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Which athleisure brand are you squatting these days?

Which athleisure brand are you squatting these days?

How many of you is or knows a fitness freak? They don’t even need to be OG’s, they can be born-again post covid. These days, it seems as though there is a higher awareness of what it means to pursue a “healthy lifestyle” — and this has led fitness companies who have managed to rebrand their product offerings and marketing strategies accordingly to benefit the sweet rewards of sweat.

As a matter of fact, your grandparents could have never imagined taking a break in the middle of their workday to partake in a set of ab crunches. They also would have definitely never worn yoga pants or tank tops just to go out for a coffee or chai with their friends.

What exactly are fitness companies doing to keep up-to-date with the current market demand? Without further ado, let’s start our 2-part deep dive series on the topic of trends in the fitness industry. This week we’ll explore the trends shaping the athletic apparel industry – and we can’t help but wonder if you are in a pair of Lululemon’s (LULU) whilst reading this. But then again, with it expecting to shoot past its 2023 revenue target by the end of this year, we’re sure a few out there are!

Focusing on niche areas and leveraging tech

Let’s start off by looking at the impressive growth of the athletic apparel industry. The activewear market is one of the biggest globally, standing at an estimated value of $353.5b in 2020. Euromonitor reports that athletic apparel sales grew faster than luxury wear sales over the past five years – so it’s bye, bye Levi jeans and hello Alo pants. In fact, the expected CAGR for the global sports apparel market is 4.8% from 2021-2028. Even non-clothing fitness companies are introducing their own line of activewear to get a piece of cake — Peleton (PTON), we’re looking at you!

But can the athletic apparel industry be oversaturated? Two companies dominating the market (no surprises here) are Nike (NKE) and Adidas (ADS) — and we’re sure everyone recognizes that swoosh and those three stripes! However, a consistently growing number of smaller activewear startups with niche products are finding opportunities to enter the market. One of these is Squat Wolf – a UAE-based startup that utilizes dry knit fabrics to improve flexibility, breathability, and sweat-wicking (more than just cool branding there). Pretty smart move from Squat Wolf, considering that in 2020, products described as “breathable” grew 85%, while those described as “moisture-wicking” grew 39% — yes, we are still talking about sportswear.

There is also a growing interest in how activewear brands are integrating fabric-tech (not sure if we just made that term up, but we’re going with it anyway!) into their products. In response, Under Armour (UAA) launched an entire line of micro-thread materials to improve breathability, while Nike placed its chips on a new collection of tights that manage body heat and improve circulation. Not to mention Adidas’s famous “boost technology” that ensures a softer cushioning for shoes while guaranteeing the same high-level athletic performance – they even went to the extent of calling German chemists for this.

Recognizing sustainability and philanthropy

It’s no secret that millennials and Gen Z are more susceptible to social issues such as sustainability, inclusivity, and philanthropy, and the growing purchasing power of these younger generations has forced the athletic apparel industry to take note.

To give you an idea of how important these issues are to younger peeps, a study conducted by McKinsey and Business of Fashion found that 66% of millennials are willing to spend more money on sustainable clothing. In fact, sports apparel described as “recycled” grew 642% amongst men and 388% amongst women in 2020 — quite literally one man’s trash is another man’s treasure!

On the topic of sustainable activewear, UAE brands were not found unprepared. Take The Giving Moment, an activewear brand designed and manufactured in the UAE. TGM’s products are manufactured with the preservation of the planet in mind. The brand mainly uses two materials for its products: recycled nylon and organic bamboo, made from biodegradable bamboo pulp. TGM also cares about changing the lives of those who need help the most. For every item sold, the brand gives AED 15 to international charities and initiatives such as Dubai Cares and Blssd.

In fact, TGM reminds us of UK-based activewear company Pangaia, which mainly uses recycled materials and seaweed fiber. Just like TGM, Pangaia is active on the philanthropic front and has donated over $100,000 to social causes such as Black Lives Matter and Color of Change.

Adding some star power and curve-lovin’ attitude

Today, 64% of US adults say they wear sports clothes not just for their workouts, but in their everyday lives. This movement has forced sportswear brands to expand their offering to include apparel that could be stylish (and not embarrassing to wear out in public), as well as comfortable.

Millennials and Gen Z closely follow which athleisurewear their favorite athletes and pop culture icons wear — and so, brands are ensuring the right celebs are in their gear. Nike is collaborating with Mat Fraser (aka the CrossFit GOAT), while Under Armour has landed a sponsorship deal with Yusra Mardini (the 23-year-old Syrian icon who swam for the Refugee Olympic team in Rio). Beyond atheltes, Hollywood stars are in on it too! Columbia Sportswear (COLM) just signed Zac Efron and Justin Hartley for a series of web ads.

On the pop star front, Adidas was quick to grab some of Kanye West’s star power to launch their Yeezy shoe collection, shortly after collab-ing with Pharell Williams. More recently, Adidas released the fourth collection of Beyonce’s Ivy Park line — and like all previous drops, Beyonce’s limited-edition pieces were sold out at record speeds (we wouldn’t expect any less from Queen B).

Beyonce’s partnership with Adidas highlights another aspect that has recently hit the activewear industry by storm, and that’s size inclusivity. All 58 pieces from The Ivy Park collection go from XS to 4XL, providing a wide array of sizes that would have never been imaginable for a sports brand just a few years ago. Some large retailers such as Target (TGT) and ASOS (ASC) even went to the extent of launching entire sports apparel lines for plus-size men and women.

why it matters

Changing athleisure market demands have forced activewear brands (existing and new ones) to expand their product offering by keeping up-to-date with the latest all-day-every-day, tech, sustainability, and star power trends. No doubt that the sports apparel industry will have to move fast to keep up in the race of being top of consumers' minds.