January is activewear’s time to shine, so we’ve checked in on the activewear market and the main activewear apparel trends to see what’s in store for the rest of the year.
First, the golden question: is activewear still in growth?
There has been so much hype around the soaring activewear apparel market over the last few years, thanks to major shifts in consumer lifestyles. In search of new headlines, the media chases signs of activewear’s bubble bursting, scouring the runways for evidence of dwindling athleisure references. That in itself muddies the real truth behind activewear apparel. First up, forget athleisure – that’s a trend inspired by the consumer shifts. It’s a trend that is still around, sure, but this isn’t where retailers should be focusing their energies. Instead –as active lifestyles are here to stay– it’s apparel that is actually made for movement that is where we should all be digging. According to Global Industry Analysts Inc., sports and fitness apparel clothing will reach $231.7 billion worldwide by 2024. In getting there, how has the activewear apparel market changed over the years, and where will it go next? Here is how a sample of ‘traditional’ sports retailers have increased their assortment over the last two years:
If we look at how much product was in stock at the close of last quarter (Oct 1 – Dec 31 2017) compared to the same period in 2015, we can see a 33% climb. But the reality is that this is a market taking steps forward alongside its consumer. There is clear growth, though it’s not happened suddenly or impulsively.
New players in the game
Where there has been eyebrow-raising growth is at those retailers not typically known for their sports offering. Retailers like Topshop, H&M and Forever 21, as well as those like Net-a-Porter and Matches. Here’s how growth has worked out for a sample of 38 of those retailers:
You can see that this is where the sensation around activewear stems from. While traditional sports retailers climbed 33% in Q4 over two years, these non-traditional retailers rocketed 99%. This makes clear sense. If consumers are spending more of their time in active apparel, they’re spending less time in regular apparel, the core of these retailers’ businesses. So non-traditional sports retailers have had to get in on the game, creating a big spike. Despite the large leap, the total market is only one tenth of the size of the existing sportswear market.
Activewear lines from fashion retailers only account for one tenth of the activewear market.
Recent retailers who’ve entered the activewear apparel market, with their own collections, include Burton, Joules, Ann Summers and Boohoo Man.
How have those new market entrants impacted pricing?
We monitored pricing over time on three core items in activewear: leggings, sports bras and footwear. Our smart AI filters are able to identify what is technical sports apparel from what is simply sports-styled fashion, so we’ve used that throughout this research. Pricing on the traditional sports market has maintained steady, mostly unremarkable growth. This is sure sign of a stable market, not on its knees or in time of critical flux. Pricing at non-traditional retailers of activewear is much more erratic. These retailers are still discovering what the relationship is like with their customers, as well as with their suppliers and manufacturers. Critically, across the board, neither market on any product closed 2017 at a lower average price point than the start of 2015. We’re still growing folks!
Activewear Apparel Trends: what’s working on a product level?
Printed leggings may be dead
Printed leggings, which opened the door for many retailers to enter into activewear with fashion prints, may have had their moment. The digital prints that sold so well for two years are now being switched out for plain colored leggings, or retro-looking block prints.
What’s especially interesting here is that traditional sports retailers have reacted to this shift slower than the non-typical retailers, where there was a 13% decline in new product arriving in Q4 2017, compared to the peak of the trend two years ago. Meanwhile, traditional retailers are still upping their stock on the trend, with a 29% increase in Q4 2017. Non-traditional retailers are better set up to respond to, and move out of activerwear apparel trends than sports brands and retailers. It’s been their business for so long. Traditional sports brands and retailers are largely unused to their fashion moment and have missed key singles in the decline of this trend. They’re more bound to long lead-times, thanks to the technical fabrics they manufacture. These retailers need to harness the power of data to better understand when to buy-in or buy-out of apparel trends.
So what stuff is selling? Matched sets of leggings and crop top or sports bra are working well, in singular, mostly neutral tones. This is probably the Outdoor Voices influence. Sports bras with a fashion element are leading in the non-traditional market, whether that’s complicated or unusual shapes, mesh panelling or intricate straps. Also for women, cropped hoodies that can be worn with leggings at the start of a workout are hotting up, and across the genders, lightweight post-workout layers are in increasing demand.
Everyone wants to be a streetwear brand right now. What luxury to be able to produce limited drops, at high prices and have them consistently sell out to a adoring fans? Street and skate have never been more influential, driven by brands like Off-White, Palace, Supreme, Gosha Rubchinskiy, Hood By Air and Vetements. So it follows that an activewear market looking for new apparel trends would turn to the coolest kid on the block. This year, expect more street emblems, a loosening of silhouette on pre and post-workout layers and palettes aligning.
It should be clear from this data that this market is stable and not one about to burst. But it’s probably not going to keep chalking up double-digit growth in the coming years. There are two golden spots though:
1. Plus Size
Retailers are finally taking note of the fact 100 million American women are over size 14, and introducing lines which reflect that larger women also have active lifestyles. Last year saw Nike added to the plus activewear brands, and next month Universal Standard will launched its line, Game. If activewear brands and retailers don’t make a move into this area of the market, Amazon will be sure to sweep in a clean up.
With more of us consuming more active apparel, there are is an increasing consumer group who wants to do so ethically. Nowadays, 60% of our apparel is made from synthetic fabrics, and activewear uses more man-made fibers than any other category. The conundrum is that activewear needs to be durable, and needs the technical properties of synthetic fabrics. But it means it’s also destined for landfill at the end of its life. In the last two years, there has been a 90% increase in activewear products with ‘odour control’ properties, a 48% lift in ‘moisture wicking’, but only a 36% increase in organic products. That’s about to change. H&M this month launch its Conscious Collection activewear, which uses recycled fibers. With a global footprint, they’ll educate the market on the possibility of activewear that doesn’t cost the earth, both literally and figuratively. We’re in for a great year in activewear!
Want to know what’s in store for activewear in 2019? Here’s the run down Regular vs plus-size activewear assortments The 7 activewear apparel trends of Summer 2018 and beyond The findings here were looking globally – combining men’s, women’s and childrenswear segments – but you could do the same analysis looking directly at your market, segment or product category. Some of the retailers we analyzed were: Adidas, Nike, SportsDirect, Foot Locker, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Target, Topshop, ASOS, H&M, Zara, Urban Outfitters, Net-a-Porter, Matches, New Look, J.Crew and Forever 21. *As reported by the New York Times, citing insights from a study by the Statistic Brain Research Institute.