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This athletic shoe and apparel retailer tapped a DJ to tell its story as part of a rebrand

  • Asics is debuting a new brand campaign called "I Move Me," which features DJ Steve Aoki.
  • The athletic shoe and apparel company aims to reset what shoppers know its products for.
  • It was reported last week that Amazon has plans of its own to grow in the athletic apparel industry with private-label products.
Source: Asics

The sports retail market was already facing headwinds before Amazon decided it wanted to encroach on the space. Now, those pains are only being exacerbated.

Just last week it was reported that Amazon is working with some of the sporting goods' industry's biggest suppliers, looking to create its own private-label lines. It's a move that could threaten companies ranging from Dick's Sporting Goods and Foot Locker, to Lululemon and Gap's Athleta nameplate.

A Japanese-based athletic shoe and apparel brand, known best throughout running communities in the U.S., has decided it won't sit silent any longer.

"It's time to pivot," Asics America Group Chief Executive Gene McCarthy told CNBC. McCarthy said when he arrived at Asics about two years ago, having spent time at rivals Nike, Under Armour and Reebok, he wasn't satisfied with the brand's positioning amid a glut of options from other retailers.

Asics also wasn't acting fast enough or innovating quickly enough with its merchandise, he said. In retail today, speed is key.

"Some of the recent market share shifts [in sneakers] are likely tied to consumers' changing perception," NPD analyst Matt Powell said in a recent blog post. "New shoe releases are sitting on shelves for weeks, as opposed to selling out in hours."

The sports world could take some "important lessons" from so-called fast-fashion players like Zara, Powell added in another post.

After he took the helm at Asics, McCarthy brought in new management, pulled product out of some third-party retailers and even held a "tough" conversation with Amazon, deciding it was best to renegotiate that relationship. Asics won't sell directly to Amazon, he said, but shoppers can still find the brand on Amazon.com through third-party sellers, or those relationships McCarthy has made a priority as CEO.

Nike, in comparison, caved earlier this year when it announced plans to sell some of its product assortment on Amazon's U.S. e-commerce platform.

Starting Wednesday, Asics is repositioning its brand by telling a story that dates back to the company's inception in Japan in 1949. Founder Kihachiro Onitsuka built the brand around motivating children to "move" and be active, McCarthy explained.

Today, Asics is still publicly traded in Japan, and its name is an acronym for the Latin phrase "anima sana in corpore sano," which translates to "healthy soul in a healthy body."

Asics' "I Move Me" campaign, which rolls out online and in Asics' handful of stores on Wednesday, was crafted by working with international DJ Steve Aoki. The shoe company has taken a nontraditional approach, using a brand ambassador who isn't a star athlete, but Asics aims to be unique and hopes to reach a larger audience with its refreshed messaging.

"My life is not only about music and fashion, but also fitness, nutrition and health," Aoki said in a statement.

Aoki is also of Japanese descent. He's already begun promoting the brand on his social media channels, where he boasts millions of followers.

Asics has also promised more nontraditional brand ambassadors for an athletic shoe company to come. The goal is to have a greater voice in an increasingly crowded market.

To many shoppers, Asics is considered a brand for "performance" activity, not so much for casual wear. While McCarthy said he doesn't want Asics to get away from its core and what it does best, he wants to reach more consumers and encourage a healthier lifestyle, just as Onitsuka was trying to do in the '40s in Japan.

In addition to beefing up its online platform, Asics is opening a slew of new stores and growing its relationships with its closest third-party retailers, like Foot Locker, McCarthy said.

To be sure, companies like Foot Locker, Hibbett Sports and Finish Line are facing their own challenges, as big-name brands decide to scale back product in stores and sell more online or through their own channels, like Nike.com.

McCarthy said he's noticed the environment become tumultuous and competitive in recent years. But he doesn't see a world without retail, or without brands.

NPD's Powell has said of Amazon's threat to the market: "To truly be a force in athletic footwear, Amazon must improve its experience and convince brands to give them better product. ... Amazon Marketplace is a challenging business for brands. Since the sales are done by so many individual sellers, the brand has no control over their image, pricing or quality."