The mass-channel merchant unveiled its latest effort Friday: a women’s activewear and swimwear brand called Love & Sports.
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“It’s actually emerging to be a lifestyle brand,” Denise Incandela, executive vice president of apparel and private brands, told WWD, referring to Walmart’s plans to expand the brand into other categories. “We felt it was a white space within our collection. It’s the first of its kind in terms of the price points — the average unit retail [prices] are more elevated than our current opening price points. And it’s certainly very differentiated in its aesthetic. It’s focused on being high-performance, bold colors, fashion-forward, gym-to-street style, much more so than any other brand that we have.”
The collection includes sports bras, sweats, jackets, leggings and swimwear in neon colors (think lime and watermelon hues, to name a few), with technical features — such as moisture-wicking fabrics, pants with pockets, reflective taping, metal zippers, drawstring shorts and roll-down waistbands — all designed in partnership with fashion designer Michelle Smith and fitness instructor Stacey Griffith.
“The world needs to feel energized and lively and bright and bold,” said Griffith, who brings more than 30 years of professional fitness experience to the table. She’s also one of the founding instructors at SoulCycle. “That’s one of the reasons why we designed this collection: we were working out every day at home and I was going live on Instagram every hour, on the hour, and I started running out of outfits to wear.”
“The collection is designed to be mixed and matched for versatility,” added Smith, who cut her teeth at the houses of Dior, Hermès and Louis Vuitton before founding womenswear brand Milly in 2001. She sold the brand in 2019. “And it’s still comfortable. People have gotten so used to comfort [during the pandemic]. I don’t think we’re going to want to move out of comfort clothing anytime soon.”
Incandela isn’t worried about the possible decline of activewear either, now that the world is (hopefully) opening back up again for in-person events and so many brands have entered the space. The executive cited a recent statistic from the NPD Group that said activewear grew 37 percent in 2021.
“Since the pandemic, activewear has been a very high-growth category and an important one for consumers,” she said. “There is a shift in the way the consumer wants to dress right now and it’s only natural for activewear to be the next step in expanding our elevated brands portfolio to be able to accommodate what her needs are — which is from the gym to the street — and to incorporate kind of a streetwear aspect into activewear, as she’s looking for ongoing comfort.
“And we have many different categories that are popping right now: dresses and more tailored clothing is certainly popping as well,” Incandela continued. “So I think there’s room for a lot of different categories, as she is thinking about her wardrobe essentials, and we see activewear as one that will continue.”
Meanwhile, Walmart has been expanding its fashion assortment, adding more than 1,000 national apparel, accessory and footwear brands to its lineup — including names like Levi’s, Champion, Reebok, Free People, Jordache, Lee, Bonobos and Eloquii — over the last few years. “We probably add over a 100 national brands a year,” Incandela told WWD earlier this year.
The retailer has an extensive list of its own apparel brands (three of which are worth more than $2 billion each, although the company declined to specify which ones), such as Sofia Jeans by Sofia Vergara, Avia, Free Assembly and Scoop. Designer Brandon Maxwell works as creative director of the latter two brands.
“We’ve been on a multiyear journey to continue to work to establish ourselves as a fashion destination,” Incandela said recently. “That includes everything from opening price points for core consumers, to elevated price points [from] both our exclusive and private brands, as well as national brands. So, we’re thinking about our customers’ closet, and how to attract her to shop with us by broadening our assortment.
“We expect that there will be more announcements coming up in the future,” she added. “We’re working to move with speed and we’re working to identify opportunities that are really going to resonate. Product is a huge focus for us, and making sure we have the product to satisfy her full wardrobe needs, or much of her wardrobe needs. So we’re constantly thinking about where we can partner with others to bring that for our customer, or national brands that we want to offer so that we can satisfy our customers. So it’s all on the table.”
Love & Sports’ inaugural activewear assortment (121 pieces in total) drops Friday at walmart.com, as well as at 1,500 stores nationwide. Incandela said the company will continue to roll out the assortment to other locations in the future.
“We choose stores based on a combination of things,” Incandela said. “We’re rolling out to the 1,500 stores that we think the assortment will resonate best with in the market. And that’s a pretty big rollout for us. We start typically with a smaller store rollout and gauge how the consumer is reacting and then evolve over time based on what the consumer is looking for from us and how she receives the assortment.”
In addition, shoppers can expect to see the brand’s swimwear lineup in May, as well as new collection drops each season. (Footwear and accessories are coming this fall.) Pieces range in price from $12 to $42 and sizes XS to 3XL. Swimwear comes in XS to 2XL.
“You could have five of our bras in every color for the price of one bra that’s out there in the market right now,” Griffith said. “And our brand definitely energizes the floor. It completely stands out from every other thing that’s out there.”