Fitness has gone from being a new year resolution to year-round reality. Fitness equipment, gym memberships, fitness DVDs and activewear are finding buyers who are serious about transforming their physical image to something better and healthier. While the fitness industry has a dedicated segment for a variety of needs, one of the interesting developments has taken place in the activewear market. Sportswear, which catered to a particular segment of customers, has given way to activewear, which is becoming a part of the fashion circle and overtaking the sportswear segment.

Fashion forward

Activewear has proven so comfortable that it is not just a part of gyms and yoga centres. People even do their daily chores in activewear. It is chic and comfortable, making it a perfect substitute for regular denim. Track pants and tops have also become a part of New York's fashion week.

Unlike sports gear, activewear can be worn anywhere since it is also more flexible in style. The concept of activewear is keenly followed by sportswear brands and luxury sports brands are concentrating on style with performance. Brands have started blurring the distinction between sports gear and activewear. This has ensured that clients can now easily find high-performing, stylish sports gear.

According to a study conducted by market research company NPD Group Inc, in the last three years, the activewear sector has developed steadily and it has also managed to surpass the market growth levels of regular apparel. "This is because consumers are wearing activewear not only to the gym, in the gym, and for the gym, but they are working out, going out, and even hanging out in activewear. Retailers and manufacturers across the board know that activewear is truly active, and they all want a piece of the action, says the group's Chief Industry Analyst, Marshal Cohen.

The assuring growth of the sector has led Swedish retailer H&M to launch H&M Sport in 2014. One of the biggest advantages of entering the activewear retail business is that brands can easily shift from competitive fashion outfits and earn higher price points with fitness apparel. Another brand that vouches for expanding opportunities in activewear is Canada-based yogawear brand Lululemon. Though it lost some of its market share to high-end brands recently, its journey from an unknown local store to US$ 1 billion retail business testifies to activewear's rising demand.

The big picture

Activewear has expanded the supposed limits of fashion and performance. Sport-specific requirements in garments like temperature control wear, odour-killing fabrics and activity-tracking wearables are now the basic requirement of customers. The Lululemon Swiftly T-shirt's silverescent fabric inhibits odour-causing bacteria from growing. The Athos capris come with a built-in sensor that tracks health data and sends it to the wearer's smartphone.


As activewear becomes part of all-day-long clothing, these features come in handy. Sheila Aimette, vice-president of North American Content at trend forecasting firm WGSN says, "It's really based on the trend towards activewear as daywear and weekend wear, which we've seen as a fast-growing theme on the runways for the past few seasons. With more consumers adopting this trend, it's natural for many labels to create products that speaks to what consumers want and are wearing."

Markets in United States of America, Japan and Europe and emerging markets such as Asia and Latin America offer attractive opportunities for activewear. According to a study by NPD Group, activewear sales in United States of America represented US$ 33.7 billion of the overall US$ 206.3 billion apparel market between July 2013 and June 2014. Trefis, a Boston-based research firm, also predicts that the global market for activewear, which includes women's activewear, will surge to US$ 178 billion by 2019. Even though brands continue to focus on menswear in activewear, female and plus size markets are catching up.

Female and plus-size market

Fitness and sports not only attract men, women too are taking up outdoor activities as part of their fitness regime. According to NPD Group, in United States of America alone, women's activewear witnessed a nine per cent increase from 2012, with sales of US$ 11.5 billion in 2013. Cohen believes, "It's hard to fathom how much more it can grow because it's already grown so much. But as more and more consumers accept activewear as street wear, it will continue to keep growing."

Under Armour, which produces weather-appropriate workout gear, is also expecting its women-focused business to reach US$ 1 billion by 2016. Brands like Nike are also specifically focusing on women's training products. Nike is hopeful to generate additional US$2 billion in annual sales by 2017 with the sale of tights, sports bras and other women's activewear.

The demand for plus size activewear has been on the rise. Sports Authority, which has launched its plus size active apparel targeting yoga and outdoors enthusiasts is offering tanks, tees, pants, capris and layering pieces in sizes 1X3X at an average price of US$ 39. Sports Authority's executive VP/chief merchandising officer Stephen Binkley says, "Our plus-size customers have been asking for great fitting activewear and sportswear in extended sizing, and we are happy to accommodate this request by offering trend-right functional options at affordable prices."

Brands in business

Some of the known names in the fashion industry have launched their line of active wear. American fast-fashion retailer Forever 21, Gap Inc's Athleta and Gap-branded workout line, Gap Fit, H&M's range of activewear etc are among the new entrants in the activewear segment. Hollywood actress Kate Hudson has also co-founded Fabletics, an online activewear brand.


Sweaty Betty, that already has 36 stores in the UK, apart from a profitable online business, has expanded to United States of America. The brand usually targets young mothers, since they are more concerned about their fitness than others.

Nike and Adidas are collaborating with luxury designers. Jeremy Scott has long been associated with Adidas Originals and in 2014, the brand decided to team up with celebrities such as Kanye West on capsule collections. Nike has also launched the collection Nike + RT with Givenchys Riccardo Tisci.

Why activewear?

Brands that have high fashion credentials in the activewear range are selling like hot cakes as customers become highly fashion and health conscious. Activewear's popularity factor exceeds design, with the fabric looking casual and apt for everyday use at home. Also, it can be worn elsewhere including at the work place, besides being perfect for exercising in.

In India, the activewear segment is estimated at US$ 1.5-2 billion and is predicted to grow at 12-15 per cent every year. It seems India is getting used not only to luxury brands, but also to domestic labels like HRX. Director of Brandis, makers of mens activewear brand 2GO, Nischal Puri notes, "The activewear category in India is worth Rs 2,400 crores. Around 10 to 12 per cent of this is for women and the rest is dedicated to men. But the womens market is growing at around 40 per cent. Brands are yet to make a big inroad into women's category."

A burgeoning population in India's tier II and tier III towns is contributing to the popularity of domestic activewear brands. As more people turn to outdoor activities in India and other developing countries like China and Malaysia, activewear sales promise to grow at a steady pace.