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Activewear Sales Gain Momentum in Apparel Market

The activewear business is on fire.

Consumer demand has been building significantly since 2012 for stylish, dual-purpose activewear separates that can take consumers from the gym to the office and even to a favorite late-night bistro. Activewear business is booming and the growth in the active arena has buoyed the total U.S. apparel market in the 12 months ended June 2014, according to global consumer research firm The NPD Group.

NPD reports that the activewear category–which includes a variety of pants, jackets and stretch tops in microfiber and Lycra spandex blends that can be worn as key items or layered to achieve a look of casual sportswear–helped total apparel sales reach $206.3 billion, a 1 percent increase over the prior year. Activewear retail sales accounted for $33.7 billion, representing 16 percent of the total apparel market in the U.S., and the active category has played a major role in the overall success of the overall apparel market since 2012.

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NPD identified the top three primary uses for activewear: Casual and every day use at home, while shopping, or in the work place; for athletic, sport and exercise, which has traditionally been a key area but declined during the 12 months ending June 1014; for school, where the kid’s segment is experiencing growth.

“Activewear is booming, with sales growth exceeding that of the apparel market as a whole, and it’s because consumers are wearing activewear not only to the gym, in the gym, and from the gym, but they are working out, going out, and even hanging out in activewear,” explained Marshal Cohen, NPD’s chief industry analyst. “Consumers are drawn to its comfort and versatility, and the fact that it still makes a fashion statement. Activewear, by nature, also evokes a sense of athleticism and well-being, which only adds to its appeal.”

Cohen said the activewear industry is no longer sports-centric and the active category has posted growth “across all channels,” from department stores like Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, and national chains such as J.C. Penney, to mass merchants including Walmart, Target and Kmart. Specialty boutiques, off-price merchants, e-tailers and warehouse clubs are also enjoying increases, he said.

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“It demonstrates that competition exists and it is not limited to athletic retailers,” Cohen said. “Retailers and manufacturers across the board know that activewear is active, and they all want a piece of the action…”

The appetite for fashionable activewear is so strong that even the sector giants like Nike Inc., Under Armour, Reebok, Lululemon Athletica and Gap’s Athleta are upping their game with expanded product offerings that have more of a personalized, lifestyle appeal for the yoga enthusiast, the fashionista or the soccer mom.

“Because of this competition, it’s not enough for them to simply jump on the activewear bandwagon. To truly capitalize on this ongoing trend, they need to unveil products that are colorful and unique, and fuel the activewear demand not with repetition, but with innovation and creativity,” Cohen added.