The Athletic Apparel Industry and How to Enter It

There is no denying it: the athletic apparel market is one of the most lucrative apparel industries out there. Morgan Stanley predicted that the athletic apparel market will grow to an impressive $83 billion by 2020 – and just about everyone from Kanye West to Alexander Wang is clamoring to get in on the action.

There is a confluence of factors driving the newfound success of the athletic apparel industry. Much of it, however, can be attributed to the growth of the “athleisure” trend, which refers to casual, comfortable clothing that can be worn for both exercise and everyday wear. This kind of apparel can be worn in any number of different situations, from hitting the gym after work to grabbing Saturday morning brunch with friends. And as fashion is increasingly moving away from strict definitions of formal wear and street wear, a bigger opportunity is opening up for athletic apparel in the market and is attracting the attention of entrepreneurs.

“Athleisure has taken on a higher-fashion spin as celebrities and designers have collaborated with sportswear and fast-fashion companies on limited-edition offerings,” Deborah Weinswig explained in Forbes. “From Kanye West and Stella McCartney partnering with Adidas to Beyoncé and Topshop to Alexander Wang and H&M, collaborations have catapulted athleisure to a must-have, offering consumers a more accessible way to wear their favorite, and often very pricey, designers in their everyday lives.”

This has been translated into commercial success for many athletic apparel brands out there. Lululemon, for example, saw 16 percent growth in overall sales in 2015, an impressive jump from $391 million in 2014 to $453 million in 2015.

If you’re an entrepreneur looking to make a foray into the athletic apparel market, now is the time to strike. But before you take the leap, here is what you should know about how to enter the athletic apparel industry.

Make Sure You Understand Your Target Market

Millennials are the main consumer group driving the success of the athletic apparel industry. Athletic apparel – mainly athleisure – is among the top ten things that millennials spend their money on. Given that millennials currently comprise about 28 percent of the entire population, that translates into quite a bit of commercial opportunity. 

“One of the reasons for the massive popularity of the athleisure trend is that it filled a gap in the market place, where clothing that was functional wasn’t particularly stylish. Such clothing can be worn to the gym, as well as everywhere else. This relaxed standard of clothing has been largely driven by the millennials, the largest demographic in the U.S. comprising 28% of the population,” Forbes explained. “Their increased health consciousness, and a cultural shift in the workplace, has made it more acceptable to wear sneakers and sweatpants to the office. Athleisure’s strength comes from a shift in lifestyle preferences and the broad applicability of the trend.”

To capitalize on the opportunity the athletic apparel industry has to offer, make sure you fully understand your target market.

Do Your Research on Apparel Manufacturing  

The world of athletic apparel is a competitive one. If you want to succeed, it is critical that you have a complete understanding of apparel manufacturing. You need to understand what kind of materials and fabrics to use that will provide a high-quality product at an affordable cost. The competition is fierce, so you need to know how to get the balance right to make and build a brand.

Look Past Just Apparel

Increasingly, the most successful athletic apparel retailers out there aren’t just offering apparel; they are also offering ways to improve their customers’ quality of life, including through technology. For example, smartphone-connected fitness clothing has become increasingly popular over the course of the past few years, and most major athletic brands, including Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour, all have gear that connects to their customers’ smartphones.

“Rather than merely selling items such as sweatshirts and running shoes, many companies in the segment are rolling out apps that help consumers quantify their athletic activities. For some consumers, the cloud is becoming as integral to a workout as sweat socks,” Todd Wasserman said, pointing out that if brands are strategic, they can also use the data gathered via these apps to learn more about customers’ behaviors and then fine-tune their products. “The apps also help apparel companies gather consumer data on which they can base future product decisions. For instance, a brand might observe that some consumers have begun embracing kickboxing and consider developing a new line for that segment.”

Beyond technology, brands also offer things like juices and sporting goods to set themselves apart from the competition. The key is to be unique and creative.

Make Sure You’re at the Forefront of the Latest Marketing Efforts  

As the athletic apparel market becomes increasingly saturated, brands that want to stay ahead will really need to set themselves apart with their marketing efforts. This demands innovation in terms of a marketing strategy, from posting unique content on social media to finding fresh ways to interact with your customers face-to-face.

“New players are joining the game and… new marketing strategies will be key for capturing market share. Kate Hudson’s, Fabletics activewear line is disrupting the space by offering a lower-price, but still fashionable, option to consumers,” Weinswig explained. “Startups need to position themselves as offering more than just stylish yoga pants. They need to demonstrate how they can provide their customers with the complete active lifestyle that fuels the athleisure trend.”

In other words, in order to succeed, you need to think about how you can give your customers a valuable service and how you can use your marketing strategies to convey that value to them. 

The bottom line is that athletic apparel is a high growth, high potential market. But for entrepreneurs and businesses looking to break into the athletic apparel industry, it is crucial to do the right research. The more you understand, the better the business decisions you will make and the higher your chances of success. Contact 10twelve for assistance branding your athletic line today!