Generation Z might not like to be marketed to, but it’s quick to jump on whatever bandwagon is doing the rounds on social media. Given that this group of youngsters, born after 1995, already has purchasing power of more than $44 billion in the U.S. alone, retailers would be wise to get on their level.
Active in Style, a London-based women’s active apparel and accessories retailer, already scours social media—Instagram, in particular—to find the brands it carries. Since launching in 2013 as a platform to sell Australian activewear label Lorna Jane within the U.K. and Europe, it’s grown to offer not only Adidas, Puma and Under Armour but also boutique brands like L’urv and Yogangster.
“I was concerned about how we were going to get people to buy into the activewear trend,” said Caroline Lucey, Active in Style founder, sharing the apprehension she felt in the early days of the site’s existence.
But having spent several years working in Australia, where stylish activewear was already a thing, Lucey had a feeling the trend would make its way to the U.K.—she was right.
“Within about six months we noticed things starting to change. People were beginning to see activewear as fashion and we started to see people heading out for breakfast on the weekends in their activewear, not changing after the gym and rather just throwing on a jacket with their leggings. It was great to see as it meant the trend had legs and it was just a matter of time before the market grew,” she said.
By then, boutique fitness studios had also started to pop up around London, which helped, and the wave of Instagram fitness stars was growing awareness as well as the market.
“I guess like most trends, once people see that it is popular, more and more businesses begin to enter the market. The fact that there seem to be new brands and labels popping up every week proves that there is a huge demand for fashionable fitness wear. So for us we always hoped this would be the case because it shows the activewear sector is growing fast,” she said. “However, I think what is of interest now is which ones can survive in what is becoming a very competitive arena.”
That’s where sourcing new names on social media helps differentiate Active in Style’s offering from the pack.
“We would find out who the fit girls were following or working with and approach them. In the beginning we also put a proposal document together but we are luckier now that most brands contact us as they want to be stocked on our site or in store,” Lucey said, adding that her team will also attend Active Collective in California this year (Aug. 11-12).
Even with the ever rising popularity of activewear and athleisure, new brands—particularly high-end ones—still run into challenges when trying to crack the market.
“Clothing manufacture and production is costly and a strain on cash flow so it is not easy to produce collections. They are time consuming and require endless back and forth regarding samples, amendments, sourcing fabrics etcetera. Added to this is the issue of how to make your activewear unique—leggings can only come in so many different fabrics and prints so it’s about creating something standout that sets them apart from the rest,” she said. “Then on top of this you have the quality issue—ensuring your leggings stay up, are sweat wicking, breathable and above all pass the ‘squat test.’ Plus, keeping them at a reasonable price to ensure you are targeting a wide audience, unless of course you are focusing on a smaller high-end customer.”
Speaking of prints, Lucey noticed they’re not as popular as they were last year. Instead, monochrome styles are selling really well because they can be easily mixed and matched with any color top, sports bra or sneakers.
“We find that our customers are much more open to buying athleisure pieces too, so jumpers [sweatshirts], tops and jackets that can work with their leggings and tanks for pre- and post-workout,” Lucey said.
And she doesn’t see the bubble bursting in the U.K. anytime soon.
“There is still a huge potential audience that we can access. New activewear brands will continue to launch but we will see some go as the pressure of competition and cost of production become too great,” she said, noting that the likes of Nike and Adidas will continue to sharpen their women’s offering in terms of design and marketing. “However, I think as early as next year we will also see a push in the men’s market and the idea that men, too, can have an active wardrobe that supports their active lifestyle.”