JD Sports: Riding high on the athleisure wave

JD Sports is riding the sports-fashion wave

JD Sports is riding the sports-fashion wave

A few years ago, Sports Direct tycoon Mike Ashley vowed to finish off rival JD Sports. Not only did he fail in that aim but JD has gone from strength to strength (while Sports Direct has issued profit warnings) and JD’s latest results show that the athleisure trend is helping it to prosper.

Once upon a time (before the term was even coined) the athleisure concept meant male sports fans wearing football kits for playing football and then their football shirts with trainers for everyday life. But replica football kits only represent 2% of JD’s business, which is perhaps a good thing because today, fashion fans – and female ones at that – are wearing a range of sports-inspired pieces and JD is selling a lot of them.

The runways have reflected the trend (think Chloé’s SS16 tracksuits), and fashion retailers have rushed to offer athleisure lines for both clothing and footwear.

JD Sports get access to the leading brands

JD Sports get access to the leading brands

But JD Sports has been doing it for quite a while and is clearly doing it well as it’s really riding the sports-meets-fashion wave.

It sales in its last financial year rose an astounding 20% to £1.82bn with comparable sales up 12% and profits up 46% to £132m. So, no complaints about fashion missteps or the wrong kind of weather there then!

Exec chairman Peter Cowgill said: “The trend has been moving in our favour. The athletic footwear trend has been growing for some time.”

He cited the usual suspects on the brand front (Nike, Adidas, Fred Perry, Asics) but highlighting the change in sportswear that the athlaisure trend has created, he also said the women’s Pink Soda brand had been strong.

Equally strong appear to be JD’s relationships with all those brands and Cowgill stressed that when they innovate or launch a new product, JD is at the top of the list to gain access to that product.

Of course, that all raises questions about whether JD can continue to prosper when the fashion trend moves on from athleisure. But maybe it has little to worry about. The catwalks may tire of sports at some point, but athleisure appears to have developed a life of its own that should continue to power it through. “I don’t think this is fashion, it’s more of a lifestyle,” Cowgill stressed.

And JD is a good business overall. Its formerly-sluggish Blacks and Millet chains are now “firing on all cylinders” and Cowgill also said JD has a flexible business model that can adjust to developing trends. He admitted that it could be tough to repeat the recent growth but that there are expansion opportunities in both the UK and Europe.

The board of Sports Direct must be so happy about that!

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