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Exercise Apparel Sales Rise/ Athleisure Clothing Sales Soar, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

While Americans (as well as residents of many other countries from Mexico to China) have been putting on weight, they have also developed a keen interest in sports apparel and workout gear to wear at the gym and in other leisure activities.  This is one of the fastest-growing product categories in the apparel and shoe sector.  Athletic apparel is increasingly worn as streetwear as well, in a trend called “athleisure.”  During the very casual work-from-home trend launched by the Coronavirus, this type of apparel got a huge boost.
Sports apparel is divided into several categories including branded athletic apparel, performance apparel, fitness apparel and branded activewear.  Plunkett Research estimates that for 2023, men’s and women’s activewear and sports apparel sales reached $63.7 billion in the U.S.  Brands in the sector include lululemon athletica, Athleta (which was acquired by Gap, Inc. in 2008), Lucy (acquired by VF Corporation in 2007) and Adidas by Stella McCartney.
Sports and fitness apparel are big hits with consumers in Asia.  For example, in China’s major cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, major brands have very high visibility and consumer acceptance.  In the malls and biggest shopping districts, large stores are devoted to Nike, Adidas and other global brands.  Chinese consumers are eager to be attached to Western sports and sports figures. NBA (the U.S.-based National Basketball Association) has large stores in China dedicated to basketball fashions and accessories, and immense graphics of American basketball stars are visible from streets and sidewalks.
Athleisure is putting the squeeze on sales of support garments such as girdles, body shapers and control-top panty hose.  More women are choosing the comfort of yoga pants over confining slacks, dresses or skirts worn over flattering shapewear.  Shapewear companies are scrambling to reinvent themselves.  For example, SPANX hired former Nike head of apparel Jan Singer to revamp the company’s products, focusing more on lighter, more comfortable everyday wear such as jeans, underwear and bathing suits.  SPANX has opened a small number of retail stores in addition to its wholesale business, and it is making products for men as well as women.
Growth in China will likely continue, as the Chinese government hopes to see a significant increase in its sports industry.  National as well as local leaders are working to promote sports races and tournaments, build new arenas and support television stations to cover events.  Regulatory barriers to sports equipment and apparel companies are being lifted.
Adidas has long-term plans to increase the number of stores that sell its products in China, with today’s total around 1,513 locations.  The company is also establishing soccer programs in Chinese elementary and middle schools over three years, training teachers and operating a national summer soccer camp.  Adidas is hoping to promote soccer in China as effectively as the NBA has promoted basketball in that nation.

SPOTLIGHT: lululemon athletica, inc.
One of the biggest growth stories in exercise apparel is Canada-based retailer lululemon.  Known for high quality, and high priced, yoga and exercise apparel, the company has been growing at a blazing speed while maintaining impressive profit margins.  The firm has more than 670 corporate-owned stores in 19 countries.  Even more impressive were its financial results.  The stores enjoy one of the highest retail sales per square foot rates in the apparel industry.  The firm has done a remarkable job of building a community around its stores, with free yoga lessons and a strategy that sees sales personnel as educators about lifestyle and apparel, while it has attracted legions of professional fitness instructors to act as ambassadors in gyms for lululemon apparel.

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