Activewear has outgrown its humble beginnings as sweaty gym clothes and has now sprouted brands with a cult-like mass following. Products like sweatshirts, hoodies and polo shirts have become staple pieces of modern lifestyles and are worn for all sorts of occasions.
After the hype of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop in 2008 and Kate Hudson’s Fabletics in 2013, consumers prioritize being healthy and practicing wellness in style. They might not be exercising more, but they sure are exploring the athleisure trend more than ever before. Others take advantage of athleisure apparel being more accessible and incorporate activewear in their day-to-day outfits.
With consumer whims changing faster than the fashion seasons, ecommerce store owners take the forefront of apparel retail, while mass-market brick-and-mortar shops producers fail to adapt to this demand-focused module. We prepared some pointers on selling activewear so you can seize this opportunity as well.
We’ll go over the different strands of activewear, the steps of introducing your own activewear line and the best ways to reach the target audience.
What’s the difference: activewear, athleisure, and streetwear
For the longest time, we associated activewear with gym clothes or apparel tailored for specific sports like running, gymnastics, judo, etc. These products are now referred to as sportswear, making activewear a more general term that includes all sorts of sporty, comfortable clothes.
With the rise of more spiritual physical activities like yoga, activewear has become a part of the wellness lifestyle and is now worn outside training grounds. This phenomenon is known as athleisure. In fact, according to the NPD Group, athleisure represented almost a quarter of total apparel sales in the US last year. It’s sure to grow in 2019 with more brands following the trend set by Lululemon, which started the athleisure craze with yoga leggings.
Lululemon’s success leads to leggings overthrowing jeans as the go-to bottoms for a short while in 2016. Since then other athleisure products have influenced denim production, solidifying the term in the fashion industry.
This isn’t the only example of activewear attracting attention from people beyond its target audience. Tennis shoes, better known today as sneakers, were made for lawn sport and tennis athletes and were worn by most students who joined sports teams in the early 20th century. Yet, due to lack of funds, these students wore their sports shoes when attending classes as well. Soon after sneakers transcended their target consumers and were worn as casual shoes. The same goes for polo shirts. Once specific to tennis, the polo shirt was popularized by Grand Slam champion René Lacoste in the 1920s and is now a staple of prep style.
Half a century later activewear sprouted another style—streetwear. It combines characteristics of multiple subcultures, huge online presence and, most importantly, lots of activewear products like graphic tees, joggers, hoodies and sweatshirts. The style was first led by Shawn Stussy and skateboarders of 1970s California, but later got adopted by hip-hop subculture in the 1990s. The style took off with Supreme and A Bathing Ape reaching cult-like following, and with the help of internet and hype culture has now become the new luxury. We’ve seen Supreme and Louis Vuitton collaboration and the rise of Yeezy, Kanye West’s collaboration with Adidas, and Chanel introducing sneakers to their product range. Activewear is everywhere!
Why sell activewear online?
Activewear sales value has grown exponentially this past decade. Allied Market Research expects the global activewear market to reach a value of $546,802 million by 2024.
McKinsey & Company, having predicted a global boost in activewear demand in 2019, allude to mass-market brick-and-mortar apparel retailers struggling to adjust their production model to the fast-paced changes in demand.
Due to print-on-demand characteristics, ecommerce store owners with POD services face no such issue—graphics designs can be changed with only a little effort. What’s more, the drop shipping fulfillment method ensures that no store is left with heaps of out-of-style inventory.
With that in mind, Shopify has featured athleisure in its annual top-selling trend list (third spot, no less) for the second year in a row and Printful has added more products perfect for a custom athleisure line.
How to start selling: Choose a direction
You can choose to focus on a custom-made clothing line that requires tailoring know-how and would need to be designed from scratch. This approach would involve more high-cost risks, but also could justify higher pricing.
Another approach is partnering with a print-on-demand drop shipping company which offers already designed and tailored clothing that only needs your unique graphic design. This is a much easier approach to starting your own activewear line but allows for limited customization tailor-wise.
The most growth in athleisure sales is predicted for premium brands with high-level technical capabilities. If you have the tailoring know-how and are willing to invest a lot of technical effort into making need-specific clothing, this is the time for you!
Consumers are eager to purchase products that combine both style and high functionality. A definite crowd favorite would be added pockets that reduce the need for extra storage bags.
Another way to create an athleisure line your customers would love is to innovate and offer mixed-use products that withstand the test of various activities. High-quality multipurpose items can also be priced higher. Andrew Manteit, director of Active in Style, says that the price point is getting higher and consumers are willing to pay more, as long as the product endures day-to-day wear.
Keep in mind that due to the demand-focused market, this approach can lead to out-of-style products left in storage if you’re brand does not have strong enough equity.
If you’re not a professional tailor or fashion designer, partnering with a POD drop shipping company is the easiest way to start your own apparel line.
Print-on-demand fulfillment is also a much safer bet. With demand changing rapidly, this fulfillment method lets you focus on creating topical and trendy designs without worrying about the production process.
There’s also a smaller chance of making high-cost mistakes. POD dropshipping companies follow market tendencies to offer products that consumers want to buy.
Printful’s product range keeps expanding and now it covers the essential items you need to create an athleisure line. Some products even have more specific variants, like leggings and their variations—yoga leggings and capri leggings. Yet there are still some limitations that you should be mindful of. POD products cannot be custom-tailored or are limited to a certain range in sizes.
Make sure to find a fulfillment partner that suits your needs, order product samples and find athletes that can testify to the quality of the product.
What to keep in mind when choosing your activewear products
The apparel industry is vast and activewear is no different. Understanding your customers is the first step you need to take when choosing your new activewear products. Market research is equally important—be up to date with the newest trends and changes in demand or find a niche that nobody else has tapped into.
What your customer needs
Don’t limit yourself to thinking that activewear is meant only for gym rats and sports enthusiasts. Athleisure, as the word suggests, is the combination of athletics and leisure and can easily be described as comfortable clothing, while streetwear transforms similar products into opinionated and fashionable statements.
So, if your customer base has a strong active culture, you should choose and market your products with that in mind. Find a specific niche and work around the culture surrounding it. Choose sport-specific products, give them a new twist and a unique personality. Offer rash guards to surfers, printed leggings to yoga enthusiasts, visors and polo shirts to tennis players, or create a whole swimwear line.
If, however, you aim to offer products to the more general public, emphasize the importance of comfort in everyday life. Think of yourself, your friends, and colleagues and what are their needs that your product line can satisfy. Choose products that fit the athleisure trend. Be sure to include a bag or two as an accessory.
Caroline Gogolak, the founder of Carbon38, describes her customer as an active woman who runs around, drops her kids off, hurries to work, makes time for meetings and yoga classes, and is in need of performance clothing. Gogolak also notes this happening in the menswear market as well, saying that people, in general, tend to choose more casual clothing.
If your customer base is mainly the younger generation, try to surprise them with a hip and comfortable streetwear line. Not only are these products easier to design, but they also have great marketing potential. This is because most of the streetwear items are worn throughout the year and allow for experimentation. To create a credible streetwear line, put your designs on products made by an already established streetwear brand—Champion. Jump on multiple trends by designing your own Embroidered Champion Bomber Jacket.
Plus size activewear products
What’s more, the active industry is finally catering to plus-size consumers as well. More brands are recognizing the need for size-inclusive apparel, although the market still cannot satisfy all of the demand. Donna Martin, Director of Merchandising at PUMA, has shared their brand experience with the plus-size market. At first, PUMA offered plus size activewear online. After seeing positive results, especially within the international market, they decided to introduce these items in their brick-and-mortar stores. Martin notes that the success of the campaign was due to the retailer being authentic and targeting the plus-size customers directly, not just adding another size to an already existing product campaign.
The pace of the movement
To keep athleisure fatigue at bay, pay close attention to what is happening in the market. Follow the trends that are doing well, but don’t be afraid to innovate and stand out.
We suggest bringing some color to a very neutral-looking market. Not only will you have a unique approach to athleisure, but you’ll have space to experiment with the seasonality of activewear products.
To make sure what the market demands, read market reports, use the activewear insight tool and, most importantly, research what your target audience is interested in and are willing to splurge on. Take advantage of Printful’s print-on-demand service to experiment with different products and designs.
Activewear marketing tips
Invest in visuals
No words can describe a design better than a great photo or a professional video. Consumers are driven by doing activities in style, so your visuals need to represent that.
Don’t limit yourself to stylized flat lays:
- give it movement—go to a running track, to the gym, to the nearest beach and showcase your products in action;
- showcase the versatility of the product—get some shots of athleisure products in a professional setting, in the comfort of home, or during the commute;
- be sincere—a professional model might be the best choice for fashion apparel, but athletes and people representing your actual consumer base will make your line more authentic.
Take advantage of social media
The active lifestyle has long moved past gym walls. Your customers are active people and have gathered like-minded people around them. A single picture of a customer using your products is sure to travel further than you could reach on your own.
Another great way to snowball is to collaborate with instructors and coaches. They have their own following and can raise your brand equity and reach by endorsing, promoting or simply using your products in day-to-day life. This is especially important for sportswear focused apparel lines.
Stefani Grosse, CEO of luxury sportswear brand Monreal London, suggests Instagram as the best platform since it attracts a youthful following.
We’ve already mentioned collaborating with athletes and sports instructors who are great partners when selling sportswear. However, if you want to market your products as streetwear, turn to more hip influencers. It’s how the style was made and rose in popularity.
Streetwear is closely connected with multiple subcultures and internet culture. Your best bet would be to approach the online influencers and artists your customers know and love. Look for established fashionistas, upcoming underground musicians and beloved gamers. Follow your target community online and offer them their inside jokes on their favorite clothing items: t-shirts, hoodies, snapbacks, and so many more.
Make your products exclusive! Create a collection that has a limited amount of items available or can be purchased only during a specific time frame. Note that to justify hyping your product it also needs to be more unique. Be the first to jump on the newest trend or offer something no-one has managed before.
Follow the seasons
Although most athleisure items are used all year round, it doesn’t mean they have to be sold that way. We’ve emphasized how much athleisure is driven by customer demand and how often it changes. Try to think ahead of time and prepare collections in advance.
Mix up your product range so it’s more appropriate for each season, and create different designs for different times of the year. Be mindful of where your target market is located—introduce light-reflective running attire for northerners or sweat-proof tank tops for southerners.
Don’t forget to check the weather forecast! Sending a sunny promotional email might not give you the results you want with a blizzard raging across the country. The same goes for beanies and sweatshirts during a heatwave.
Start selling activewear
If you have decided to start selling activewear on your online store, be sure to do your research first. We recommend making sure you have a clear understanding of your target audience and their needs and partner with a fulfillment company that meets your standards.
Most importantly, be as active as your customers! Having the same interest and enthusiasm toward sports, fashion and culture, are sure to make your brand more authentic and desirable.