Gap’s New Athleisure Brand Is More Interesting Than You Think

Gap’s new performance brand, Hill City, comes off as standard-issue athleisure.

Nobody knows how athleisure is doing. Last fall its coffin seemed all but nailed — “Athleisure is dying,” “How Many More Laps Are Left for the Athleisure Trend,” “Athleisure Is Dead. Long Live Athleisure,” read the headlines. By the spring it was back though (“Sorry, But Athleisure Is Not Dead,” “No, Athleisure Is Not Dead,” “The Athleisure Trend Is Far from Dead”). Gap clearly thinks that it’s alive and kicking, at least enough to launch a new sportswear brand for men called Hill City (the name is inspired by the topography of its home city of San Francisco).

Athleisure apparel tends to follow a particular checklist of design guidelines: clean silhouettes, muted colors, minimal branding. Hill City follows all of these rules and offers all the necessary pieces (running shorts and multi-sport shorts; a light training hoodie and a heavier one for everyday use; lots of t-shirts), but it offers some items that are less common in the performance/lifestyle category and seem inspired more by outdoor brands. Trail pants, a three-layer shell and a sherpa fleece jacket are the standouts. Perhaps that’s why Jeff Johnson, a photographer and director best known for his work for brands like Patagonia and Yeti, is plastered on the brand’s inaugural catalog. And while many have been quick to compare Hill City to Gap’s female-focused brand Athleta, its influences appear drawn from a much wider net, one that includes Goldwin, Aether and even Patagonia.

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