MOSCOW— While long synonymous with athletic prowess, Russia is rapidly catching up with the worldwide craze for branded activewear and ath-leisure.Under Armour recently opened its first Russian store in the Metropolis shopping mall in Moscow, saying it spies “huge potential” in the vast nation and is planning on further retail expansion in the capital city, Saint Petersburg and Ekaterinburg.The opening comes after Nike opened a flagship in Moscow last March that is dwarfed only by its London and New York outposts, and rival Adidas opened a flagship for its Originals brand.“Russia is witnessing great growth of interest toward fitness and healthy lifestyle, which becomes essential for more and more people, especially in big cities, but also in regions,” said Oleg Tsai, managing director of Under Armour Russia.He cited data from РБК (RBC Information System) that forecasts 11 percent growth in Russia’s fitness industry this year, and noted that outdoor training is particularly popular — as the presence of pull-up bars and other workout apparatuses in most public parks attest.Tsai allowed that the economic slowdown, particularly sharp in 2016, saw the value of activewear sales sink as shoppers sought products at the lowest possible price. However, he noted that an overriding trend to more casual dressing supported demand for athletic clothing.According to Euromonitor data from 2016, sports-inspired apparel and sports-inspired footwear accounted for 58 percent of total value sales in sportswear. The research firm concurred that sales of sports-inspired apparel and footwear were positively impacted by the growing casualwear trend in Russia.More recently, specialty stores in Moscow releasing hot sneakers have attracted the same massive crowds as in bigger fashion capitals. Hundreds camp out at the Adidas Originals store on Kuznetsky Most for drops of Yeezy shoes by Kanye West, for example.What’s more, luxury retailers are ramping up their selection of brands with athletic and streetwear cred, like the NikeLab stand that recently opened at landmark department store Tsum.Riccardo Tortato, fashion director of Tsum's e-commerce and men's fashion director, said Russian customers are changing, and suits are less of a statement and more of a requirement for occasions with a dress code.“Urban luxury is taking over and becoming part of the day-to-day dress code,” he said. “Sneakers as well are substituting for the classic shoes. They are performing amazingly.”Prior to its retail foray, Under Armour initiated e-commerce sales in December with a partner, Lamoda. The company declined to give sales projections for its first freestanding store.Under Armour’s brand ambassadors — including Saul Canelo Alvarez, A$AP Rocky, Stephen Curry, Tom Brady and Anthony Joshua — are equally popular in Russia. The brand also just signed a contract with the professional basketball team Lokomotiv Kuban.Euromonitor pointed out that outdoor activities are growing in popularity in Russia, as facilities are often free of charge and open around the clock.In addition to its retail stores, Adidas installed Adidas The Base in Moscow’s Gorky Park this summer, where people can train, attend seminars and participate in sports activities. Some 86,000 people visited the site in the first three months of operation and 30,000 participated in its athletic programming, according to the company.Meanwhile, Adidas said it is improving its e-commerce system in order to make its products more widely available in Russia, and with tighter delivery times.
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