Yoga-inspired athletic apparel company Lululemon Athletica Inc is launching a new brand concept targeting tween girls as it looks for new ways to expand its business.

The new concept, called Ivivva Athletica, is being tested in three standalone stores in the Canadian cities of Vancouver, Victoria, and Calgary, which are slated to open in November in time for the holiday season.

The shops will sell athletic products for girls aged 6-12 years old, with garments designed for sports such as gymnastics, dance, figure skating, field hockey, track and field and soccer.

"We believe this market is underserved and we are excited to create something to inspire a younger generation to be physically active," noted CEO Christine Day.

Lululemon will replace the existing Oqoqo stores in Vancouver and Victoria with the Ivivva format, and will integrate its Oqoqo organic line into the Lululemon range.

INSIGHT

Lululemon is the latest in a long line of retailers to target the tween clothing market - a sector that many analysts believe is more resilient than the overall apparel category to the downturn in consumer spending.

Parents typically purchase a large portion of their tweens' clothes, and are more likely to cut back on their own expenses than their children's.

Furthermore, tweens are often free to spend the money they earn or are given on whatever they choose. And because they outgrow their clothes, they buy on a shorter replenishment cycle.

Stellar performers at the top end of the tween age bracket include Aeropostale and The Buckle, which both posted increases in same-store sales in July as shoppers snapped up their trendy jeans and accessories.

The Buckle posted a 2.8% rise in same-store sales for the month, while Aeropostale's were up 6%. Another top player was American Apparel, which saw its same-store sales jump 25% in July.

One of the few retail concepts to launch in the US this year was the "P.S. from Aeropostale" store format which targets pre-teens, and new tween lines inspired by TV shows True Jackson VP, Jonas and Wizards of Waverly Place are hitting stores including Walmart, JC Penney, Kmart and Sears.

But the sector is not without its challenges too. One of the biggest surprises this year was the sale of Tween Brands to Dress Barn in a stock-swap deal worth around $157m.

The move was widely seen as a bailout for the girls' fashion group, operator of the Limited Too and Justice stores, which was struggling with bank debts of $165m and tumbling sales.

And at the end of last year, retailer Saks Inc decided to shutter its unprofitable Club Libby Lu tween girls' chain to focus instead on its department store business.

Lululemon says its decision to launch the new Ivivva format comes in response to requests from existing shoppers seeking athletic garments for a younger age group using the same signature fabrics and technical design features as the Lululemon line.

But instead of simply offering smaller versions of adult apparel, it plans to tailor the designs to its new, younger customers.

Industry observers believe this strategy could work, taking the retailer to a new and under-served market with a new brand that should appeal to active kids as well as their parents who already shop at its namesake stores.

Lululemon in June said it was pleased with its "ability to continue to bring our customers through our doors to make full price purchases," although an 8% drop in same-store sales suggested it needs to find new ways to make shoppers part with their cash.

New store openings helped the Vancouver based retailer lift first quarter revenues by 6% to $81.7m, but profit fell 23.5% to $6.5m.

Looking ahead to the second quarter - whose results are reported next week - it said same-store sales are likely to fall in the middle-single digits on a constant-dollar basis.