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Q&A: Concept III’s David Parkes on the State of Activewear and ‘Aesthetics’ vs. ‘Performance’

David Parkes, who founded Concept III 35 years ago, has built a reputation for helping to source and produce some of the most advanced textiles available. The company is known for working closely with some of the top mills and technology innovators, notably Dry-Tex, Kingwhale, HeiQ and ABMT, to bring their fabric-based creations to market.

Parkes said everything with which he’s been involved since he formed Concept III has had an active attribute because he was working with brands that wanted textiles that could perform, whether they produced outerwear or sports-oriented apparel. Parkes discussed with Sourcing Journal what is driving the activewear industry and how the sector has become even more important today than we he started the company decades ago.

Sourcing Journal: What is the state of the activewear sector?

David Parkes: The activewear segment is in good shape. Consumption of apparel in general isn’t really growing, but activewear is showing growth–the last report I read showed consumer growth of 2 percent to 3 percent. Of all apparel segments, I have total confidence in activewear and performance apparel. It’s the area that has the most potential and momentum and has the most consumer attention. That’s because brands in the sector are constantly innovating, they are giving responsible attention to sustainable practices, they recognize that the consumer is demanding it and as a result their business is stable to strong.

SJ: What is driving the activewear market  right now?

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DP: Brands are driving the sector because the consumer is relying on them and relating to them. The brands are doing a sophisticated job of making it easy for the consumer to engage with them and the brands are associating themselves with good social interaction and compliance. The consumer is saying “these guys have their act together, they’re making a good product–we may pay a little bit more for it, but they are making it easy for me to buy it.”

David Parkes
David Parkes, Concept III Concept III

SJ: What’s the role of fabric choice for brands?

DP: Brands are only going to select fabrics that are appealing to the consumer–that’s a given. At the same time, the brands are looking for sustainable stories in their textile choices. People are demanding that in terms of the fibers and processes that are used to create the fabrics that go into their apparel and the chemicals that are used in the processing.

SJ: How important is price in today’s market?

DP: There is a concern with regard to price, but I do believe that the industry understands the supply chain and understands what is coming down the pike. They understand the changes that are happening and that certain costs are going to up and potentially impact their business, but I don’t think anyone at this point is expecting a dramatic impact. I say that because the brands in this sector have such a stature with the consumer. Their marketing is sophisticated and full of integrity and the consumer seems to recognize that. The fact that these products are well made and performing well, the consumer is not only attracted to them but their reputations will insulate them to some degree.

SJ: Is performance equally as important as aesthetic in activewear today?

DP: The consumer is looking for performance, but they do want the right aesthetic. The aesthetic is becoming a little softer, with some more stretch, more drape and lighter. The consumer will only accept a disappointing aesthetic for an outstanding performance, just as they will not accept a wonderful aesthetic with a poor performance.