For over two decades, I have chided the sports industry for underserving the female consumer. In my opinion, women’s activewear, along with women’s athletic footwear, remains the industry’s greatest failure and its greatest opportunity. Many brands have declared their intentions to grow their women’s businesses over the past 20 years, but few have succeeded. I have often seen brands take one step forward and then two steps back.
The NPD suite of point-of-sale and consumer data, which delivers data down to the style, price-point, and channel levels, gives us a granular and comprehensive view of market dynamics. It also helps us identify important opportunities for brands to consider and investigate.
One important shift has been retailers using private-label products to fill the void in the women’s market. According to the NPD Retail Tracking Service, when grouped together as one category, private-label brands have become the largest women’s activewear brand in the U.S. Its revenue share also increased in by more than 500 basis points, from January through July 2021 compared to the same period in 2019. Private-label brands together account for nearly 44% of total women’s activewear sales, compared to Nike, the second-largest brand, with 8% market share.
Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour – the three largest players in the women’s activewear market outside of the aggregate of private-label – have all publicly declared their focus on the women’s side of the business, yet none of them have been able to outperform the market. When comparing sales from January through July 2021, to the same timeframe in 2019, sales of all brands were down slightly or flat, with Nike losing 130 basis points in share. Hanes and Champion have both captured share in women’s activewear during the pandemic and are among the fastest growing brand leaders in the market. It is worth noting that Puma and Reebok, while smaller in terms of revenue than Nike, Adidas, and others, have posted sizable growth numbers.
When we look at the NPD consumer panel, which captures direct-to-consumer (DTC) and vertical brands, the big brands again ceded share in women’s activewear. Many smaller vertical brands primarily focused on women are thriving and they also have the potential to rise higher in the ranks. After all, Lululemon—a brand that started small—is currently on track to surpass Nike as the largest women’s activewear brand in the U.S., according to the Consumer Tracking Service from NPD.
Lululemon has always been laser-focused on female consumers and, as a result, the company has developed a cult-like following. The women’s market is rich with opportunity, and soon I hope to see more brands make giant leaps forward.