(San Francisco) – Sonoma-based brand Athleta opened its first San Francisco store on San Francisco’s Fillmore street last night with a guest list that was tightly focused: white, upwardly mobile women, 35+ who obsessively buy yoga pants and what can only be described as “performance fashion.”
It was a frenzied atmosphere with hordes of women flooding the 5,000 square foot store and creating a din of excited chattering voices, while servers passed champagne, white wine, and an odd little purple liquid appetizer (Athleta’s logo is in oh-so-timely purple.)
Each zone of the store is designated by activity, so there is (of course) “Yoga,” “Hike Explore,” and oddly, “To Fro,” which I never quite figured out.
Three years ago the brand approached Gensler to design their retail prototype and there were many false starts as they considered how and when to enter the market. No doubt the Gap was an instrumental part of their strategy, one that benefits both (Athleta is still an independent entity.)
Athleta is of course competing with the likes of the wildly popular Lululemon, Lucy, and Nike and they clearly spared no expense with a sleekly urban loft-like atmosphere kitted out with custom fixtures and mannequins in active poses.
The brand certainly got their money’s worth from their PR retainer. The women who came that night brought to mind those one sees at Breast Cancer “Race for the Cure” type events — or yoga retreats in Thailand. Athleta fits right in with its purple and pink color emphasis, vaguely ethnic patterns (and mandala logo), and activity focused photography.
From the looks of the huddles of Athleta and Gap executives who were watching from the front cashwrap, this was a very auspicious opening party.
Women were charging into fitting rooms (which Athleta calls a “Fit Studio”) with at least five pieces in hand. The very “up with people” salespeople had that vibrant and cheery attitude which can only come from weeks of customer service training. Clearly it was working, and for the first time I saw people turning down a free cocktail in order to shop.
The Athleta store is located at 2226 Fillmore Street in San Francisco. Ph. (415) 345-8501. www.athleta.com