Athleisure Trends: Market Analysis
Athleisure has increasingly grown as a lifestyle choice among many people. Previously, athletic wear was considered mostly during workouts and other intense exercise activities, a trend that has since changed as more people recognize the comfort offered by athleisure. In contemporary times, athleisure has gained popularity for both workouts and outdoor activities that require comfort and style, and companies targeting athleisure as a niche market are growing in popularity over time. Moreover, there are many factors that have increasingly driven consumer preference for athleisure over various other clothing and apparel styles, and the manufacturers have found ways through which they can appeal to customer tastes and preferences to achieve their goals of higher sales. In this paper, various top brands in athleisure are used to explore the market characteristics, the brand marketing strategies, the market research that guides the brands’ marketing strategies, and the contribution of social media to the marketing strategies applied by those brands. Additionally, the paper explores the conceptualization of athleisure, particularly how the niche got its name, its impacts on the fashion industry, and its influence on the public presentation of the users.
In order to accomplish the objective of this particular paper, the research questions have been outlined as follows:
- How has athletic wear grown from a niche market to everyday clothing?
- Will athletic wear take over the fashion industry?
- Which factors guide the marketing strategies used by major athleisure brands?
- What marketing strategies are used by major brand owners when targeting athleisure customers?
- How do social media affect the marketing strategies of athleisure brands?
These research questions will be answered through a comprehensive literature review that will help create a better perspective of the athleisure market niche.
Growth and Attractiveness of the Athleisure Market
The sports industry has generally grown over the past 2 centuries, increasingly resulting in the divergence of sports activities in which people can engage and the public participation in sports activities. More recently, there has been increasing participation in leisure and fitness activities, which has also increased the size of the athletic wear market. According to research conducted by Patrick and Xu (2018), the sporting industry has been growing at a faster rate relative to the conventional wear industry. In particular, there was a 7% growth of the athletic wear industry in 2013, relative to the 1% growth in the general wear industry. Similarly, the Market Insider (2017) reported that the sportswear industry is generally expected to grow by up to $ 231.7 billion by the year 2024. This projected growth is an indication of the increasing popularity of sportswear and consumer preference for it. The growth in the sportswear industry has been accompanied by a simultaneous growth in athletic wear (athleisure), especially from 2011. The athleisure segment has outgrown the rest of the clothing segments in popularity, as reported by Patrick and Xu (2018).
The reasons for the growth of the athleisure market are varied. One of the common reasons is the overarching trend towards casualization. In this aspect, the leading population comprises Generation Y, which is increasingly seeking comfort by shifting clothing expenses from other categories to the athleisure category (Horton, Ferrero-Regis, & Payne, 2016). In fact, the generation has been cited for its increasing health and fitness awareness, which has resulted in the increasing identification of consumer needs (Horton et al., 2016). Retailers are therefore providing a wider range of clothing characteristics as athleisure including a variety of styles, patterns, colors, technology, and/or fabrics. The use of athleisure has also changed over time, from conventional workout clothing to clothing for more daily wear purposes and for leisure. Cheng (2019) posits that the change in consumers’ perspectives about athleisure is not likely to change soon and that further. In the current year alone, the global athleisure market is expected to rise by approximately 9%, which is far higher than the expected rise in other clothing categories’ markets (Cheng, 2019). The expansion of the use of such clothing is thus a driving factor for the market.
Another factor that has been cited for its influence on the growth of the athleisure market is the psychosocial and functional benefits associated with the clothing category. Research has shown that consumers buy products that are capable of satisfying their psychosocial and functional needs, as well as their desired physical characteristics (O’Sullivan et al., 2017). Consumer characteristics, general behaviors, attitudes, and expected value also affect their potential to purchase those products. Research on these characteristics helps to identify probable changes in the market characteristics and potential purchase trends of athleisure. In contemporary times, consumer preference is shifting towards multiple-use products over those that are restricted to the fitness industry. Furthermore, contemporary society has grown towards its adoption of yoga not only as a sports activity but also as a lifestyle, alongside other previously athletic activities such as swimming, running, and cross-training (Cheng, 2019). With these lifestyle changes, the consideration of athleisure as clothing of choice, therefore, is inevitable.
With the increasing psychological shift towards a preference for athleisure, manufacturing companies have had to be more creative and innovative. Diverse customer needs across generations and the expansive usage of athleisure has resulted in the need for more robust clothing. Accordingly, manufacturers have to work with materials that not only provide comfort but are also robust and stylistic. Consumers recognize comfort as the most paramount feature of athleisure (Patrick & Xu, 2018), and manufacturers have to find materials and techniques that ensure that all athleisure garments are comfortable enough. Additionally, comfort aligns perfectly with the decision to use athleisure as daywear, and it has to be considered by the brand manufacturers. Other attractive features of athleisure that have driven the shift towards its adoption as every day rather than only workout wear include the image and the fit. The increasing media portrayal of athleisure as a classy outfit both for general everyday activities and for sports activities is one of the factors that is considered when consumers make the decision for purchase (Patrick & Xu, 2018). This same image has been responsible for the increasing adoption of athleisure by millennials. It is thus deductible that all these factors have to be taken into consideration by athleisure brands to ensure that customer value is consistently delivered. Many brands currently exist, all competing for comfort, image, and fit, and the media has provided an effective channel for marketing and obtaining consumer opinions regarding products. In the subsequent section, a market analysis of the general athleisure market is provided, followed by a description of the specific brands and how they have created the brand images.
Athleisure Market Research
Products and Product Prices
The range of products in the athleisure category varies widely. The category includes products such as shoes (sneakers), leggings, spandex, hoodies, and tights. These products are positioned differently depending on the market descriptions. For instance, in the Chinese markets, leggings were previously unpopular, but the trend has been changing significantly over the years (Cheng, 2019). Similarly, the U.S market has seen a growth in purchase trends for products across the entire athleisure category. The following chart shows the trends in fashion items sales over two years. The sportswear category is seen to show higher sales values in both 2018 and 2019 compared to other fashion categories.
Figure 1: The sales trends and projections for 2018-2019 for different fashion categories. Source: (Kecsmar, 2019)
Just as the type of products in the category varies widely, the prices of the different products also vary significantly. The specific prices correspond to the brand descriptions. Strong brands such as Nike, Lululemon, Adidas, and Puma, go for higher prices relative to other retailers or weaker producer brands across the world. The products are however available for all the price ranges, and there are product fits for the high-end as well as the low-end markets.
The increasing growth of the athleisure market is recognized as one of its leading strengths and the reason for an increasing number of brands and retailers in the industry. The following table provides a summary of the industry strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT), which have affected market characteristics.
It is a growing industry with many opportunities.
Variety of products – including shoes, clothes, and various accessories.
Customer awareness – implies that the marketing done is not to create product awareness, but to improve brand recognition and loyalty.
Support from other industries that focus on health quality and the importance of fitness.
Consumer diversity – attracts low-end to high end brands
Growing awareness of the need for fitness and health.
Increasing preference for comfort, fit and image even in sportswear.
Consumer desire is increasingly on a multifunctional wardrobe.
Increasing competition across companies.
Target Market and Market Segmentation
The athleisure industry’s main target markets are Generation Y and millennials. Generation Y are increasingly seeking comfort, fit, and a multifunctional wardrobe. On the other hand, the millennials mostly focus on the image and are strongly influenced by marketing activities and social media as a core channel. Awareness of brand names and the associated brand images has become one of the core reasons for athleisure purchases by the younger generations. Production companies have found ways to increasingly deliver customer value, focusing on the need for customer satisfaction. The distribution channels help to support the growth of the different market segments. The bigger brand names including Nike and Lululemon have used Amazon extensively in product distribution. Similarly, other retailers have emerged across the world, operating Amazon accounts through which sales are made. Other retailers have open shops in areas in which they operate. This has enabled a wide variety of athleisure products to be accessed worldwide.
Future Growth Prospects
The athleisure industry is expected to grow even more based on past growth records. Cheng (2019), reports that over the last one year, the sales in athleisure shoes such as skate shoes and sneakers, have grown by approximately 7%, relative to the 5% decline in fashion shoes such as heels and a simultaneous 7% decline in the sales of technical performance shoes. Similarly, the purchase of sports bras increased from 38% of the total bra sales in 2015 to 45% in 2018, indicating a shift in the perception that a sports bra is sexier (Cheng, 2019). Based on these reports, it is expected that the athleisure brand will increasingly gain importance, particularly due to the increasing concern for health and fitness. The U.S. activewear market is reported to have reached $ 80.1 billion, and with a projected growth of 17% by 2023, which will reach $ 94.1 billion (Salfino, 2019). With this projected growth, the industry is still expected to support more retailers, and to be more competitive.
Different athleisure brands use different marketing strategies and different customer acquisition techniques to foster sales in the industry. The following section provides an overview of the operations of various companies in the industry and is aimed at providing perspective into their marketing practices.
Lululemon is one of the leading companies in the athleisure industry. As one of the market leaders, the company’s strategy has been to create transformational products by blending function and fashion to satisfy customer needs (Market Insider, 2019). The company has managed over the years to use mostly the new age media such as their company website, social media, and televised media to reach out to new potential customers and their efforts have been rewarded with increasing market shares over the years. According to Kaleigh and Sarine (2012), Lululemon has managed to maintain and possibly grow its market shares by differentiation. The company produces premium products using the latest fabrics and manufacturing technologies to realize customer value in terms of fit, image, and comfort. This mission has been promoted further through the use of social media to create a sustainable brand image that not only communicates the company’s mission but also proves the company’s commitment to this mission through ready products.
Unlike Lululemon that has clearly identified the modern-day athleisure needs, Nike still focuses on a dynamic environment, in which the objective is to create both a short-term win and long-term sustainability. Nike’s products are characterized by a focus on athletics and quality. In particular, the company has continued to grow its brand by continuously engaging famous sports personnel as its brand ambassadors. Furthermore, the company can be considered one of the first entrants into the athletics wear market, which makes brand loyalty one of the elements that contribute to its continuous growth. According to Flynn (2016), Nike has a unique marketing strategy that uses a combination of brand ambassadors and various media outlets in marketing. Increasing brand awareness is achieved through frequent televised media appearances such as ads during prime time television broadcasts and others. With the company’s marketing model, the company mostly serves the generation Y population, who are more focused on comfort and utility, compared to the millennials, who also consider the fit and image. At the same time, the influence of sports personnel can be used to increase the brand popularity among younger generations through a focus on creative and innovative products and processes.
Gymshark is one of the newest companies in the athleisure industry. Having started in 2012, the growth of the company is laudable and is attributed to the unique business model that it has adopted since its inception. The company recognized the increasing shift towards athleisure as a form of both activewear and leisurewear. Furthermore, the company recognized the increasing popularity of social media in contemporary society and the role it plays in influencing others. Unlike Nike which focused on sports personnel as ambassadors, Gymshark has been focusing on social media influencers, such as Youtubers with many followers, as its ambassadors, a decision that has resulted in tremendous growth over a short period (Ng, n.d.). Furthermore, the company has to some extent adopted Lululemon’s strategy of providing function and fashion it its products. Gymshark considers various factors in its production including cultural factors (such as subcultures like bodybuilding), social factors (status as social media influencers), personal factors (such as age and lifestyle), and psychological factors (such as motivation and perception) (Ng, n.d.). One of the factors that the company uses for the initial customer attraction is product pricing. Each of these factors addresses a particular feature of products that influences purchase intentions.
The research questions outlined in this paper have been effectively addressed herein. First, the increasing popularity of athleisure as a fashion trend can be founded on the increasing awareness of health and fitness benefits, and the increasing interest in the use of athleisure not only for fitness purposes but also as stylistic outdoor wear. The increasing desire for comfort, fit, and image, has also driven the observed shift in the trends in athletic wear usage. Secondly, it is expected that the athleisure industry will continue to grow over the next few years. Projected growth rates of the industry and the corresponding declines in the sales of other fashion categories is an indication of the shift in the industry. Increasing globalization is resulting in more flexible work environments, and it is expected that this flexibility would also result in changes in dressing codes in the workplace towards more athleisure-oriented outfits. The changes in the industry imply that athleisure brands have to be innovative in their marketing practices. The paper has described the practices of Lululemon, Nike, and Gymshark, with the realization that different brands use different marketing strategies and different social media techniques to create awareness. The choice of marketing channels is also influenced by different factors.
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