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Fashion lovers send sales of sportswear soaring

Lauretta Roberts
06 August 2016

The sportswear market is set to soar to a record high of £7bn in 2016, up 7% year on year. This growth, however, has not necessarily been driven by sports enthusiasts but by fashion trends as 50% of those who have bought sports footwear, clothes and equipment in the past 12 months have done so for "non-sports" use according to new figures from Mintel.

Released on the first day of the Rio Olympics, Mintel's latest Sports Goods Retailing report shows that a growing interest in well-being (particularly among young consumers) has boosted the sports market but half of British consumers have bought sportswear for non-sports use, while 34% have bought sportswear as a fashion statement to be worn when not exercising and 11% have bought into celebrity sports lines.

H&M's For Every Victory line

The influence of sportswear on everyday fashion has led to the coining of the term "athleisure", which for many brands from the high-end to the high street has become an official and fast-growing category. Fast fashion giants Zara, Mango and H&M (which unveiled its For Every Victory line ahead of the Olympics with a campaign fronted by Caitlyn Jenner) have all launched athleisure or activewear collections recently and a number of celebrities (some with more obvious sports credentials than others) have got in on the act.

Ivy Park by Beyonce

Singer Beyoncé has just unveiled the second season of her Ivy Park collection which was developed in partnership with Topshop boss Sir Philip Green and is sold in Topshop stores globally, as well as more premium outlets such as Selfridges. The latter stocks the line in its new Body Studio, a monster 37,000 sq ft area in its Oxford Street flagship, which was constructed to capitalise on the athleisure trend.

Sports stars too have launched their own collections. Recently footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has just signed for Manchester United, unveiled his A-Z line which has been designed specifically for training. But its clean lines and muted colour palette mean it is bound to have appeal beyond any sports purpose. Tennis star Roger Federer also cemented his relationship with Nike, with whom he develops his own label, by launching a special collection with NikeLAB, which is designed to be worn off-court.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic in his A-Z line

Mintel retail analyst Samantha Dover said the market is set to get more and more crowded as it continues to grow. "The sports goods market continues to grow at an exceptional rate. Driven by a rising interest in health and wellness amongst young consumers, coupled with an increasing acceptance of casual dressing, the athleisure trend is dominating the sector. The success of the market has seen increasing levels of competition from non-specialists, and more than ever, retailers need to establish their position in a crowded sector," she said.

But sportswear isn't just being worn as a fashion statement, there has been a genuine upsurge in interest in sports and wellness which has also helped swell sportswear's sales figures. According to Mintel, more than half (53%) of UK consumers take part in sport at least once a week, with almost one in six (16%) exercising five times a week or more.

Younger consumers, in particular, are getting more active with 28% of those aged 16-24 exercising five times a week or more. As a result, younger consumers are the most likely group to have bought sports products over the past year, with three in four (75%) British consumers aged 16-24 purchasing new items.

The Olympics & Paralympics just getting underway in Rio will only help to heighten interest. Sales of sports goods jumped 7% during London 2012 for instance and, perhaps unsurprisingly, major sporting events always drive sales of goods in this sector according to Mintel. That some high profile fashion designers are associated wth the Olympics also helps. Stella McCartney (pictured above) has once again kitted out Team GB's Olympic & Paralympic teams as part of her long-standing and highly successful collaboration with Adidas.

"A number of high-profile designers have kitted out the Olympic teams again this year and, with all eyes on the athletes, merchandise and associated sports products are particularly well-placed to succeed. Beyond official merchandise, general activewear sales are likely to lift as consumers get caught-up in the Olympic hype," Mintel's Dover added.

Lululemon: about to open a flagship on London's Regent Street

It is tempting to think that the rise in athleisure has been driven by women buying fashionable gear to wear for Pilates or yoga (as evidenced by the growth of brands such as Canada's Lululemon, which is about to open a London flagship on Regent Street), however Mintel's figures show this is not necessarily the case.

Overall, 54% of Brits have bought sports clothing, footwear, equipment or accessories in the past 12 months, rising to 59% of men. While they’re most likely to purchase sports goods, Mintel research indicates that it's the men who are also more likely to have bought sporting apparel for non-sports use: on average 50% of purchasers bought sport clothing for non-sports use, rising to 55% of men.

Of those who have bought sports goods in the past year, 45% did so for running or jogging. In comparison, over one quarter (28%) bought new sports gear for going to the gym and 23% did so for cycling. Surprisingly just 7% bought new items for yoga or Pilates (though one suspects that the "going to the gym figure" might include some clothing that brands would consider part of the yoga or Pilates category) and the same proportion (7%) did so for rugby.

Footwear is becoming increasingly important. Of specialist sporting goods sales, Mintel forecasts that footwear sales will make up 34% in 2016, up from 29% in 2014. Clothing will still dominate at 54% but this is down from 59% in 2014.

However another interesting category could be emerging for those looking to capitalise on the athleisure act further still. Mintel has discovered that a sizeable proportion of those who take part in sports would be interested in beauty and grooming products that keep them looking good while doing so.

Over one third (37%) of consumers say they have bought or would be interested in buying beauty or grooming products that improve appearance during or after exercise, for instance, redness reducing creams. Consumers aged 25-34 are particularly interested in these products, with almost one quarter (23%) having already purchased them and a further 34% saying they haven’t yet bought these products, but would be interested in doing so in the future.

Athbeauty anyone? It could be the next big thing.

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