April 15, 2024

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The Sports Fanatics

Action Stations: Sportswear Rides Rising Demand Wave

A demand surge than took off in 2020 looks set to continue as India enters a second season of pandemic-driven uncertainty, disruption and at-home fitness fixes

Just as athleisure, another fashion category that has registered huge demand in the wake of pandemic-infused lockdowns, is sportswear. It is one the very few categories in apparel that
was fast selling even in the pandemic. With mini lockdowns and shutdowns making a comeback in India, consumer movement will yet again be limited.  As a result, demand for comfortable yet
stylish apparel that can be worn in the comfort of homes is expected to rise again rapidly, leading to sportswear and athleisure gaining ground even more post the lockdown. Being at
home for weeks on end, consumers are responding by stocking up on yoga pants, joggers, hoodies and sneakers in large numbers and varieties. “We have seen consumers take to fitness more than ever before and it has now become a way of life for many. There has been an increase in demand for ‘Fitness and Training’ merchandise because of this. With work from home becoming the new normal, consumers are opting for easy-to-wear, comfortable clothing. Athleisure or lounge wear has seen a lot more demand,” says Vidushi Thapa, Associate Director & Head, Buying and Merchandising, PUMA India.

“Consumers are largely looking for apparel such as t-shirts, tracks and shorts, which are home essentials. The share of open footwear has also increased. Sportswear and athleisure are two
categories that we have seen the fastest revival in.”

Sports aesthetics have had enormous influence on fashion and styles over the years. From knitted shirts to pleated skirts, the trend is nothing new to the fashion world. But what’s new
and surprising is the breakneck speed at which sportswear is inundating global fashion today.

Sports is the new buzzword of the fitness conscious world and sportswear is finding its way into our everyday clothing. Mesh insets are found almost everywhere, pants have gotten wider and
looser, jogger pants can be seen sported by everyone from young Millennials to corporate honchos; sportswear is simply exploding today! But the growing fondness for this category is not new. The global fashion industry has been witnessing a steady rise in the segment over the past decade. In 2019 the global athleisure
market was estimated at US$163.7 million by Allied Market Research. But the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of this trend by manifolds.  Wrogn, a leading retailer from the
athleisure segment, says that in the past two months, this category has been amongst the fastest growing verticals in the fashion space. According to the company, while the growth
trajectory was at 10 -20 percent in the past, the industry on an average is experiencing an upward bump of 50-75 percent at the moment.

There was once a time when no one in India considered sportswear, or fitness, to be an industry that generated demand. Effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and growing influence from
celebrities and new age media has made sportswear a red hot category with new brands and trends pouring in. While the men’s category continues to grow steadily, it is the women’s sportswear category that has exhibited fantastic growth over the last 2-3 years, with several new brand owners and entrepreneurs. While some of them have launched their own fashion brands or lines in collaboration with established fashion companies, others have made investments in or have set up their own fashion-focused businesses. And much of this credit goes to celebrity culture, which promotes sportswear — including items such as sweatshirts, oversized hoodies and sneakers — as a go-to-choice for everyday wear.

According to a research report published by Global Industry Analysts Inc., the global market for Sports and Fitness Clothing is projected to reach US$231.7 billion by 2024. The research also
indicates that technological developments designed to improve comfort and performance have also led to the growth in sales of sports apparel. The report points out that the Asia-Pacific region is expected to be the fastest growing region, with a CAGR of 6.9 percent over the forecast period.

The paradigm shift in women’s lifestyle is evolving their buying behaviour. Also, the growing demand for athleisure in everyday fashion and for various occasions is driving strong growth.
Additionally, there is increasing popularity of sportswear in everyday fashion and for various occasions of use; driving growth strongly. “There is huge upswing in sneaker culture and some
of our most popular products are modern renditions of heritage sports products. Another category that’s under-penetrated is kids. This is a huge focus area for our brand, and we will continue to build this category going forward,” asserts Sanjay Roy, Executive Director Sales and Operations, Puma India.

Growth Drivers

Sportswear is not just about sports, but also about comfort. It can be worn anywhere and anytime. Thus, it became a perfect fit for consumers who were confined to their homes because of the pandemic. The pandemic has just accelerated the demand driven by practical needs of working from home, presentations on video calls and need for apparel that is easier to wash and dry. In recent years, fitness has been a mainstream trend, with more and more Indians concerned about wellness mindsets and healthy lifestyles. The pandemic, on its part, has heightened this trend. The lockdown has triggered even the indolent most to realize the importance of staying fit and building immunity.

“Today, there is a snowballing demand for fitness and training merchandise because of this. Also, with work from home continuing to be a norm, it is natural that athletic leisurewear is
enjoying strong demand. I believe sportswear and athleisure would be one of the categories to see a quick revival. The trend is currently upwards and is a good reflection of how things will
shape up when normalcy resumes,” Thapa notes.

“Irrespective of the effects of lockdown, athleisure and sportswear is a category which is evergreen and non replaceable. Consumers have already realized that taking care of themselves is their own decision and it is very important for them to be physically fit and active for a longer and healthier life. The growing awareness about health and fitness will not take a back seat and it will grow tremendously in the coming years,” states Siddharth Grover,
Director, Groversons Paris Beauty.

Comfort in on top of consumers’ minds, more now than ever. Consumers today are shifting focus from technicalities and performance to comfort oriented silhouettes that promise
versatility and utility. The trend that is significant at the moment is comfort combined with fashion. There is also a clear movement towards wellness practices, leading to climbing sales in yoga pants, track suits, etc. It’s all about ‘being comfortable’. No surprise then that the top selling athleisure products across men’s segments are joggers, track pants and sneakers.

PUMA has registered significant demand for athleisure, home fitness gear as well as workout gear like running t-shirts, training tracks, shorts, training footwear, etc. The brand also has
noticed bolstered consumption of kids-wear in this segment. “We have also seen a clear pattern in the kids-wear segment with the consumption moving up. This could be because kids are staying more at home and are not wearing school uniforms. We also have rolled out exciting print and graphic stories such as International Game and Downtown collections, and fun collaborations in bright and colorful design executions such as Peanuts, Kidsuper studios, Mr. Doodle, Michael Lau, among others,” Thapa informs.

“Our base layers, made with a blend of Merino Wool & Bamboo, are the most innovative products in our collection. Great for running a marathon in New York or hiking through the
Great Lakes Trek in Kashmir, they help users perform the sport better. Temperature regulating, anti-odor and lightweight, they are an essential in any sport person wardrobe,” says Yuktie
Jhangiani Verma, Founder & CEO, Kosha.

“There is higher demand for cotton leggings and track pants, t-shirts, shorts and sports bras. In terms of colors, there has been a shift in trend from basic core tones to bright hues — neutrals
have given way to summer and pastel brights,” states Manab Hembram, Creative Director – Design, Zivame.

According to Pallavi Barman, Head – Marketing & Operations, HRX, loose and oversized athleisure is currently trending. “In terms of current trends, loose oversized clothing has found
a new liking. Oversized joggers and tees are very popular now. Plus we are looking at an increase in demand for shorts and tracks as well as trainers and sneakers. Color-wise, we follow
trend stories popular worldwide, so lavender, beige, military, khakhi, grey, black, etc., are all loved,” she says.

New Brands  

As a whole, the sportswear market in India has traditionally been dominated by the global majors, aptly named the ‘Big Four’—Reebok, adidas, Nike and Puma. Most of these brands entered the country in the 1990s and in the years that followed established their presence through a flood of local franchisees. But, in the recent past, given the ardent inclination of consumers towards sports and sportswear in general, a slew of brands, both homegrown and foreign, have also mushroomed.

Addition of new International and domestic brands in modern fashion retail only helps grow the overall market. In the past five years, there has been something akin to a flood of new brands
entering the sportswear/ fitness fashion category. However, from the consumers’ point of view, the primary concerns are around quality, price and counterfeiting.  Bigger brands claim to provide superior quality products and charge accordingly. To make inroads, some brands are providing lower-grade products that are not long lasting and also not fit-for-purpose as
sportswear or performance wear.

Consumers today are not just buying brands, they are buying the lifestyle aspirations associated with a certain brand; that is the key marketing hinge for most brands.  While the slew of brands
that have emerged in this category over the recent past has definitely intensified competition in the Indian sportswear category, modern customers are keenly aware of every brand’s stand and decide their associations accordingly. Product quality, technology usage and need-based availability now count as prime influencers of a purchase decision.

Value-added Sportswear

Higher brand and fashion awareness have led to a consumption environment that is much more aware and demanding. Increased options and retail accessibility have compelled brands to add
differential innovations to their product portfolio.

“We have introduced Cloudspun technology in the apparel collection that provides four-way stretch for unrestricted motion. This new poly spandex blend allows for an ultra-soft cotton like
hand feel while ensuring it delivers on the most technical performance benefits,” says Thapa.

“In keeping with the current demand patterns, we have also introduced the extremely relevant ‘Everfresh anti-microbial’ technology in apparel, bodywear and masks to fight odor and inhibit the growth and reproduction of bacteria.”

Apart from product innovation, deploying technology in the supply chain and consumer engagement is helping PUMA come up with incisive solutions, Thapa notes. “We will continue to integrate our offline, online and social media channels to give our consumers the choice of product discovery, trial, purchase and engagement. Moreover, data analysis is helping us understand the way we should approach the future as it throws up new customer trends like what products are selling, what categories are selling, the way consumers are discovering products, how they are searching on PUMA.com, among others. We are following it very closely
primarily because of our fixation to improve orientation toward customers,” she goes on to add.

“We encourage our customers to shop via video calls on Whatsapp. The team has been taught new capabilities to cater to online orders. We are imparting training to the sales assistants to
attend to customers in a phygital scenario,” says Verma.

Small-town Penetration

Trendy sportswear is no longer the prerogative of urban elites today; demand for it has clearly penetrated semi urban Indian towns, especially Tier II, III and IV locations.  Small-town inhabitants today are far more aspirational and demonstrative and showcase a higher propensity to buy branded merchandise in the sportswear space. Hence, these towns and cities are fast emerging as lucrative retail destinations for brands and retailers alike.

Between 2015-16, sportswear in metro and Tier II and III cities in India grew by 80 percent. The footwear category hit 100 percent in growth for metro and Tier I cities, with very strong demand from Tier III cities, where it grew by over 110 percent on average. These numbers and figures show how sportswear was becoming a very popular segment in the Indian apparel market, even five years ago. It is little wonder that small-town India is often touted to be the future epicenter of retail growth in the
country. While an increasing number of both domestic and international retailers have been vigorously expanding into India’s vast hinterland over the last few years, penetration in smaller cities as such needs rehashed retail strategies as well as a depth of understanding of the consumer.

The sportswear segment in India, like many other fashion segments, is undergoing a remarkable change of perception as well as evolution. A noticeable change in the Indian sportswear industry is that it’s becoming increasingly organised; and modern retail is picking pace in small cities too, much to the
delight of brands, suppliers and retailers of sportswear and sports lifestyle products.

As sportswear retail grows and penetrates smaller towns, it is imperative to maintain the same standards and quality of retail experience through the store environment, store teams and customer service. India as a market is always ready to absorb, adapt and adopt changes, especially when it comes to trends and lifestyle. The footwear industry, especially the ones catering to fitness and sports, is ever- evolving to keep up with the times, thus bringing about constant change in each segment of shoes. The rising demand for trendy, technologically superior yet comfortable footwear among all age groups is a
key factor driving the industry.