Why is the athleisure industry in such good health?


No matter how awkward you feel about using the word itself (whatever happened to good old ‘sportswear’?), athleisure is dominating the apparel industry. According to Morgan Stanley, athleisure sales totalled $97 billion last year, rising 40% from 2010. What’s more, the report estimates that the industry could grow by a further 30% by 2020.

Athleisure giants such as Lululemon (which just opened a new flagship on London’s Regent Street) and Sweaty Betty are being joined by a wave of smaller brands including Athleta, Yogasmoga and Outdoor Voices, while high street brands like H&M and M&S are pushing their own fitness ranges. Celebrities (Beyoncé and Kate Hudson, to name only two) have launched their own athleisure lines and even established sportswear names like Nike and Adidas are diversifying their product ranges and creating campaigns designed to up their athleisure appeal.

So successful is the athleisure trend that it’s even beginning to permeate other industries, with a vast range of brands trying to get in on the action. Start-ups such as Tarte, Rae Cosmetics and Sweat Cosmetics are creating make up lines designed for workouts that are being stocked at beauty empire Sephora, while Birchbox’s Arrow range caters for women who want to go ‘straight from pilates to brunch’. With these expansion opportunities come new influencers (or ‘fitfluencers’); male and female social media stars who document their gym routines like a badge of honour, balancing a healthy lifestyle with a glamorous aesthetic and collaborating with brands to flog their products.

Not only is the athleisure industry expanding rapidly in its own right, but research from Euromonitor suggest that the vast increase in sales of sportswear throughout 2016 saved the apparel industry from very weak sales figures overall.

So, what’s driving this seemingly relentless growth? To find out, we took a look at Starcount’s data to try and understand the consumer motivations behind the athleisure trend and to explore which brands have captured the emotional loyalty of these fitness-obsessed shoppers.

While fashion has become less popular as a passion amongst UK consumers, Starcount insight shows that health, beauty and fitness have all been on the rise. For customers of Lululemon and Sweaty Betty, health and fitness is – on average – 1.3 times more important than their second favourite passion. However, fashion is still notably important to athleisure wearers; on average, staying on trend is 58% as important to them as keeping fit. Athleisure’s dominance of the apparel industry therefore makes perfect sense; consumers flock to brands such as Lululemon to satisfy their newfound love of fitness, without having to sacrifice personal style.

When looking at mainstream fashion brands, such as H&M, we can see a very different story.

Unsurprisingly, H&M's audience are first and foremost passionate about fashion; their top media titles are fashion publications and 65% of their favourite social media stars are fashion bloggers, models or stylish celebrities. Fitness and nutrition aren’t at all important to H&M’s core customers, demonstrating that - despite their range of workout gear - the high street brand is failing to attract the influential group of consumers who love both fitness and fashion.

H&M's fitness range

H&M's fitness range

Major sports brands, such as Nike, have a clear niche within the health and fitness market and are more likely to attract athleisure shoppers than H&M. However, their heavy focus on sports such as football, as well as a history of male-focused marketing campaigns, means that the brand is less appealing to fashionable shoppers. Starcount’s data reflects this; Nike’s average follower decrease is 7.2% - below that of major athleisure brands but an improvement on that of popular fashion brands.

Nike have already taken steps to change this; their latest campaign with singer and dancer FKA Twigs is clearly intended to broaden their appeal and capture some of the elusive athleisure magic. Time will tell whether this approach will prove successful – and whether Lululemon should watch its back.

FKA Twigs for NIKE

FKA Twigs for NIKE

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