Jul 5, 2021

Activewear: Just Another Pandemic-Fueled Boom?

How many times did you read the words ‘pandemic-fueled boom’ in the past 12 months? Chances are you would have read it with reference to brands like Zoom, Netflix, Amazon, and whoever leads the food delivery industry in your part of the world.

It is also highly likely that you would have read about the growth in activewear or athleisure, a term used to describe the segment of apparel that combines the function of sportswear with the comfort of casualwear, usually in a highly accessible and inclusive manner.

Most of the commentary on activewear attributes its popularity to the increased levels of working from home driven by the pandemic. Exercise was one of the few things people were allowed to leave their homes for in many parts of the world and this no doubt contributed to rising demand also.

Look a little closer though and the numbers tell a slightly different story. The latest research data indicates that the global activewear market actually declined by 9.2% during 2020 as most global brands found much of their brick and mortar network closed for long periods. Even some highly impressive levels of online sales growth couldn’t replace what has been lost.

An acceleration of underlying trends

Even if the total market value didn’t increase it seems certain that the market penetration of activewear – the closest proxy for popularity – did increase.

So not quite a pandemic-fueled boom, but more an acceleration of two major underlying trends;

Health & wellness – globally activity levels are increasing across all age groups as there is growing awareness of the various benefits associated with frequent exercise and a healthier lifestyle. The technical yet broadly accessible features of activewear meet the needs of the majority of people, whatever their levels of exercise.

Working habits – even before the pandemic there was an increasing trend towards flexible working as digital technology continues to reduce the need to be physically located in the same place as colleagues. Combine this with the relaxing of workplace dress codes and it explains the growing demand – whether in the office or at home, people want to wear more casual and comfortable clothing.

The opportunities in this segment are for innovations that further develop the main features of activewear that have driven its growth in recent years;

Technical performance – features such as UV protection, anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, and water repellent which until now were considered quite niche will become expected norms alongside quick drying and moisture wicking

Sustainability & inclusivity – consumers are becoming ever more conscious of the environmental and social impact of the clothes they wear and this will only increase meaning greater scrutiny of the manufacturing inputs and labor practices in a brand’s supply chain. Consumers increasingly expect products that are more comfortable, more sustainable, and more size inclusive than those that went before

Substance over form

A forecasted growth rate of 7.9% in 2021, on a much expanded base of potential customers, presents an attractive opportunity for many brands. To succeed, consideration needs to be given to the entire value chain, and with a greater level of transparency than before. A few eye-catching designs or loose claims about sustainability or performance will not be enough.

Brands are increasingly looking to manufacturers that are highly evolved in terms of technology and digitalization to be able to deliver products to market with the agility that consumers expect.

Mindset is replacing cost as the key measure of a manufacturer – their capabilities in collaborating with designers, engineers, and suppliers in order to deliver the required pace of innovation is valued more highly than just a low cost.  

The pandemic-fueled boom may be behind us, but an innovation-fueled boom is ahead.

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