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In Activewear, Breaking From the Pack With Cotton

When it comes to working out, there are plenty of apparel options out there—from traditional sweats and tees, to athleisure to performance active. According to the Global Industry Analysis, Inc., this has led to a $145.5 billion global activewear market.

Everyone from sporting goods giants like Nike, Reebok and Under Armour, to runway designers and mass merchants are adding fitness apparel. To stay ahead of the competition, some stores and brands are turning to performance in cotton.

Retailer Londo Mondo has differentiated itself through its women’s active, après workout and sportswear, especially its selection from California maker Hard Tail, which has a wide array of cotton and cotton blend pieces.

“We’re the largest carrier of Hard Tail in the city,” said Kristin Gillespie, marketing manager for Londo Mondo. The Chicago-area merchant has three brick and mortar stores, as well as an e-commerce site that offers swim, activewear, yoga and sportswear. “The brand has always been strong for us, so we developed our site centering around it. Our customers like how it fits, how it feels and that it’s pre-shrunk. Of course it’s great for our yoga customers. But the performance cotton caters to runners because the fabric will holdup with friction and keep you dry and cooler.”

A new video presentation on the activewear market from Cotton Incorporated reveals that consumers are quite interested in such performance features in their activewear. In fact, 56 percent say they would seek out activewear with moisture management, as well as odor resistance, followed by water repellency (49 percent), thermal regulation (45 percent), and antimicrobials (34 percent), according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle & Retail Monitor Surveys. While 49 percent of activewear at key U.S. retailers is marketed as having moisture management, stores offer just 6 percent with odor resistance, 5 percent featuring thermal regulation, 2 percent with antimicrobials, and 1 percent promoting water repellency.

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Of course, comfort (46 percent) is a big factor when it comes to why women like their favorite activewear items.  Maeghan Pami, a sourcing analyst who works out six days a week, finds she wears a lot of cotton and cotton blended tanks and tees.

“It’s comfortable, it fits well, and the cotton won’t stick to me, even if I’ve been sweating,” she said. “I feel like the synthetics stick to me more—even the ones that say they’ll keep you dry. And I don’t go right home after the gym—I go food shopping or stop at stores. So I don’t want something that’s damp and clinging to me until I get home.” Among the 92 percent of consumers who wear activewear for purposes other than exercise, three in four cite comfort as the reason why, according to Cotton Incorporated’s 2014 Sports Apparel Survey.

Currently, synthetics account for two-thirds of the activewear market, according to the Retail Monitor data. However, more than nine in 10 consumers said they would choose cotton over synthetic activewear if cotton could wick moisture, regulate temperature, be lightweight, hold or lock color, resist UV rays and not show sweat.

Brands that want to stand out in the activewear marketplace may want to consider combining performance properties with cotton. The technical experts at Cotton Incorporated have already created performance features like TransDRY, a technology that wicks and spreads moisture to dry garments in half the time; WICKING WINDOWS, an application that transfers moisture away from the skin to keep the wearer cooler and drier; and STORM COTTON, a water-repellent finish that offers protection from rain and snow while maintaining the natural feel and comfort of cotton.

Under Armour, the company that used to say cotton was the enemy in its marketing, has already begun adding cotton to its offerings—with positive results. The Baltimore powerhouse said its fourth quarter net revenues increased 30 percent last year, driven by expanded innovations including those in its Charged Cotton collection. UA offers its original Charged Cotton that dries faster than the traditional fabric, Charged Cotton with HeatGear Technology to keep wearers cooler, and Charged Cotton with Storm water-repelling technology.

The company also offers performance cotton chinos and cotton-blend Rival fleecewear. It recently launched a capsule collection of Muhammad Ali lifestyle apparel that includes performance cotton blend tees, tanks and sweats. A full line will be rolled out this fall.

The major activewear companies feature pro athletes or hardcore gym enthusiasts in their marketing. But the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) says the top fitness activity among Americans is walking. It’s performed 50+ times per year for 76.8 million participants. That’s followed by running/jogging (28 million), treadmill (27.7 million), stretching (26 million), and free weights under 15 pounds (24.8 million).

The Cotton Mill’s Jeff Silla, who with his wife Patty co-owns the Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, company, said walking is a top activity for his customers. The e-merchant’s selection includes sweats, shorts and tees, all 100 percent cotton.

“Walking is what our people do—they’re not runners or into heavy training,” he said, adding that business has only been increasing. “They’re retired or have retired in their 50s, but remain active. So our customer is looking for comfort in their clothes. Our people like the breathability, the softness, the fact that it’s all natural and that it wears well.”

Gillespie agrees customers like the way the store’s cotton feels.

“They also like that Hard Tail is pre-shrunk,” she said. “It’s a big thing and customers like that. They also appreciate that it wears and washes well—and that it will last a long time.”


This article is one in a series that appears weekly on The data contained are based on findings from the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor Survey, a consumer attitudinal study, as well as upon other of the company’s industrial indicators, including its Retail Monitor and Supply Chain Insights analyses. Additional relevant information can be found at