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Footwear for yoga? This brand is betting on it

It's time to give your bare feet a break.

While a flurry of fashion and retail brands have leapt on the bandwagon to grab a slice of the red-hot yoga market, there's one category that's been largely ignored. One company is hoping to change that.

Ahnu yoga performance footwear
Ahnu Footwear

Earlier this month, Deckers-owned Ahnu—a footwear brand that's best known for its hiking boots and female-first design strategy—introduced what it's calling "yoga performance footwear."

Dubbed YogaSport, Ahnu's line includes four styles that target three types of yoga exercises: on-the-mat yoga; low-impact activities such as yoga sculpt; and high-impact yoga classes such as TRX suspension training, which includes yoga-based poses.

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The footwear ranges in price from $49.95 to $129.95.

"There's this trend that's happening with yoga right now, and what we're seeing is apparel really taking off," said Jacqueline Van Dine, vice president and co-founder of Ahnu. "We felt that there wasn't really a shoe that really completed the yoga uniform."

Ahnu first considered the yoga space in 2011, when Van Dine's aunt asked her if there were any shoes she could wear while doing yoga. Van Dine responded by giving her a pair of ballet flats.

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"She said, 'No, no, no, that's too bulky," Van Dine said. "The light bulb went off."

One year later, the brand launched its first après yoga footwear line, designed for women to wear while traveling to and from class.

Ahnu's new line is different in that it's designed to be worn while practicing yoga. In addition to providing a more sanitary workout, the shoes "maximize physical stretching moves" (by allowing more flexibility in the forefoot) and help improve balance (by building stability in the heel).

"The grips allow you to maintain your pose better," Van Dine said.

The "athleisure" trend is one of the few bright spots in apparel retail, which has struggled as consumers allocate more of their dollars to items such as electronics. Whereas total apparel dollar sales were flat in the 12 months ending in November, active wear grew 7 percent, according to The NPD Group/Consumer Tracking Service.

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Footwear has followed suit. While the overall category's dollar sales rose one percent from January through November 2014, athletic footwear sales grew 3 percent.

"While [yoga footwear] won't likely beat out running shoes as the top category in athletic footwear, it does make sense for a niche market opportunity to be the focus," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at The NPD Group.

"At least this trend is more believable than the toning shoe boom from a few years ago. But this time you might actually have to get off the couch to get the benefits of these shoes."

Nike has also tapped into the yoga movement with its Studio Wrap footwear, which it launched in early 2013. The company declined to offer details on the line's sales.

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Ahnu is still in the process of rolling out YogaSport, which it introduced at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in mid-January. It will be sold at select retailers and on its website starting in July. The company is also reaching out to its network of nearly 2,000 yoga teacher ambassadors to get the line into yoga studios around the U.S.

Van Dine said it's too early for the company to set any sales goals, as 2015 will be focused on a "robust" launch. From there, she plans to expand the line to the men's space, though that likely won't happen for another year or two, she said.

"Many brands start with men's and transition to women's," she said. "We start from the women's perspective first."

Deckers, the parent company of Ugg, does not break out sales figures for Ahnu. It will announce its third-quarter earnings after the bell on Thursday.