Online retailer Athleta goes brick-and-mortar

Athleta apparel.


Kai Ryssdal: We're off to the land of retail for this next story. We hear all the time these days about the growth of online sales, about how brick-and-mortar stores may soon be a thing of the past.

Gap reversed the trend today. It opened a store for clothes that, until now, had been sold only online or through catalogs. The Athleta brand specializes in women's active wear -- as it happens, one of the fastest growing parts of retail. Marketplace's Janet Babin has the story.

Janet Babin: We may not always stick to our work-out schedules like we should, but women buy a lot of work-out wear each year. Brian Sozzi is an equity analyst at Wall Street Strategies.

Brian Sozzi: The yoga apparel market, the way I think about it, is over a $30 billion opportunity, believe it or not, at this point.

Athleta is a big part of that market, a popular California-based brand that Gap bought in 2008. Till now, you could only get it online or from the catalog. Shopping like that can be a roll of the dice: Your yoga pants might look great on the fit model, but on you, too tight in all the wrong places.

Gap Direct president Toby Lenk says women asked for a store.

Toby Lenk: The vast majority of them will not buy these types of products unless they can actually try them on in a physical store. It's actually quite important for her to touch and feel the product.

A store presence could also eventually help Athleta face off against one of its top competitors: LuluLemon. The brand has close to 200 stores and opens up 40 to 50 new ones each year. And Lululemon has an edge with yoga lovers, for a rather un-yogi-like reason: the clothes make your butt look good.

Bridge: I've heard people say that.

Lisa Bridge owns the Yoga Sutra studio in midtown Manhattan.

Bridge: Their cuts are very flattering, and they're sturdy. And especially for yoga, they're cut in a way that works with the practice.

Now that customers can check themselves out in dressing rooms, Gap hopes women will decide they look just as good in Athleta as they do in Lululemon.

In New York, I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.


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