By Parija Kavilanz, CNN Business
Lululemon unveiled a new product Tuesday that speaks to the upscale brand’s ambition to expand into new categories.
The athleisure company, known for its leggings and yoga pants, introduced a running shoe for women called Blissfeel. The shoe marks Lululemon first-ever foray into footwear.
The move sets Lululemon Athletica up as the newest entrant in the fast-growing, highly competitive athletic footwear market, which saw annual sales grow 20% in 2021 over the prior year as consumers gravitated to more casual dressing during the pandemic, according to market research firm NPD.
The company said its Blissfeel shoes will be available for purchase beginning March 22 in select stores across North America, China, the United Kingdom and online.
The sneaker, priced at $148, is made with foam cushion technology and comes in 10 colors, the company said.
Lululemon said the footwear is designed to focus on the unmet needs of active women.
“We intentionally started with women because we saw an opportunity to solve for the fact that, more often than not, performance shoes are designed for men and then adapted for women,” Sun Choe, Lululemon’s chief product officer, said in a statement. “That didn’t sit well with us.”
The brand is rolling out three additional footwear options for women this year that include a cross-training shoe, a training shoe and what it’s calling a “post-workout” shoe.
“This is a big deal,” said NPD’s senior industry advisor and footwear analyst Matt Powell. “This is the first time a major brand is making a sneaker specifically for women. Basically what the brands sell in this space are smaller versions of men’s shoes. This is a dirty little secret of the industry. Lululemon is building a shoe from the inside out uniquely designed for women’s feet.”
The company said a separate footwear line for men will debut next year.
Lululemon signaled its intention to expand into footwear in 2019, when company executives said during an analyst event that they saw “white space” in the category that they hoped to take advantage of.
The move now pits Lululemon against industry leaders Nike and Adidas as well as trendier brands such as On and Allbirds.
“On the surface, making this play in sneakers is sensible as it’s a massive market and one which naturally complements Lululemon’s other athleisure products,” said Neil Saunders, retail analyst and managing director at GlobalData Retail.
“That said, people are very wedded to brands like Nike, so Lulu is going to have to differentiate strongly if it wants to make an impact,” he added.
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