I make grand plans before I go to bed. Declaring my wellness plans for the upcoming day is like a little bedtime story I tell myself, soothing and full of promise: “I’m going to wake up early and go work out! I’m going to meditate tomorrow … twice! Tomorrow is the day!”
Then I float across the bridge of sleep and into the morning. The alarm goes off. The day goes by, and my wellness plans evaporate faster than the steam from cooking my kids’ dinner. My reality drifts further and further away from my wellness fairytale.
Despite my own personal struggles, consumers have made it clear that wellness is a priority. At NPD we are seeing its importance reflected in how consumers are spending their time, the books they are buying, and, yes, the clothes they are wearing.
Health and wellness may have traditionally been most commonly associated with weight loss and exercise, but today’s consumers are turning the page (quite literally). In 2021, unit sales of self-help books grew 17%, versus 2020, with those focused on body, mind, and spirit up 20%, per NPD Bookscan. In January, NPD in partnership with CivicScience polled U.S. consumers on which areas of health and wellness they plan to be more focused on in 2022. While food, diet, and exercise were the top responses, these priorities dropped by a combined 12 points since last year. Areas including sleep, limiting screen time, and wearing comfortable clothing all grew in importance. This signals to me a shift in consumer need from competitive performance to attainable wellness. In a previous blog post, I wrote about the accelerated importance of comfort clothing and how it will evolve the apparel space. The comfort apparel categories including activewear will be important as our needs change but our “wellness wants” remain.
Simply getting outside has been a huge initiative for many of us on our wellness journeys. As a result, we’re seeing outdoor details and “gorpcore” continue to dominate apparel trends. Looking at the top-selling sweatshirt styles of 2021 for men and women, many are labeled “heavier weight” and 8 out of the top 10 styles feature kangaroo or “handwarmer” pockets. While total outerwear declined for men and women in January, puffer jackets, an outdoor staple and new style statement, sold particularly well, with revenue rising 20%, versus pre-pandemic 2019.
Attainable wellness is also evident in the sports we are playing. Pickleball, a game with simple rules that’s easy to play, has been spreading like wildfire across the U.S. In fact, revenue from pickleballs and paddles grew by triple-digits in 2021, versus 2019, according to NPD retail sales data for sports equipment. The sport is spreading across ages and demographics, but it has been growing fastest among Baby Boomers. From an apparel market perspective, the fact that Baby Boomers are driving this trend comes as no surprise: in 2021 their spending on active apparel grew twice as fast as any other generation.
Our new definition of wellness centers on what works well for us — whether you want to run a marathon, or simply go for a walk every day. Regardless of the goal, it’s important for brands and retailers to understand that consumers emerging from the pandemic want to make sure they take care of themselves, have fun, and have the right clothes to do it. As for me and my wellness goals … well, there’s always tomorrow.