Gap Inc. on Monday named former Alo Yoga executive Chris Blakeslee as the new president and CEO of its Athleta brand, effective Aug. 7.
Athleta CEO Mary Beth Laughton left abruptly in March, as sales at the once-fast growing activewear label faltered amid “product acceptance challenges.”
Blakeslee most recently served as president of DTC fitness brand Alo Yoga and its sibling company Bella Canvas, an apparel basics wholesaler that expanded into retail during his tenure. Before that, he had senior positions at wholesale distributor Alphabroder.
Athleta, which has long positioned itself around women, is turning to a man to lead its next chapter of growth.
"While the appointment of a man to the CEO role of Athleta, a brand focused on empowering women, will undoubtedly face some public scrutiny, it will likely be short-lived if Chris can clearly demonstrate his role as an ally to women early on," Erica Grant, partner and head of the leadership talent practice at Lotis Blue Consulting, said via email. "Loyal Athleta customers will be watching for Chris to be steadfast in ensuring the 'Power of She' is a guiding force for the organization, his leadership approach, and any business decisions he proposes.”
The brand unveiled its “power of she” marketing seven years ago, with Nancy Green at the helm. In a statement, Blakeslee suggested the slogan will continue to be a guide.
"There is something really captivating about the 'Power of She' when it comes to engaging women and girls in all aspects of life, and I can't wait to jump in with the teams to harness this in a way that will further serve customers' wants and needs," he said.
In its release, Gap Inc. said that under Blakeslee, ”Alo Yoga focused on a fashion-forward approach to wellness, building community and brand awareness with high-profile influencers, as well as store and category expansion to drive growth.”
Athleta is likely hoping to replicate aspects of the 16-year-old DTC yoga brand's success under Blakeslee, according to Barbara Kahn, professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Last year, Gap Inc. maintained its target of $2 billion in annual sales for Athleta, with some analysts contemplating a spinoff. But in its most recent quarter, its net sales fell 11% to $321 million, with comps down 13%.
“Alo has been on a real tear — they are opening stores all over, their brand has been embraced and loved by fitness fanatics — it’s done very well,” Kahn said by email. “If [Blakeslee] can bring some of the magic to Athleta which is one of the stronger brands in the Gap portfolio, that would be great for Gap — they need a win.”