Fashion designer Michelle Smith and SoulCycle instructor Stacey Griffith are launching their activewear line, Love & Sports, at Walmart. The line is designed to be avant-garde, with bright colors and unique fabrics.
Over the past two years, fashion designer Michelle Smith and SoulCycle instructor Stacey Griffith have touched dozens of fabrics, spit out brand names, and tried on samples of sports bras and leggings as they go. lounging at home or sweating during workouts.
Now the New York-based couple are revealing their secret project: Love & Sports, a premium athletic and swimwear brand they’re debuting with Walmart. The new brand hits the big-box retailer’s website on Friday and is rolling out to 1,500 stores.
“I think some of our friends actually thought we were having a baby because we couldn’t talk about something and said, ‘We can’t go. We have something to work on,'” Griffith said.
“I guess we’re kind of going to have a baby,” Smith said with a laugh.
Smith co-founded the high-end clothing brand Milly and designed the dress worn by Michelle Obama in her Smithsonian portrayal. Now she has a new, eponymous line of stylish items, from silk camisoles to alpaca coats, which can cost up to $2,750 a piece.
During this time, Griffith gained popularity as an indoor cycling instructor and did a motivational tour with Oprah Winfrey. The designer and fitness instructor met — and later started dating — through a SoulCycle class.
The fashion-forward clothing collection is another sign of the retailer’s efforts to shake up its reputation and market itself as a place where shoppers can find stylish clothes as well as milk, bananas and TVs.
Walmart launched a growing number of exclusive and high fashion names, including Sofia Jeans, a denim brand developed with actress Sofia Vergara; Eloquii Elements, a plus-size women’s brand inspired by the acquired brand Eloquii; Scoop, a fashion-forward womenswear brand; and Free Assembly, a line of everyday wardrobe clothing for men, women and children.
He’s also harnessed the star power of other fashion names, including hiring Brandon Maxwell – who has dressed famous women including Lady Gaga – as creative director of Scoop and Free Assembly.
Love & Sports will be sold on Walmart’s website and in 1,500 stores. His first collection includes 121 pieces ranging in price from $12 to $42.
Walmart, which still derives the majority of its annual revenue from groceries, does not allocate apparel sales to other general merchandise, such as home decor and electronics.
Denise Incandela, executive vice president of apparel and private labels for Walmart US, said the retailer was drawn to Love & Sports’ unique designs and bold colors. She said teaming up with Smith and Griffith created an opportunity to stand out in a category where high quality usually comes with a high price tag.
The idea for the new brand came about when Smith reached out to Incandela through a direct message on Instagram in the early months of the pandemic. Incandela, a Saks Fifth Avenue alumnus, knew Smith because the luxury chain carried her Milly clothing line.
Smith then shared some initial sketches she had been working on for a few months. “It’s just such a natural extension of Stacey and myself that it almost designed itself,” she said. “It’s just poured on paper.”
Smith, who trained at elite fashion houses like Hermès and Louis Vuitton, said she and Griffith seek to create clothes that fit both budgets and bodies.
The brand’s debut collection features 121 pieces that range in price from $12 to $42. It includes retro running shorts, cropped sweatshirts and seamless bras. It varies in size from XS to XXXL for sportswear and up to XXL for swimwear.
Items have details that blend urban fashion and fitness, such as plenty of pockets for cell phones, invisible inside zippers to secure credit cards, and belts that can be worn high waisted (preferred style by Smith) or rolled up for a low rise. look (Griffith’s preference).
Love & Sports will add shoes and accessories, including sneakers and handbags, in the fall.
Love & Sports debuts with swimsuits. In the fall, the line will include shoes and accessories.
Activewear has become a hotter, but more crowded, area during the pandemic. Sales in the men’s and women’s apparel category grew from $52.3 billion in 2019 to $70.8 billion in 2021, a 35% increase over the two-year period, according to The NPD. Group. The market research group includes all clothing items with active features such as moisture-wicking fabric.
Kristen Classi-Zummo, an industry analyst who covers fashion apparel for the NPD Group, said some observers are betting that as the pandemic recedes, people will go out into the world dressed again and eager to don. a formal dress like in the Roaring Twenties.
Instead, she said, people have been widely looking for comfortable, versatile pieces that fit into a hybrid lifestyle, like pants with enough stretch to allow for a quick walk around the block between virtual meetings or a longer sports bra that can pair with workout leggings as well as jeans and heels.
However, as the category has exploded, so has the number of brands vying for market share. The number of activewear brands has grown from 1,600 in 2014 to 2,400 in 2021, according to NPD. This area includes players from Lululemon and Nike to private labels launched by Target, Kohl’s and Dick’s Sporting Goods.
Classi-Zummo expects activewear to remain popular this year and beyond, but to grow in double digits in 2021 – and that, she said, will increase competition for consumers. .
“We still expect it to grow, but what should a brand do in a market that is seeing less growth and a lot more competition?” she says. “She’s been shopping for gym clothes for years. She doesn’t need another pair of black leggings. What special features, what new fit, what new fabric can you offer her to keep her interested in category ?”
Griffith said Love & Sports was inspired, in part, by a pandemic-related shift to “an era of delicious fabrics.”
She said she once secretly sported the brand in SoulCycle classes, but hid sports bras under tops and wore logoless shorts. Now, however, she is eagerly awaiting her big reveal.