Thanks to the highly connected world that social media platforms have created in recent decades, we are able to pinpoint the moment a fashion trend graduates from being just a passing fad to becoming a cultural moment; such is the case with athleisure, the practice of wearing clothing typically designed for working out in settings other than the gym. Many years ago, the idea of women wearing yoga attire to meet friends at the neighborhood coffee shop was inconceivable; these days, however, this is a normal sight at many Starbucks locations across the United States.
In August 2019, Random House released Jia Tolentino’s first book, “Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-delusion,” a collection of sharp essays by the young feminist writer; one of the pieces within Trick Mirror is entirely devoted to the athleisure trend, and it is dissected in a way that reflects the clever marketing efforts behind it, particularly as it relates to targeting young women. Tolentino notes how athleisure brands such as Lululemon and Athleta present themselves as optimization apparel for women; in other words, offering the suggestion that wearing spandex designed in a certain way projects a certain image, an ideal of being born into a world where young women have to physically look good before they can fit into their garments, which they are then free to wear to the supermarket if they feel like it.
Prior to the publication of Trick Mirror, it was easy to poke fun at athleisure as being highly inappropriate in some situations, but fashion brands such as Athleta, which is part of The Gap, Inc. group, were laughing all the way to the bank. Whether by virtue of marketing or simply because people like to wear it, athleisure is serious business; this much can be discerned by the sponsorship deal signed between The Gap and American track star Allyson Felix, a stylish woman who just happens to be the female athlete with the largest medal haul in history.
By sponsoring Felix, Athleta is making a powerful statement, particularly since the track star has previously criticized former sponsor Nike when the company moved to reduce monetary benefits by 70 percent following her pregnancy. Now that her daughter is eight months old, Felix is planning her return to the track, and she will do so wearing Athleta apparel. The brand is now on track, so to speak, to generate $1 billion in annual revenues, and the Felix deal will certainly help in this regard.
The key to a good corporate sponsorship is that it has to make sense to all stakeholders, and this includes brands, athletes, consumers, and intermediaries. The Athleta-Felix deal makes sense because it promotes more than just athleisure clothing; similar to this sponsorship agreement between a car subscription service and the Washington Spirit club of the National Women’s Soccer League, there are various elements that fit perfectly in terms of lifestyle and empowerment, which is something that needs to be present in all deals that involve a brand somehow being associated with sports.