J.C. Penney on Thursday unveiled a new iteration of its Xersion activewear line for children, women and men, using performance fabrics and available in inclusive sizing.
The assortment is available now in stores and online, priced between $12 and $70, according to a company press release.
The revamp of Xersion, initially launched in 2008, is the first of similar efforts planned for this year, the company said. It follows changes and launches of other private labels last year, including its Stylus apparel and Linden Street home brands.
Target has pursued a similar strategy to elevate private brands in recent years to great effect. Penney may have had an advantage in Jill Soltau's leadership, widely seen as a talented merchandiser. Soltau left abruptly at the end of December after two years on the job, as new owners Simon Property Group and Brookfield Asset Management took over.
The performance aspect of this version of Xersion follows the approach of Lululemon, which has long boasted its patented textiles. Penney's more affordable brand uses an exclusive fabric it calls Everair that it says is breathable and moisture-wicking. Athleisure and activewear, especially for women, have been rare bright spots in an otherwise troubled apparel sector challenged further by the pandemic.
Activewear's strengths are set to continue this year, according to a report Friday from The NPD Group's Vice President and Senior Industry Advisor of Sports, Matt Powell.
"I expect the athletic footwear and activewear markets will grow sales in the low single-digits in 2021 – above 2020 levels, but still below 2019," Powell said in the emailed report. "Performance running and hiking will lead the footwear categories, while sweatshirts and active bottoms will lead activewear. We can expect many new brands to enter the activewear space, creating competition and noise."
Penney's Xersion line is therefore playing in a crowded space. Moreover, several disadvantages weigh the company down, including persistent turnover in top leadership, declines in the department store sector and its location in malls.