The big three sneaker giants — Nike, Reebok and Adidas — continue to possess the highest profile among U.S. consumers when it comes to the estimated $16.2 billion women’s activewear market.
With flashy multimillion-dollar ad campaigns no longer aimed solely at hardcore gymgoers, this trio of brands is trying to reposition themselves as affordable alternatives for everyday pieces that can be worn on the Stairmaster or in the morning meeting.
While the top three brands continue to strike endorsement deals with high-profile athletes — as in, Nike with Marion Jones, Reebok with Venus Williams, and Adidas with Anna Kournikova — they’re expanding into designer-influenced collections to be more welcoming to the stylish masses. Liz Lange has helped Nike get into maternity activewear, Diane Von Furstenberg has a cobranded tennis line with Reebok and Yohji Yamamoto vaulted Adidas onto the designer scene with his Y-3 sneaker collection.
Well aware that 82 percent of all activewear purchases are made for nonathletic purposes, sneaker companies have finally smartened up and altered their offerings accordingly. With saturation in the men’s market continuing to be a problem, companies are renewing their commitments to women’s apparel.
With Mindy Grossman heading up its women’s apparel, Nike is trying to fold stylishness into its merchandise and in-store displays. Reebok has made major strides by teaming up with musicians like Eve and Shakira to give the brand some razzle-dazzle with today’s finicky teens who frown upon anything their parents might have worn. Adidas has gained young fans with its Originals line, a retro-chic collection of footwear and apparel that dons the iconic three-stripe logo.
Privately held Boston-based New Balance, which occupies the number-four slot in the activewear top 10, has grown from a small company to an industry leader by remaining committed to innovation, domestic manufacturing, grassroots promotions and retail partnerships. Beyond its running roots, the company has delved into crosstraining, walking, basketball, tennis, adventure sports and kids’ shoes.
This summer, New Balance introduced two apparel groups, Seasonal Basics and Sport Comfort, to appeal to the more relaxed set. Hooded zip-front jackets and full-leg pants are among the offerings geared for weekendwear, said apparel product manager Nancy Desrosiers. “We decided to do it based on feedback from our bigger accounts,” she said. “They said there was a need for that in the market.”For Danskin, number five on the activewear top 10, outfitting nonathletic types became a major initiative after the company saw its high-performance O2 line being purchased by nonathletes.
It’s also in the company’s best interests to expand on activewear as its price points are generally more affordable than sportswear and ready-to-wear in department stores. Last year, for example, the number of doors that carry Danskin Yoga doubled, said Carol Hochman, the brand’s president and chief executive officer. Danskin Yoga retails for less than half the price than the company’s Zen collection, a yoga-inspired sportswear line, and is sold in sporting goods stores. Danskin Yoga retails between $20 and $40, while the Zen collection retails between $40 and $120.
Despite the fact that footwear comprises the bulk of their businesses, Converse and L.A. Gear landed on the top 10 list of most-recognized activewear brands, occupying the sixth and seventh slots, respectively.
In eighth place is Champion, which this month unveiled a national advertising campaign, its first ever. The campaign consists of 15-second and 30-second spots featuring images of athletic women and men with the tag line “Be Your Own Champion.” Print ads will appear in July in several lifestyle and sports magazines. Champion, a division of Sara Lee Corp., has spent between $10 million and $20 million on the campaign.
Puma, occupying the number-nine slot, has been busy opening freestanding stores with stylish wares. At last count, it totals 13 freestanding stores and 12 outlets across the U.S. Nuala, the Christy Turlington-backed yoga-inspired line has also been a big breadwinner for the company. Puma running apparel, in stores this summer, is the latest category to be introduced by the company.
Spalding, which finished at number 10 on the survey, is another brand that is on the move. This spring the Russell Corp. agreed to buy the non-golf operations of Spalding Sports Worldwide for $65 million. Spalding generates $300 million in annual sales, with golf accounting for about $210 million of that amount and sporting goods the remaining $90 million. Look for Russell to try to build Spalding back up to its status as a sporting-goods giant.
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