridan said the retailer is excited about arriving in Canada, “which is an important milestone in our brand’s history.”

“Athleta creates premium performance-lifestyle apparel designed by women, for women and aims to ignite a community of active, healthy and confident women and girls who empower each other to reach their limitless potential,” she said.

“Athleta is a female led, values and purpose-driven brand and that is the key differentiator from other retailers. This is seen in the breadth of inclusive sizing from XXS-3XL, versatile range of product, and being a women and girls only brand. Athleta is proud to be recognized for putting people and planet right up there with profit and became a certified B Corp in 2018.  Today, over 70 per cent of Athleta product is made from sustainable materials. We believe Athleta’s clear points of differentiation from the competition will be well received by Canadian customers.”

Future Athleta location at the Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto, August 2021. Photo: Craig Patterson

She said the company will open its first store in Canada at Park Royal in West Vancouver at the end of September followed by Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre opening in November.

“Our stores are in exciting and premier shopping destinations and will be fully engaging expressions of our brand in their local communities,” she said.

“We’re committed to growing our Canadian business and are continuing to explore additional locations in the country and hope to share more news on our additional brick-and-mortar plans soon. We’re excited to launch ecommerce and then open our Vancouver store in September followed by Toronto in November.”

Athleta first announced its expansion into Canada in April as part of its growth plan to reach $2 billion in net sales by 2023.

Athleta
Image: Athleta
Mary Beth Laughton

“As part of our strategic growth plan to double net sales by 2023, Athleta is committed to investing in new access points to reach new customers, and our entry into Canada marks our first company operated model outside the U.S.,” said Mary Beth Laughton, President and CEO, Athleta, in a statement.

The company said ecommerce in Canada has been fast growing over the last two years and the COVID pandemic has further accelerated the channel’s growth. The women’s activewear category has grown 18 per cent versus the overall market decline of 1.8 per cent and the total women’s online market grew 29.5 per cent with women’s activewear online sales growth 46.7 per cent, reinforcing Athleta’s digital-first market entry strategy, it said.

Besides Athleta, the Gap umbrella includes the following brands – Old Navy, Gap, and Banana Republic.

Fiscal year 2020 net sales were $13.8 billion.

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior National Business Journalist with Retail Insider in addition to working on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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