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Sneakernomics: Is Activewear Being Stretched Too Thin?

Oct 3, 2016
Matt Powell, Vice President, Senior Industry Advisor ;
Apparel , Sports

There have been many words written recently about the potential demise of activewear, but nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s take a look at what is really happening in this space.

Denim was the primary victim in the rise of activewear. While the denim business has since rebounded in Q2, it has not done so at the expense of the athleisure trend. This trend peaked in Q1 of 2015, but has stayed positive even through the return of denim. In late 2014 and early 2015, consumers were still accumulating their activewear wardrobes. Now, the business is much more of a replacement business.

The loss of 20 million square feet of sporting goods retail space at the end of July has also impacted the activewear business. The sales lost from The Sports Authority and Sport Chalet bankruptcies have not been fully recovered by other physical stores. While the online sports business has remained robust, much of the business from the closed chains has simply evaporated, never to be recovered. Major sports brands including Nike and Under Armour have been hard hit by these closures.

All of this merges with another—and far more interesting—change happening in the marketplace: according to the latest press release from NPD, data from NPD’s Retail Tracking Service tells us that activewear sales are down in the more traditional athletic specialty and sporting goods channel, though the market for activewear as a whole is growing at a respectable rate. This is in line with the trend we are seeing today. Taking a closer look at NPD’s Consumer Tracking Service, we see that consumers are self-identifying with non-conventional activewear manufacturers marketing their products as such, broadening their perception of the category and expanding it beyond the sports retail scope. Clever non-athletic brands are adding a “performance element” to their products, even if it’s something simple like a hood or thumbhole, to transform an ordinary item into “activewear.” With more of these products on the market, we can infer that the consumers’ definition of activewear is much broader than the more technical, retail definitions.     

All of this noise is creating a confusing environment at retail and has, no doubt, influenced activewear sales and had a negative impact on the true athletic brands. My bet is that consumers will return to the authentic activewear brands as they discover that the wannabes’ products do not perform.

Despite all this commotion, the activewear business remains quite solid, and any talks alluding to the demise of activewear or the athleisure trend are premature. I do not see a day when we return to more formal modes of attire and activewear, in any form, phases out of style.


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