Are Walmart and Abercombie too late for the activewear party?

Love & Sports: Stacey Griffith (left) and Michelle Smith (right) - Photo: Walmart
May 02, 2022

Walmart and Abercombie & Fitch both recently introduced activewear collections to become the latest chains to jump on the sweaty part of the athleisure bandwagon.

Walmart has partnered with fashion designer Michelle Smith and cycling instructor Stacey Griffith, on a women’s activewear and swim line, “Love & Sports,” with a focus on bold and bright colors. The chain will roll out footwear and accessories this fall.

In a blog entry, Denise Incandela, EVP of apparel and private brands, Walmart U.S., noted that activewear demand has surged during the pandemic, with NPD Group reporting that activewear sales grew 37 percent in 2021. Said Ms. Incandela, “It was only natural for activewear to be the next step in expanding our elevated brands portfolio, and we’re doing it with a bold, exciting brand that fills a white space for high-quality, high-performance activewear and swim without the high price tag.”

Abercrombie has released an activewear sub-brand for women and men, “YPB,” standing for “Your Personal Best.”

Kristin Scott, global brand president at A&F, said in a statement, “We’ve been dedicated to outfitting our millennial consumers for every part of their lives, whether they’re traveling, brunching with friends or celebrating a wedding, for example. Being active is another key part of that lifestyle, and now, with the launch of YPB, we can meet those specific needs.”

Walmart appears to be playing catch up to Target, which last year saw its All in Motion activewear brand become its tenth in-store brand to generate $1 billion in annual sales.

Abercombie in 2015 introduced an athleisure section on its website, “Sport to Street,” but also appears to be behind competitors. H&M Sport was launched in 2013, GapFit in 2016, and American Eagle Outfitters launched the OFFLINE by Aerie activewear sub-brand in 2020. The active category is led by athletic brands, including Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, Lululemon, Athleta, as well as upstarts such as Gymshark, Fabletics and Vuori.

McKinsey’s January “Sporting Goods 2022: The New Normal Is Here,” report predicted continued strong growth for the global sportswear market “as more people commit to leading healthier and more active lives” and work wardrobes become more relaxed.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is activewear a major or minor opportunity for Walmart and Abercrombie & Fitch? What are the keys for each retailer as each competes for a share of the category?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"There’s plenty of room in activewear for Walmart and Abercrombie & Fitch. The market is booming ... The key to both will be assortment innovation."
"No, Walmart isn’t too late because the trend continues to grow and expand."
"With Walmart’s footprint, it should grow the category. Abercrombie and Fitch may face more challenges."

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20 Comments on "Are Walmart and Abercombie too late for the activewear party?"

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Mark Ryski

Launching any in-demand category is worth pursuing, if you can do it well. Activewear is an important category, especially post-pandemic, and it makes good sense that these retailers are re-calibrating to include this growing category. Ultimately, the key to success will be in finding the right product lines and mix that meets the needs of their respective customers, and the new customers they are trying to attract.

Neil Saunders

Abercrombie & Fitch had athletic products throughout the pandemic, and pushed fabrics such as Airknit quite hard. However most of these were focused on athleisure rather than pure athletics. Their latest range, YBP, is more comprehensive and gives customers an option to buy dedicated products for the gym or working out. Neither A&F nor Walmart are too late as this is still a huge and growing category. However they’ve missed the peak growth and they will have to work hard to differentiate against core players as there’s a great deal of supply out there – including from very successful own brands like Target’s All In Motion.

Dave Bruno

There’s plenty of room in activewear for Walmart and Abercrombie & Fitch. The market is booming, and I just don’t see it fading as a category. The key to both will be assortment innovation. They must constantly look for styles/fabrics/fits that align with their unique customer bases and develop dynamic assortments that give their customers reasons to keep coming back to the brand.

Richard Hernandez
Richard Hernandez
Merchant Director
6 months 28 days ago

Athleisure and activewear have grown significantly during the pandemic. I think there is a piece of the pie for anyone that wants to be in that space, including Walmart and A&F. I think at the minimum, the product has to be made well, at a great price, and styles have to be contemporary.

Dick Seesel

True athleticwear (as opposed to “athleisure” meant as streetwear) is a permanent part of customers’ wardrobes and not a passing fad. If anything, as people return to the gym and to outdoor exercise, the growth in this category should continue to be strong. There is absolutely room for retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch and especially a giant like Walmart to turn this into a sales opportunity.

Doug Garnett

Activewear is likely simply smart merchandising to keep in their stores what customers are buying. I doubt that it would be a big opportunity yet it’s certainly never too late to add to your selection the goods customers want.

Carol Spieckerman

Walmart has focused on athletic wear for a while – you could argue to the exclusion of wearable fashion. What has changed for multiple retailers and brands is that the blurry world of “athleisure” is taking a back seat to functional athletic apparel.

Mohamed Amer, PhD

No, Walmart isn’t too late because the trend continues to grow and expand. Walmart is differentiating on style, price, and accessibility. Their size range is wide and welcoming; pricing is much more appropriate for the price-conscious consumers without compromising style, freshness, and name recognition. Abercrombie’s opportunity may not be as attractive as Walmart’s, with higher segment competition and limited upside benefits.

Gene Detroyer

The question for A&F is if and how long the trend will be hot for their target customers. As the discussion notes, the leaders have promoted this category for five years or more. For a fashion-forward customer base, will the customers be onto the next big thing?

The dynamic at Walmart is entirely different. The broader demographic has folks who are just discovering the category — in particular, their customers are much more focused on what is available at Walmart than on shopping for the unique athletic brand retailers.

Neither can ignore the category, but A&F should move forward carefully.

David Naumann

It is not too late for Walmart and Abercrombie & Fitch to carve out their share of the activewear market. Athletic and active clothing is a huge market that continues to grow, as more people are becoming focused on healthy and active lifestyles. There is always room for new entrants as long as you find the right niche and Walmart and Abercrombie & Fitch are big brands with strong brand awareness.

Ken Morris

Walmart will catch up. They always do. They’re never too late. They wait until something is no longer a fad and then step in. (Yes, that “step in” is a reference to their footwear line.) Abercrombie is a slightly different story, but activewear is here to stay — and better late than never. The challenge these days will be more about how to ramp up production with a new line.

Walmart also won’t need to worry too much about activewear sales leading to a snack aisle slump, as most consumers are buying active wear for everyday use. One NPD Checkout survey found that only a quarter of activewear purchases were intended for exercise use.

Jeff Sward

Walmart and Abercrombie may be late but they are not too late. Demand for activewear will only continue to grow. Both retailers can experiment to see just how much of the sweaty part of the business resonates versus the athleisure segment. WFH and a more casual approach to dressing have changed dressing dynamics for some people for at least the foreseeable future. It would be a mistake to not recognize this trend and evolve accordingly.

Liza Amlani

Walmart and Abercrombie are not late to the game at all.

In fact if they didn’t invest in the performance category, I would question their merchandising strategy.

Capturing insights and closing the feedback loop is critical as in any new product launch. Learning from the customer from product mix, gaps and opportunities, fit, aesthetic and sizing is critical as in any journey.

I am excited to see the new assortments and how they resonate with the customer.

David Spear

There’s approximately 150 million consumers who shop at Walmart every week. If the Love&Sports brand does a great job of assortment and merchandises the line with some flair and pop, Walmart has more than enough opportunity to be highly successful in the activewear market.

Rich Kizer

If this trend continues (and I am sure it will) and if the retailer is not well presented in this category fight, regrets will abound!

Ryan Mathews

I think activewear has the potential to be a major opportunity for Walmart, and a potential problem area for A&F. I don’t think a majority of Walmart shoppers are bleeding edge fashionistas so the keys to success for Walmart are the same as they are in any of their fashion subcategories — clothing that is affordable, well-made, durable, and fashionable but not fashion forward. For A&F there is a danger that in being late they may have missed acceptance by their core consumer, a group not fond of playing fashion catch-up.

Gwen Morrison

Walmart can learn from the specialty brands and deliver better value for their shoppers. Michelle Smith can bring a lot to the party as the designer looks at flattering fits and styles that bridge exercising in the the gym to the “around town” wardrobe needs. With Walmart’s footprint, it should grow the category. Abercrombie and Fitch may face more challenges.

Lucille DeHart

Yes, they are both late to the party, but, like other guests who arrive after the crowd, they have an opportunity to make an entrance.

Market size is still strong in the athleisure segment and I would think Walmart should be playing in the value end of the spectrum. Their goal is to capture total share of wallet for their customers from Gas to Grocery.

A&F, however, has more to prove. Their audience is trend and brand driven and it will be harder for them to carve out a niche in this space that competes with Lululemon and celebrity/influencer lines. I agree that innovation is the path forward, but it is expensive and needs to be differentiated from the fitness brands. A&F has a a more challenging road ahead.


The consumers for both of these brands are buying these products and Walmart and Abercrombie were losing market share for these products to their competitors. This space continues to grow and now they are in the game.

Oliver Guy

I could be wrong, but I feel like this is quite a late move for such retailers. This has been a growing category for a few years and many leading retailers have significant offerings. How useful this will be for them will depend on how long the trend continues. Certainly the ease of wear and versatility combined with wide acceptance suggests it will continue — but who know what else is next?

I believed for a while that anything to do with outdoor-adventure may be the next big thing — we see this in love for SUV vehicles, outdoor brands for winter coats and other areas.

"There’s plenty of room in activewear for Walmart and Abercrombie & Fitch. The market is booming ... The key to both will be assortment innovation."
"No, Walmart isn’t too late because the trend continues to grow and expand."
"With Walmart’s footprint, it should grow the category. Abercrombie and Fitch may face more challenges."

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