Ever-evolving variants and supply chain bottlenecks swiftly dashed retailers' hopes for a simpler year. Yet, throughout the turbulence, activewear proved once again to be untouchable and emerged as 2021's MVP.
The already lucrative category is well on its way to accounting for $547 bn globally by 2024. With the playing field oversaturated by sporting giants, fast fashion brands, DTC darlings and luxury powerhouses, investing in Market Intelligence can give retailers a leg up over the competition.
Read on to see our data in action to support activewear’s macro trends for 2022 and beyond.
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The adoption of Gorpcore should motivate active brands to explore other outdoor activities and look beyond the physical world. More retailers are entering the metaverse, whether through gaming or NFTs and active players need to get on board before the trend goes into warp speed.
More than just buzzwords, retailers are tapping into self-care, communicating that rest, recovery and wellness are just as important as getting physical. Yoga products increased 55% YoY with seamless activewear cementing itself as the new loungewear.
Fashion’s reliance on fossil fuels and sporting retailers' commitment to the environment has led to an overhaul in plastic consumption. Recycled plastics make up the majority of activewear described as sustainable, though brands can’t accept this as the bare minimum for reducing their environmental footprint.
Feeling the impact of inflation, activewear across both fast fashion and pure play retailers has seen an increase in advertised average price points. Categories such as outerwear, hoodies, sweatpants and shorts are noted to be more expensive than a year ago, with further price hikes predicted throughout 2022.
How did 2021 shape up?
Though COVID-related factory closures and an influx of early holiday purchasing plagued the movement of goods across all categories, pure play active brands finished 2021 on a high. Nike reported digital sales increased 12%, while Lululemon’s revenue grew 30% YoY.
Using real-time analytics, EDITED found new arrivals available online for active brands in 2021 fell only 0.3% YoY, while majority SKU sell outs surpassed pre-pandemic levels, clocking a 42% increase. The market appeared even more profitable, with 4% less items discounted than in 2019, meaning fewer markdowns were taken to generate sell outs, helping to keep margins intact. Meanwhile, 2022 is off to a stellar start with majority SKU sell outs already up 26% YoY.
Though equaling a smaller proportion of the market, the democratization of activewear and athleisure has seen fast fashion brands expanding their investment in these categories. 2021 reached a new pinnacle, with the number of newness up 21% YoY and 37% vs. 2019. Meanwhile, new products selling out of majority SKU’s for 2021 increased 51%. An early market read of 2022 revealed majority SKU sell outs in this sector are already up an impressive 76% vs. 2021.
Exploring the Gorpcore boom
2020 saw interest in activewear propelled even further due to global lockdowns and a rise in working and working out from home. Even with restrictions easing in 2021, an estimated 50.16% of Americans surveyed by RunRepeat stated they wouldn’t return to the gym. Outdoor apparel is historically successful during a recession and the pandemic created a yearning for simply getting out of the house. Thus Gorpcore (an acronym for “Good Old Raisins and Peanuts”) entered our lexicon and became a key aesthetic on the radar of sports and fashion brands alike.
Active retailers recognized this opportunity and pivoted their assortment to cater to those wanting all-weather gear for hiking, camping and adventuring. Investment in water-repelling outerwear like anoraks and technical zip-ups increased 18% YoY, while trekking boots, sneakers designed for trail running and the like grew 8%. Making up a smaller range and more commonly found within casualwear assortments, gilets available at active brands increased 30% YoY, while cargo trousers and shorts rose 54%.
The success of Gorpcore and interest in apparel for other outdoor activities such as golf and tennis should have retailers eyeing gear for beyond the gym. Luxury retailers have set their sights in this direction, with Harrods tapping Palace for a skateboarding collaboration. Additionally, with new ski collections from Fendi and Prada plus the upcoming Winter Olympics, there’s ample opportunity in ice and snow sports.
Could the metaverse replace the gym?
Beyond activities for the physical world, serving the digital realm is becoming more of a talking point for retailers. After adopting at-home workouts, smart fitness and tech wearables, immersive exercise is projected as the next step. Apps like Supernatural and FitXR which are available on the Oculus Quest are already leading the way and present an opportunity for retailer collaboration. These act as a Peloton for a VR headset where users can participate in a range of activities.
Creating apparel and footwear for both the digital and physical world will be the next frontier of design. Alongside luxury and streetwear, active players are dipping their toes into this market. After experimenting with gaming, Nike acquired virtual sneaker company RTFKT. adidas collaborated with Bored Ape creators Yuga Labs on a physical and digital range for NFT owners, which reportedly made $22mn within hours of its release. With daily headlines of fashion brands blurring worlds, retailers should have a playbook ready.
Seam and worry free
The hero category of 2020, loungewear, continued to land at pure players in 2021, with sweatpants, sweatshirts and hoodies up a combined total of 20% YoY. However, sell outs weren’t as optimistic. Unable to compete with fleece’s pandemic heyday, leggings eclipsed sweatpants sell outs by 43%, while hoodies dropped 7%YoY, with men’s styles experiencing some of the deepest discounts in Q4. However, this trend was more promising at mass brands. Sell outs of sweatshirts climbed 34% YoY, sweatpants, 36% and hoodies, 28%.
While loungewear may have lost some of its appeal, comfort remained at the fore. Offering mobility and flexibility, seamless activewear sell outs rose 8% YoY at pure play retailers in 2021. Riding SKIMS' coattails, the trend continued to explode in the fast fashion market, with sell outs increasing 72% YoY. Not only ticking the comfort box, investing in seamless styles can help lower lead times as the technology used reduces production processes without the need to cut and sew. Brands across both market sectors have banked on this trend for 2022, with Tala and Forever 21 including it in their new year promotions.
With leggings and sports bras driving seamless sell outs, the trend bolsters the growth of yoga wear, climbing 55% YoY across both active and fashion brands. Given the tumultuous few years endured by all, boosting mindfulness, reducing stress and anxiety by supporting mental health can’t be ignored. Amid the flurry of motivational emails pushing sweat-inducing exercise, even non-active brands like John Lewis & Partners, Mr Porter and Mytheresa got on board and promoted activewear to support rest and restoration in their communications.
Sustainability beyond recycled plastics
With environmental innovation topping sportswear brands’ agendas, activewear is a core category being reworked to be more eco-friendly. Pure play products described with sustainable keywords have grown from 13% of online products in 2019 to currently 37% and items described as “recycled” are generating the greatest investment.
The fashion industry has become a hotbed for fossil fuels due to its reliance on synthetic, petroleum-based fibers, ushering in the wave of recycled polyester and nylon products commonplace within activewear. Despite the levels of overproduction and textile waste, the vast majority of recycled polyester comes from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, not recycled garments. While recycled polyester can help minimize the waste and emissions compared to virgin polyester, it shouldn’t be seen as a catch-all for sustainable fashion.
Traditionally, brands had little choice but to rely on third-party companies to provide the most updated fabric technologies. Though now, an increasing number of retailers (spearheaded by Nike and adidas) are exploring in-house solutions by building their own research and development centers to create proprietary technologies, combating both rising raw material costs and the negative impacts of conventional fabrics.
Outside of material innovation, the new year should have active retailers galvanized to work towards net-zero emission targets, considering local production and embracing the circular economy. Though active apparel is not as established in the pre-loved space as, say denim, the sneaker market’s influence in resale should have retailers considering any opportunity for swaps, repairs and refurbishments to divert their products out of landfills and extend shelf life.
Representation is expected
Following the ongoing demand for greater diversity in retail and fashion, inclusivity needs to be embedded within all categories and trends in products and advertising.
Recent standout marketing included Nike’s Own The Floor campaign, starring Trina Nicole, a London-based performer and founder of the UK’s first plus-size dance class. Over the pond, Gymshark continued its North American expansion with its United We Sweat campaign, featuring a diverse cast of athletes across race, gender, size and ability.
Though male-dominated sports often get the most attention from retailers, the global women’s activewear market is forecasted to grow by $37.18 bn in the next four years, underscoring why this sector can’t be ignored. Vice versa, menswear shouldn’t be excluded from female-dominated activities. Retailers have spotted the growing opportunity in men’s yoga apparel and increased product available by 57% YoY.
There’s been an ongoing movement of brands dissolving their plus size ranges into core collections and extending the sizes available to streamline the product offering. In activewear, Athleta and Old Navy actioned this last year. However, dedicated shop-by-fit ranges are still apparent. In pure play sports, activewear with plus size in their product name stocked online increased 71% YoY. Though a minor category, maternity and nursing activewear is up 105% YoY. In fast fashion, Missguided recently launched an active collection, catering to sizes four to 26 and including maternity, tall and petite styles.
Between straight and plus, the mid-size fashion movement is gaining traction, with #midsize accumulating over 1.7bn views on TikTok. This consumer is sized between a UK 10-16 or a US 6-14, representing a significant proportion of the consumer base. However, it remains an under-served area, with the customer often finding the bust and waist too tight or leg lengths too long or short. There’s also ample opportunity for inclusivity in men’s activewear, going beyond waistband sizes, to explore shorter leg and arm lengths for men under five foot eight inches.
Prices are rising
Rising material costs, sustainable innovation and customer demand have all contributed to active and sportswear retailers marking up their retail prices. Even the fast fashion retailers stocking workout gear have hiked their prices. Let’s take a look:
Though still coming in cheaper than the pure players, fast fashion retailers have elevated their prices across all their men’s active categories, with sweatpants and leggings seeing the biggest upswings, around $10. Sweatpants will also cost customers more at their favorite sports brand - they’re nearly $12 more expensive than last year, while outerwear saw the second-most significant price increase. Currently, there is little difference between the price of pure play sneakers and leggings, though, given the volatile market, that’s an area retailers will want to keep an eye on.
Meanwhile, for womenswear, the average advertised price of outerwear at mass brands was driven upwards by technical jackets at Banana Republic’s BR sport, with styles retailing up to $230.00. Outerwear at active retailers swelled from $133.13 to $151.74 - that’s a 14% increase in a year. Fast fashion sports bras prices rose by $2.30 while the sporting market stayed relatively level. As with menswear, prices are expected to climb. Global container freight rates for the first week of January 2022 were reportedly 140% higher than last year. Manufacturing in China is also expected to slow down significantly over the Lunar New Year in February, with shipping prices going up ahead of the holiday.
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