Athleta is an activewear brand that exclusively sells female clothing across Canada and the United States.
The company, which is headquartered in Petaluma, California, was founded in 1998 by Scott Kerslake.
Now, a male founder only selling female clothing might certainly sound oxymoronic but that hasn’t stopped Athleta from becoming a dominant force in the athleisure industry.
Founder Kerslake, who worked in investment banking at the time and was an avid cyclist and surfer, had many women in his training groups that complained about their clothing. At the time, female athletic clothing was essentially a bad copy of their male counterparts. In the industry, people referred to this phenomenon as “shrink it and pink it.”
After raising $700,000 in seed founding, Kerslake recruited a predominantly female team to work alongside him. By the end of 2003, Athleta was able to grow its annual sales to $30 million. A year later, founder Kerslake departed from the company due to alleged disagreements with Athleta’s shareholders.
Athleta, however, continued to grow at a rapid pace. In 2008, the company was sold to fashion powerhouse Gap Inc. for $150 million. Throughout the years, Athleta expanded into new categories such as clothing for girls and even everyday-wear. In 2018, the company became a certified B Corp, reinforcing their commitment to business as a force for good. Athleta, furthermore, works together with stars like Alicia Keys and Simone Biles to release dedicated designs.
Its growth has also translated into very impressive revenue numbers. In 2021, Athleta generated $1.45 billion in income. Gap expects Athleta to reach the $2 billion mark by the end of 2024.
The company employs close to 3,000 people and operates over 200 stores on top of that. More than 800,000 people follow Athleta on Instagram.
The methodology with which competitors of Athleta are ranked is based on a variety of data points. Information such as the revenue generated, the number of employees, valuation, Instagram followers (one of the main sales channels for DTC brands), and anything else that’s relevant is being considered.
To ensure comparability, this analysis takes brands into account that offer both female and male athleisure clothing (since there aren’t many female-only fashion companies). Some of those brands, especially the larger ones, may furthermore offer other types of clothing and equipment.
So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the top 11 competitors of Athleta.
Headquarters: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada Founder(s): Chip Wilson Year Founded: 1998
Lululemon is probably the biggest rival to Athleta when it comes to pure-play athleisure products. Chip Wilson started the business as a design studio by day and yoga studio by night but eventually pivoted it towards clothing in late 2000.
The continuous growth culminated in the firm’s IPO in 2007, allowing it to raise $327 million in the process. Today, Lululemon is valued at an eye-popping $48 billion and generated $6.3 billion for 2021.
Lululemon was able to diversify into new categories as well. In June 2020, they purchased MIRROR for $500 million to offer workout programs to their customers.
Lululemon is a global company operating 500 stores and employing 25,000 people. Having four million fans on Instagram is a testament to the following it has.
Interesting side note: founder Chip Wilson chose the Lululemon name to make it more appealing to Japanese customers who generally had a tough time pronouncing Western names.
Headquarters: Beaverton, Oregon, United States Founder(s): Philip Hampson Knight Year Founded: 1964
Nike is the undisputed leader in sportswear, from its own labels to companies such as Jordan, Converse, Starter, and Umbro that it owns.
The Nike brand has a following of more than 210 million on Instagram. The company operates over 1,000 retail stores and employs more than 75,000 people.
In 2021, Nike, which doesn’t disclose athleisure sales, generated $44.5 billion (up 17 percent) in annual revenue. Its brand power is, furthermore, exemplified by the close to 45 percent margin it generates on every sale.
Headquarters: Herzogenaurach, Bayern, Germany Founder(s): Adolf “Adi” Dassler Year Founded: 1948
Adidas is the next company on this list that certainly doesn’t need any introduction. Throughout the decades, it has not only been synonymous with sportswear but fashion as well.
This is probably best exemplified by its Adidas Originals brand. More recent examples include its collaboration with rapper Kanye West to create the Yeezy brand. Adidas Originals itself has more than 34 million followers on Instagram, signaling the reach that brand alone has.
Adidas employs around 55,000 people worldwide and for the fiscal year 2021, it managed to make €21.2 billion – an increase of 15 percent compared with the previous year.
Headquarters: Herzogenaurach, Bayern, Germany Founder(s): Rudolf Dassler Year Founded: 1948
Puma was started by the brother of Adidas founder Adi Dassler after the two had a personal falling out (both were Nazi party members, with Rudolf widely being believed to be the more ‘passionate’ one).
Puma has a long-standing tradition of sponsoring leading football teams for decades and due to this, it is one of the world’s top brands when it comes to sports. Nowadays, Puma sponsors athletes like Neymar or Lewis Hamilton and cooperates closely with stars such as Selina Gomez.
In recent years, it has shifted its strategy towards athleisure clothing, releasing hundreds of different designs with a focus on fashion.
Puma, which has over 12 million Instagram followers, operates around 830 stores across the globe while employing over 15,000 people. Its current brand momentum led to a record-setting year. In 2021, Puma generated $7.7 billion in revenue (up from the $5.9 billion it made the prior year).
5. Sweaty Betty
Headquarters: London, United Kingdom Founder(s): Simon Norton, Tamara Norton Year Founded: 1998
Sweaty Betty is an activewear brand coming out of the United Kingdom. It was founded by husband-and-wife duo Simon and Tamara Norton after the latter became frustrated with the lack of activewear options available to females.
They started out with a store in London’s Notting Hill district in which they sold both their own as well as other clothes. Over the coming years, Sweaty Betty expanded by opening new stores while its founders raked up Retailer of the Year and Entrepreneur of the Year awards.
The founders, after raising some private equity money in 2015, ultimately decided to sell the business in August 2021. US-based Wolverine Worldwide paid £300 million to acquire the company.
Today, Sweaty Betty operates 60 stores across the world and employs over 700 people. Revenue-wise, the company generated £126.5 million in 2020, up from the £72.9 million it made the year prior.
6. Beyond Yoga
Headquarters: Los Angeles, California, United States Founder(s): Jodi Guber Brufsky, Michelle Wahler Year Founded: 2005
Beyond Yoga is an apparel company that specializes in designing and distributing clothing for both women and men inspired by the practice of yoga.
The company, which remains founder-led, was successfully sold to jeans maker Levi Strauss for $400 million in August 2021. Levi, at the time of the acquisition, said that Beyond Yoga’s 80 employees and the brand itself will add another $100 million to its annual revenue.
Beyond Yoga currently sells the clothing through its own online store as well as by working together with other retailers and yoga studios. 370,000 people follow the brand on Instagram.
Headquarters: El Segundo, California, United States Founder(s): Adam Goldenberg, Don Ressler, Kate Hudson Year Founded: 2013
Fabletics is the brainchild of actress Kate Hudson who was able to utilize her celebrity status to establish an athleisure brand that acts as an alternative to pricier workout clothing options like Lululemon.
While Hudson stepped back from an active role in the company in late 2021, it continues to be led by its other co-founder Adam Goldenberg. Fabletics frequently partners with other celebrities such as actors Demi Lovato, Liza Koshy, or Vanessa Hudgens.
The company, which operates more than 50 retail stores and employs over 800 people, generates around $500 million in annual revenue per year. A whopping 1.9 million people follow the brand on Instagram.
Headquarters: Solihull, United Kingdom Founder(s): Ben Francis, Lewis Morgan Year Founded: 2012
Gymshark is the fashion brand that’s most synonymous with the rise of social media. It has made a name for itself by working together with (Instagram) influencers who would promote his gear in return for joining its prestigious Gymshark Athletes influencer program.
The company, in order to remain nimble and quickly react to new trends, has refrained from opening any physical retail locations. However, this is set to change in 2022 as Gymshark will open stores in selected and high-trafficked places.
Its online-only strategy has certainly paid dividends so far. In 2021, Gymshark generated £400 million (around $550 million) in revenue. The company, which has more than 5.6 million Instagram followers, employs over 1,000 people across its 55,000 square-foot campus in Solihull.
Headquarters: Carlsbad, California, United States Founder(s): Beaver Theodosakis Year Founded: 1992
prAna started out designing clothing for outdoor enthusiasts but soon pivoted into other sports such as yoga. These days, it offers almost any type of fashion product imaginable.
Its outdoor focus, as well as continuous growth, led the company to be acquired by Columbia Sportswear for $190 million in 2014.
For the fiscal year 2021, prAna, which employs over 300 people, generated $142 million in revenue (slightly up from the $132 million it made in 2020).
10. Outdoor Voices
Headquarters: Austin, Texas, United States Founder(s): Matt McIntyre, Tyler Haney Year Founded: 2013
One rather new entrant in this list is Outdoor Voices, which sells clothing that is primarily aimed at runners. Tyler Haney founded the company after completing a business program at the Parsons School of Design in New York.
In its early days, the company sold so-called rec kits, allowing trainees to pair compression tops and matching leggings. Much like Gymshark, it grew its following via Instagram and other social media platforms.
Outdoor Voices, which has racked up half a million followers on Instagram, went through a heavy restructuring process in 2020, which led to the departure of founder and CEO Haney (as well as the closure of a few stores).
Despite those issues, the company seems to be in a healthy state. It employs over 200 people, has raised $64.4 million in funding, and continues to operate 12 retail stores across the United States.
Headquarters: Ventura, California, United States Founder(s): Yvon Chouinard Year Founded: 1974
Patagonia, when it comes to sheer awareness and brand strength, is certainly one of the most beloved companies in the athleisure and outdoor space – making it a suitable competitor to Athleta.
The DNA of Patagonia is grounded in its social purpose. For example, it donates one percent of its profits to non-profit environmental groups. It also rejects fast fashion. As a result, it not only produces long-lasting products but even offers a repair and reuse program.
Patagonia remains in private ownership. Previous reports, which were released prior to the pandemic, have pegged its annual sales at $1 billion. It, furthermore, employs over 2,500 people.
Ironically and tragically, Douglas Tompkins, the founder of The North Face (one of its main competitors in the outdoor space), died in December 2015 during a kayaking trip. Where? In Patagonia, Chile.
Who Actually Owns Athleta?
Athleta is owned by fashion retailer Gap Inc., which paid $150 million to acquire the company back in September.
Gap was able to scoop Athleta up on the cheap after the company struggled financially due to the great financial crisis.
It purchased Athleta from Blue Highways Holdings LLC, which acquired a majority interest in Athleta back in January 2006.
As a result of the acquisition, Gap added Athleta’s clothing to its own online and offline stores, which immediately boosted its revenue.
The purchase has certainly paid dividends over time. Gap recently said that it expects Athleta to reach annual revenues of $2 billion by the end of 2024.