Simone Biles, a four-time Olympic gymnastics champion, has signed a new clothing contract with Gap’s Athleta brand, ending a nearly six-year relationship with Nike.
Biles, 24, now the most decorated gymnast in world championship history, said in an Instagram post Friday that she wanted to partner with a brand that shares her “passion for empowering girls to grow and own their limitless potential.”
“They are committed to diversity and inclusion, which was a critical characteristic I looked for in a partner,” she said.
The decision is a setback for Nike, which has attempted unsuccessfully for years to expand in the competitive market for women’s sports apparel, launching yoga, plus-size, and maternity collections.
“What Nike has historically undersold – or at the very least undermonetized – is womenswear,” Michael Faherty, fund manager at Adidas and Nike investor Seilern Investment Management, explained. “All you have to do is look over at Lululemon to see the phenomenal success they’ve achieved in the womenswear space.”
Nike has spent millions building partnerships with Biles and other prominent athletes, including Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, while it competes with Lululemon and Under Armour. Nike’s womenswear sales growth has outpaced that of its other brands over the last eight quarters as a result of these offers.
Athleta, established in 1998 as a brand for female athletes, announced plans to collaborate with Biles on an activewear line and other signature items.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the brand has also vowed to sponsor Biles’ post-Tokyo Olympics gymnastics tour, which she intends to organize independently, rather than through the governing body USA Gymnastics.
Nike declined to comment on Biles’ departure when contacted by Reuters.
This is not the first time a Nike-sponsored athlete has joined Athleta. Allyson Felix, a six-time Olympic champion, joined the Gap-owned brand in 2019 following an opinion piece in the New York Times in which she said she faced pay cuts from advertisers like Nike as a result of having children.
Nike later committed to not penalizing pregnant athletes financially. Additionally, the organization has developed a reputation for speaking out on social issues, combating racial inequality, and expressing solidarity with some protesting athletes.