Simone Biles leaves Nike to partner with Athleta: 'They stand for everything I stand for'

Simone Biles is ending her six-year partnership with Nike and joining Gap's Athleta, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday. Athleta announced the news in a release ahead of a larger announcement later in the day.

Biles, the most decorated American gymnast in history, said Athleta more closely aligns with her values. It's a huge loss for Nike, but a massive addition for Athleta after signing Olympic track and field star Allyson Felix in July 2019.

Biles: Athleta signing about 'what I stand for'

Biles, who signed with Nike in 2015, focused on the positives of Athleta rather than any criticism of Nike in her Athleta statement and comments to the Wall Street Journal.

“I felt like it wasn’t just about my achievements, it’s what I stood for and how they were going to help me use my voice and also be a voice for females and kids,” she said, via WSJ. “I feel like they also support me, not just as an athlete, but just as an individual outside of the gym and the change that I want to create, which is so refreshing.”

Athleta was founded in 1998 and branded as "by women for women." Athleta's workforce is 97 percent female, it said, and the company is focused on diversity, inclusion and representation for all.

"Now that I’m older and kind of in the world a little bit more, I see and I know and I learn and I grow from things, so to partner with Athleta, I think they stand for everything that I stand for," she told the WSJ.

The lifestyle brand says it has a "mission of empowering a community of active women and girls" and Biles wants to be a part of it. Biles, according to Athleta, would have a platform to be an activist for women and girls as part of the deal.

Biles appeared on "The Tonight Show" with Jimmy Fallon on Thursday in a white Athleta sleeveless performance top.

Biles will have own performance line

Simone Biles and Jimmy Fallon
Simone Biles wore a white Athleta top during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on Thursday before the partnership was announced Friday moring. (Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Biles will have her own signature performance line with Athleta. The company said in its release It would work together "with a particular focus toward Athleta Girl," the girls line it launched in 2016.

The athleisure line gives girls sporty everyday clothing options divided into categories such as run, swim, training and yoga. Athleta said there's opportunity for "multiple capsule collaborations" for the line.

The WSJ asked Biles if she felt Nike wouldn't produce a signature line for her. She answered, “Not necessarily, but I also feel like Athleta is committed to diversity and inclusion, of all women, backgrounds, ages, sizes, abilities and races.”

A spokeswoman for Nike told the WSJ: “Simone Biles is an incredible athlete and we wish her the very best,” and that “we will continue to champion, celebrate and evolve to support our female athletes.”

Athleta begins building out roster

Biles, a four-time Olympic gold medalist and 19-time world gold medalist, will join Felix at the female-forward company. Felix signed with Athleta in 2019 after a contentious breakup with Nike.

The nine-time Olympic medalist spoke out in a New York Times opinion piece about her experience as a Nike athlete while pregnant. The company wanted to offer Felix, the nation's highest-profile female track star, a 70 percent pay cut after a difficult childbirth. Runners depend largely on endorsement money, and Felix said Nike wouldn't contractually guarantee she wouldn't be punished for not performing her best after birth.

It opened the conversation about pregnant athletes, sponsors and what contractual expectations are expected. Felix signed with Athleta on a "different approach to sponsorship" that included maternity protections. The star is involved in the company's marketing and has her own line of running clothes.

Nike, Kobe Bryant partnership ends

The Biles news bookends a tough week for global apparel giant Nike. The week started with news that Nike's longstanding partnership with the late Kobe Bryant was coming to a close.

The deal expires this month and Bryant's estate is free to negotiate a new deal. He had been with Nike since 2003 and had 11 signature shoes during his playing days.

Trademarks filed by Kobe Bryant, LLC, indicate the estate could be working on its own footwear lines and specifically footwear in kids sizes.

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