Find out what activewear trailblazers are doing well and the six macro trends shaping the future of this untouchable category.
Let’s be real, 2020 was a crappy year for retail. Unless, you were in activewear. The already successful category appeared to be pandemic-proof, accounting for a record high 40% of all online sales last year, according to NPD.
From the lockdown home workout boom to the blurred lines between athleisure and loungewear, activewear was propelled to new heights in 2020. This report uses EDITED Market Intelligence to analyze lessons learned from major sportswear giants and emerging cult brands to inform future trends and continue activewear’s unstoppable force.
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The great outdoors is the new gym
During the first wave, gyms and retailers rapidly shifted their strategies to promote at-home workouts as consumers adjusted to the new normal. Almost a year later and despite a vaccine on the horizon, key regions have found themselves faced with Lockdown 3.0, which the internet has declared hits different. As boredom and frustration builds, is the novelty of home workouts starting to wear off?
2020’s second-most popular “when” search on Google was “when will gyms reopen?.” Worldwide searches for “home workouts” have dramatically decreased since the first wave, showing an uptick ahead of the New Year when activewear and exercise interest is ripe, yet has not returned to April levels.
EDITED data on product performance also backs consumers’ yearning to exercise outside of their four walls. In the latest edition of our webinar series, what’s next for the pandemic hero categories?, we drew attention to the demand for jackets in sportswear brands for both men’s and womenswear, which stood out as an untapped area of investment. With the category’s historical success during a recession and the outdoors acting as a form of escapism, outerwear will be a core trend in activewear for winter 2021 as consumers look to reconnect with nature and as Adventurecore becomes mainstream.
Additionally, the number of products designed for running or jogging selling out of 100% of SKUs online over the first wave outpaced January’s numbers. Sell outs then continued to spike throughout the year, reaching its peak in December. This upwards trajectory is expected to continue as the number of January sell outs so far exceeded last year by 15%. Sell outs for sneakers described with “trail” saw a 31% increase in sell outs YoY, reflecting the increased interest in hiking.
While consumers are gearing to get outside, virtual workouts shouldn’t be ignored. At-home exercise will remain routine in many consumers’ day-to-day life for convenience, as well as with remote working remaining a lifestyle shift to stay even in a post-pandemic future.
However, savvy retailers are pivoting their communications by incorporating outdoor activities that can be done at a distance, as well as evolving and updating any fitness apps, partnerships and online classes to remain relevant when gyms eventually reopen.
Self-care is more than a buzzword
Valued at $4.5 trillion and steadily growing, the wellness industry is lauded as one of the few bright spots in the pandemic economy. As the current state of the world continues to cause greater levels of stress and anxiety, virtual wellness and relaxation is an area where at-home communications will continue to thrive in 2021.
Yoga apparel has long been a staple for traditional sportswear retailers and in fast fashion players’ active ranges. Their continued investment over time proves it is no passing trend. With interest in the activity surging over lockdown, products designated for yoga at pure play active retailers grew 36% in 2020 vs. 2019 across the US & UK with the number of men’s items increasing by 45%, highlighting an opportunity in this ever-growing market.
The retailers investing are reaping the rewards. Despite the pandemic, Lululemon reported optimistic 2020 results. Its e-comm business in North America boosted net revenue by 19% and third-quarter sales rose 22% YoY.
Just as WFH culture fuelled athleisure, the growing need to promote rest and recovery will support active brands’ seamless transition into stocking sister category juggernaut, loungewear. There’s 14% more loungewear products stocked by activewear brands compared to a year ago. This continued shift towards casualization was underscored by the latest runway fixtures, indicating athleisure and loungewear trends will not be left in 2020. Smart activewear stockists know it’s just as essential to promote relaxing in sweatpants as breaking a sweat. Many have already planned updates to their best selling cozy products in this year’s color palettes and fabrics as the trend shows no signs of slowing down.
New year, same great you
Following the ongoing push for greater diversity in retail and fashion, inclusive representation needs to be apparent across all categories and trends in products and advertising. Activewear is no different. Sweaty Betty kicked off 2021 with its New Year’s campaign #RespectYourSweat, starring a mature roller skater, a hijab-wearing boxer, a model with vitiligo and two athletes with disabilities.
Modest and adaptive apparel options are two growing areas within the activewear market, previously underserved, that can not afford to be ignored. In 2020, Under Armor, Tommy Hilfiger and PrettyLittleThing launched hijabs for sport. The global market for adaptive clothing is expected to increase from $278.9 billion in 2017 to nearly $400 billion by 2026 as retailers recognize the necessity of accessible, medically safe and fashionable apparel. Keep wheelchair-friendly cuts, wider neck and armholes, and adjustable footwear in mind for activewear.
With consumers experiencing a new wave of social activism, they will not respond well to exclusion. Retailers need to service and celebrate consumers at all stages of their lives and make activewear products accessible to everyone.
Inclusive sizing will continue to disrupt this category as body shape is no indication of fitness levels. Maternity activewear arriving across the US and UK increased by 147% over the past six months vs. the six months prior. However, this space still remains niche accounting for only 0.2% of products stocked over the past six months in both regions.
There is a growing opportunity for products that evolve with consumers as their body changes. Nike’s maternity range is a great example as it’s designed for pre and post-partum. As the average woman experiences 31 size changes during her adult life while the average man experiences 24, consumers won’t want to compromise their workout essentials for body fluctuations – especially given the importance of movement for mental and physical health during the pandemic.
The healthy lifestyle trend has evolved beyond diet culture, where the detox mentality associated with entering a New Year has become toxic, rendering the overdone January 1st catchcry of ‘new year, new me’ outdated. Retailers have updated their communication strategies to be more encouraging and motivational, inspiring growth instead of change. Reebok’s advertising celebrated the strength and confidence gained from surviving 2020 with the message “new year, stronger you.” Keep these kinds of communications in mind for 2022.
Sustainability is a must-have
Activewear has experienced a significant sustainable overhaul with cult labels and sports brands experimenting with material innovations and eco-friendly designs. In our Sustainability EDIT 2020, activewear for menswear described with sustainable keywords increased 65% YoY, while womenswear was up 45%.
With circularity dubbed as sustainable fashion’s holy grail, repurposing materials are a significant focus in 2021. Recycled styles accounted for 20% of total activewear arrivals from January to September vs. 10% in 2019. Assortments are dominated by recycled synthetic fabrics such as polyester and nylon, which significantly reduces the environmental impact of manufacturing compared to producing virgin materials. Activewear made from recycled polyester has increased by 80% YoY and nylon up 90% YoY. Natural fabrics remain essential in this sector, where organic cotton activewear investment has grown 18% YoY.
The sneaker market’s influence in the resale space and retailer’s investment into technology has led to the introduction of innovative styles setting new benchmarks in the industry.
The Allbirds Tree Dasher, for example, features a flexible one-piece upper made with FSC® Certified eucalyptus trees, a sugarcane midsole and an outsole from SweetFoamTM – the world’s first carbon-negative green EVA. Emerging brand, Roscomar, released a circular range of sneakers made with vegan materials and outsoles of 90% natural and recycled rubber that is biodegradable and carbon-absorbing. The brand offers an end-of-life return program for sneakers to be transformed into new products and resold.
Overall, sneakers described as “sustainable” grew 118% YoY, while those described as “recycled” are up 244%.
The disruption caused by COVID last year may have seen focus shift away from retailers’ sustainability targets. However, the urgency surrounding the climate crisis makes fashion’s most important category no longer a “nice to have” for retailers investing in technology and reimagining alternatives to improve their environmental footprint.
So far, eco pioneer adidas led the way ramping up its efforts, pledging more than 60% of products will be crafted from sustainable materials this year. As environmentally-friendly activewear continues to enter the mainstream, we can expect more high street brands to rethink their offer. Marks & Spencer is the latest, launching its Goodmove range, with over 98% of products from the collection made from sustainable materials.
In August, we reported that major US sports retailers showed an average price decline of 3% compared to six months earlier when the pandemic broke out.
The pattern of average selling prices in the US continues to trend down across almost all core activewear styles in 2020 becoming more accessible during these times of uncertainty. This continued into 2021 across the majority of categories. Currently, tank tops are 4% cheaper than a year ago, while outerwear is 6% and performance sneakers are 7%.
Essentials like leggings and sports bras are the place prices are rising. Since November, the average selling price for sports bras at active retailers have grown. This was inflated by new styles from the premium ethical brand, Ultracor at Carbon38, priced at $130 as well as Lululemon’s temperature-regulating front-zip Enlite Bra retailing at $108. These styles currently make the category 2% more expensive than a year ago, while leggings are sitting 3% higher.
Analyzing the average price points across categories can help retailers plan upcoming ranges and ensure their new season launches aligns with market shifts.
Need help pricing your activewear assortment in this volatile market? Reach out to us.
Another need for elastic pricing will be to react to future technological advancements in this space. Material innovations are synonymous with activewear – consumers want their workout clothes to work harder, while keeping them tucked in and dry. Thinx recently gave activewear the period-proof treatment, allowing women to bleed into the apparel and reducing the need to buy disposable sanitary products.
Used to combat germs and odors, antibacterial and antimicrobial properties and finishes are nothing new within activewear. While no products within the mainstream activewear market are claiming to ward off coronavirus, their surging market presence in a time where hygiene is paramount can’t be coincidental. Activewear arrivals in the US and UK market at sportswear retailers described as “antimicrobial” are up 100% YoY, while “antibacterial” has risen 117%.
When gyms reopen, consumers will be prioritizing their safety during exercise, so this innovation in hygiene tech will continue its upwards trajectory as the industry adapts to the next normal. Brands offering activewear without fully embracing performance face masks and coverings are already lagging behind.