Superstar gymnast Simone Biles is leaving Nike Inc. departing the sneaker juggernaut’s roster for a new apparel partnership with Athleta that she says more closely reflects her values.
The relationship, which will be announced Friday, is a major coup for the smaller, women’s activewear brand, which was founded in 1998 and is owned by Gap Inc.
It comes after Athleta signed a partnership in 2019 with sprinting champion Allyson Felix, a former Nike athlete who had criticized the company for failing to support pregnant athletes. It also comes days after Nike’s partnership expired with the estate of basketball player Kobe Bryant.
Biles did not directly criticize Nike in an interview, but emphasized what had attracted her to Athleta.
"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. "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."
A Nike spokeswoman said that "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."
With Athleta, Biles will have her own performance wear line, including products for wearing to and from the gym.
She said the company has also pledged to support the post-Olympics gymnastics tour that she is planning to mount herself, rather than the usual tour backed by USA Gymnastics, the sport’s national governing body.
The tour could help reshape professional opportunities for elite gymnasts for years to come.
Athleta and Biles said that the company would give her a platform to be an activist participating in "honest conversations" with women and girls, and that she felt that with a predominantly female design team, she was joining a company that was "truly for women by women."
Asked if she felt that she couldn’t have had her own line at Nike, Biles said: "Not necessarily, but I also feel like Athleta is committed to diversity and inclusion, of all women, backgrounds, ages, sizes, abilities and races."
Over the years, a number of athletes have left the packed endorsement roster of Nike to be the face of another brand.