Sportswear has become something of a saviour for the fashion industry in the last decade. The appetite for sportswear’s sub-trends like athleisure, streetwear, athluxury and now performance wear has come to be seen as absolutely insatiable.
We have come a long way from days when you walked into a store with the intention of buying a t-shirt and knew there was not much beyond the basic colour or neckline choices to make. Nowadays, often people aren’t even walking into stores and shopping has not just shifted online, but there is also a wide range of options which are both fashionable and heavy on performance qualities to choose from. This notion rings most true in the sportswear sector where brands are constantly proposing innovative fabric developments to target an ever-evolving customer demand.
According to a research on the Global Sportswear Market, the projections suggest a robust growth represented by a CAGR of 5.80 per cent during the period from 2018-2023. It is clear that sportswear isn’t just big business, but practically it’s the crutches for fashion industry’s speedy recovery.
Looming closer home, this wellness trend is not wasted on the Indian market either. Capitalising on an enormous population base, growing disposable incomes, more casual workplaces as well as a rising consciousness for health, sportswear giants have built a strong base in the country. Add to this the popularity of activities like trekking, hiking, and yoga amongst the youth, there is a market for every type of active wear brand in the country right now.
Take the example of Alcis Sportswear, the biggest homegrown sportswear brand on the scene. The brand is expecting a 7X jump in revenue from last year to reach INR Rs. 28 crore (approx. US $ 4.3 million) by the end of FY 2018. While Alcis’ goes head-to-head with the likes of Nike and Adidas, there are plenty of younger sports and performance wear brands experimenting with everything from risqué sports bras to workout apparel made from bamboo shoots to quench India’s growing thirst for functional fashion.
MEET THE NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK!
Taking on the multi-faceted role of inspiring and helping women to work out better is Aneesha Labroo’s women’s active wear brand Kica. Identifying a gap in the market for stylish and high quality affordable products, Labroo launched the work out essentials brand a year ago and sells everything from sports bras, tank tops to joggers and jackets in form-enhancing, moisture wicking fabrics. She uses details like cut-outs, mesh inserts or bright colours and with new product dropping almost every two weeks, Kica isn’t letting go of any trends.
Labroo initially launched Kica online, along with a pop-up in Delhi’s Select Citywalk for 6 months and recently opened her first store in the nearby shopping centre, DLF Promenade. However, she says her expansion model still focuses more on the online presence, adding, “We have very promising sales reach all over the country in our e-store, with a pretty big average basket size.” Up next for Kica will be furthering offline expansion through different gyms/studios, already an important part of the brand’s marketing strategy.
Operating on a somewhat opposite end of the spectrum is Mumbai-based Athlos that steers clear of trends and heavy styling. Athlos’ assortment consists of active training basics for both men and women with a range of T-shirts, training shorts and a work out towel. The brand uses materials made from bamboo or eucalyptus fibres for benefits such as skin-tight softness, 4-way stretch, quick drying and odour prevention.
Co-Founder and Creative Director of Athlos, Shruti Kamath says, “Our initial launch was a single T-shirt for men and women and every launch since then has been a lot of repeated R&D. So our focus is more on getting it right for at least some people rather trying to make everyone happy!” Naturally, product drops for Athlos have no connection to seasons and thus the brand aims to launch a new product every 30 days to keep the momentum going.
A similar approach in selling small but functional merchandise is adopted by menswear label Greyy Basics that calls itself an athleisure brand whose competitor is not Nike or Puma but rather the likes of HRX or Jockey.
Greyy’s founder Anant Mundra adds, “We want our users to come home from work and wear our products to relax. And relaxing could mean anything to anyone, from hitting the gym to simply watching Netflix in your bedroom!” Their collection, though very ‘basic’ in appearance, offers properties of UPF 50+ UV protection and anti-odour technology, and is made from Supima cotton.
Only a year old, Greyy hasn’t really been in the market for very long, but the brand already boasts of having sold in 21 states in India through e-commerce and over 15 MBOs in the domestic retail market as well as shipping to 16 countries abroad.
Going farther and deeper into the business of selling performance wear that does even more than expelling odour and drying quickly is Bangalore-based Turmswear. Turms has added the feather of stain-repellence to its hat and has grand plans of expansion.
Offering a range of jeans, T-shirts and joggers that come in a package of all of the performance properties available in the market, the brand has crossed Rs. 30 million in sales from only domestic sales. Rohit Gupta, Co-Founder of Turms also revealed to Apparel Resources that they are planning to unveil 3-4 entirely new technologies in their next product drop that will come to market by end of this quarter. Gupta says that no other brand is selling these functionalities in India as of now. He further explained, “We are going to launch cooling fabrics and oil wicking concepts very soon. But, the most exciting thing we are working aggressively on is energy recovery and 4X tech that combines all the anti-stain and moisture concepts into one and will be launched as soon as end of 2018 or early 2019!”
Looking at the performance of performance-wear brands in the country, it is clear that though young, there are several new brands exploring the segment in different capacities. These labels sit somewhere between strict sportswear and casual clothing but being an industry at a very nascent stage, there is enough bite for everyone on the scene.
Even globally, while the performance brands come a dime for a dozen, the technical textiles market has shown tremendous growth and with a market value of US $ 165.51 bn in 2017, the segment is set to hit US $ 220.37 bn by 2022, growing at a CAGR of 5.89 per cent.
THE FUTURE IS FRAGMENTED
In order to survive in the competitive market, these young labels have become acutely aware of their consumer demographic and the biggest giveaway from e-commerce has been the constant feedback and review cycle that all of them hold very dear to their brand’s growth. For many, their highest bidders continue to be their current customers. Athlos’ repeat shopper rate is 30 per cent while for Turms it’s a good 20 per cent, making up as much as 60 per cent of their entire sales. This kind of customer retention and call-back is in itself a testimony for rise in demand for such clothing in the market.
Additionally, the shopper in active wear segment has also become much more mature. S/he knows his/her needs very well and even the general public is now more aware of the concept. For example, Kamath explained how when she launched, it was a big task explaining to friends and family why Athlos exists. However now, Kamath adds with relief, “When I tell them that this is a T-shirt used for running, they immediately understand the relevance as everyone is now exploring the outdoors and active lifestyles.”
Another shift is that earlier if a person was involved in a certain physical activity, s/he would stick to it. Nowadays that concept is more or less out, since there is often a crossover, a hiker can also be a cycler and vice versa. This is where people realise the true value of performance active wear and prefer clothing that helps them get more out of their time.
Indian sportswear segment showcased a staggering 23.7 per cent CAGR from 2011-2016 while the forecast for 2016-2021 is set at 11.3 per cent, according to Euromonitor. And looking at the landscape, it is clear that the future of this market is not limited to branded giants. Smaller labels are filling the gaps for more localised demands, working on indigenous issues like sizing, and have a much quicker response rate or sensitivity to changing consumer lifestyles.