Athleisure evolution: From fad to core category

Beyonce Ivy Park 1

Ivy Park by Beyoncé

If you wanted evidence of how athleisure is boosting the activewear market, look no further than the latest Mintel report. The researcher expects a record £7bn in UK sports goods sales this year, that’s a 7% rise in a retail market that’s not exactly on fire at the moment.

No surprise that this growth isn’t because we’re all going fitness crazy. Half of people who bought sports clothes, shoes and equipment in the past year did so for non-sports use, Mintel said. Not quite sure what non-sports uses they’ll be putting their sports equipment to, but I can see how all those sales of trainers, crop tops and leggings are really as much about comfort in everyday life as getting fit.

Admittedly, lots of product is also being bought for sports use, after all, there’s no way the 54% of Britons who bought sports goods in the past year all did so because of the athleisure trend. But Mintel still says that as many as 34% of consumers have bought sports clothing as a fashion statement and 11% have bought-into celebrity collections.

And while the reasons we buy sports gear are changing, so are the proportions in which we buy it. Mintel says that clothing will account for 54% of all sports goods sales this year, but that down from 59% as recently as 2014, while footwear will account for 34%  (up from 29%). A lot of that is for non-sports use and makes me think that the trainer/skate shoe trend in becoming even more entrenched.

Louis Vuitton, Louis Vuitton, Versace, ALC, M Missoni, Fendi, Emilio Pucci, M Missoni, Alexander McQueen Resort/pre-summer 2017

Louis Vuitton, Louis Vuitton, Versace, ALC, M Missoni, Fendi, Emilio Pucci, M Missoni, Alexander McQueen Resort/pre-summer 2017

As a result of all this the high street has expanded its athleisure offerings with consumers now able to buy specialist product from H&M, Zara, Mango and Topshop (with its much-publicised Ive Park by Beyoncé line. Designer brands are responding too with an evolution of sports luxe that’s much more about athleisure as a regular category rather than a here-today, gone tomorrow trend.

Much of the product we’re seeing at both high street and designer level may ostensibly be about sport, but the focus on style means the fashion industry is recognising how important the non-sporty athleisure customer now is.

Pumping iron or posing?

Millennials now want comfort as well as style and support. In the athleisure age that means sports bras like these from Victoria's Secret

Millennials now want comfort as well as style and support. In the athleisure age that means sports bras like these from Victoria’s Secret

But Mintel also said that the rise of athleisure has gone along with increased interest in fitness and well-being. The company said 53% of UK consumers now say they take part in sport at least once a week and 16% exercise five times a week or more (eek). In the 16-24 age group, that latter figure shoots up to 28% and it’s these consumers who are most likely to buy sports products. In the past year, 75% of them said they’ve made a purchase.

Big sporting events are a key driver of sales with a 7% leap during London 2012, which means the current Rio Olympics are also likely to be a catalyst.

So, when we buy sports clothing and shoes, what are we actually doing with them (apart from posing)? Well, if we’re men, relaxing, working and doing lots of general non-sporty things seems to be a priority. While half of people overall buy sports goods for non-sports use, that rises to 55% of men, which is perhaps unsurprising given how many men wear trainers, joggers and hoodies as much as other clothing.

Stella Sport by Stella McCartney/Adidas

Stella Sport by Stella McCartney/Adidas

Those people who do buy sports goods for actually doing some kind of sport are mainly focused on running/jogging (45%), while 28% buy new stuff to go to the gym and 23% for cycling. Only 7% cite yoga and pilates as the reason for their purchases, although going to the gym might also take those activities into account. And 7% also buy new gear for playing rugby.

Bizarrely, beauty and grooming products will also figure more prominently in consumers’ sports goods spending, Mintel believes. As many as 37% of consumers said they’d be interested in buying products like creams that reduce redness post-workout. And in the 25-34 age group, not only do 34% say they’d be interested in buying such products but another 23% have already made a purchase.

Expect the beauty industry to respond with a spate of launches very soon.

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