LONDON — A mere 24-hours after boutique fitness gyms were forced to close their doors amidst fears of the continued COVID-19 spread in the U.K., instructors, fitness influencers and active wear brand owners mobilized to find alternative ways to keep serving their communities and do their part in helping to preserve the nation’s mental health.
There was an influx of workouts — with traditional gym equipment often replaced by towels and water bottles — sound healing sessions and cooking classes hosted live on Instagram and YouTube daily; Instagram Story Q&A sessions to offer advice; and on-demand videos to try.
Online practice has not only sparked a whole new way of communicating, relationship-building and fostering brand loyalty, it has also meant that even as consumers worldwide reassess their spending priorities, purchases of active wear, fitness gear and online workouts – which are now offered at a fraction of the price of in-person classes – continue to thrive.
Barry’s Bootcamp U.K., one of the fashion industry’s favorite workout classes, started offering a schedule of free Instagram live classes the day after making the announcement of its decision to close, with instructors teaching from their living rooms.
More than 1,000 people tune in for every class – an in-person class would fit around 40 people – who leave excited comments in real-time and document the process on their own feeds. Last week, it also hosted a 12-hour class marathon in aid of the U.K.’s National Health Care system, raising over 30,000 pounds.
The wider team of fitness instructors at Barry’s Bootcamp – the majority of which are self-employed – have also been diversifying their offerings with live Youtube classes that cost as little as 4 pounds, one-on-one Private Training sessions via video chat or videos on Instagram TV created in association with sport’s wear giants like Puma that even feature custom playlists to lift your mood.
“[There’s a new need] for bodyweight, low equipment, workouts that can be performed safely at home. Essentially, something that will keep their sense of routine, mental clarity and health going during this lockdown,” said George Lloyd, a trainer and Barry’s who is now focusing on offering daily 45-minute classes and training clients on the new online training platform MVB he developed with fellow trainer Miles Casey that offers physical and mindset training.
Despite challenges like no longer knowing when the next pay check will come in and a saturation of online workout content, Lloyd added that there’s been a sense of coming together in the fitness community. “The crisis brought the fitness community a lot closer, mainly because we are all in the same position. Everyone seems to have adopted a helping attitude with their content, constantly uploading new workouts or concepts for their audiences to get involved in,” he said.
Gymbox, famous for its trendy boutiques and diverse workout classes, has also been working hard to transform its high equipment studio classes such as ballet barre and acrobatic classes, into home-friendly, bodyweight only exercises or utilizing household items in place of gym equipment for towels, backpacks filled with books or water bottles.
“When we announced our gym closures, we were inundated with members asking if we could still help them work out from home and borrow equipment, which for health and logistics reasons, we aren’t doing. However, what we’re doing is putting out a number of workouts across all class categories every week,” said Rory McEntee, brand and marketing director at Gymbox.
The surge of demand has also pushed Gymbox to launch IGTV, so that their workouts can be accessible past the 24-hour live period. At first, the classes were taught by their master trainers, but due to ongoing requests, they’re tapping in and inviting their vast network of trainers to participate so that members can attend their favorite classes virtually.
“We haven’t monetized anything and more than ever we’re engaging with our commnunity and asking them what content they’d like to see, so it becomes a two-way conversation. The feedback is unbelievable, I’ve read comments from Glasgow to Jersey,” McEntee added.
Gyms, influencers, retailers, big and small are all offering free content. Since the December of last year, Nike has seen a 36 per cent growth in digital earnings with the Nike App close to tripe digit growth.
“At a time when people were confined to their homes, we moved swiftly to leverage our digital app ecosystem and Nike expert trainer network to inspire and support our consumers across China to stay active and connected while at home. As a result, our Nike Training Club workouts in China saw an extraordinary rise in sign-up and engagement and our weekly active users for all our Nike activity apps were up 80 percent by the end of February,” a spokesperson for Nike said.
The retailer is now shifting its focus to their online ecosystem to help people stay active at home. They’ve also recently announced that their premium Nike Training Club service, which offers studio-style training programs and workouts, will now be made free of charge. They will also be working hard to provide new content around mindset, nutrition and recovery on their social channels such as Instagram and YouTube.
Adidas too, is offering freemium content across its digital and social channels. The Adidas Training and Running apps will offer users a 90 day free premium membership, which has at home workouts as well as nutrition guides. They’ve put together a list of their virtual events and workout sessions on Instagram and Facebook.
The rush to do downward dog and squats at home has, not surprisingly, been fuelling sales of sports clothing. According to Goxip, the fashion and lifestyle research platform, sports’ wear sales have increased by 39 percent globally in the last 3 months, with particular demand for yoga mats.
“At first, there was radio silence [in online demand]. But as the gyms and studios closed, working out at home became the only option and people wanted to feel good while they were doing so. I think we are now seeing a drive in purchasing habits towards work-from-home wear, so it was only natural that people would start to invest in activewear, as these are the items that they will be using every single day,” said Phoebe Greencare, founder of the luxury active wear Silou, which stocks its chic, color-block collections in retailers like Selfridges and Moda Operandi, as well as boutique gyms like Soul Cycle and Equinox.
Greencare and her co-founder Tatiana Kovylina, are self-proclaimed lovers of all “kooky health and wellness alternatives” and have always been running monthly fitness events for the Silou audience. They felt a responsibility to continue those services virtually to provide support during this challenging time, but also to shift the tone and acknowledge the crisis we are facing.
“Brands that continue to post almost on autopilot are losing out on the humanity behind their message. I’m a loyal customer to many brands but their insensitivity to the current climate has definitely left me feeling disengaged,” said Greencare, pointing to Silou’s new wellness schedule that offers free meditations, workouts and sound healings to help people navigate isolation.
“Funnily enough, we have had a huge spike in followers this week and emails from our #WomenofSilou saying how appropriate our language is around the situation and how we still bring a little bit of positivity with each post or email,” she added.
Lululemon has also attributed strong Q4 sales to the power of their product, stating that as it is less seasonal in nature and relevant year round. In their quarterly report released last week, the brand has seen growth across all categories with e-commerce contributing 464 million dollars or 33 percent of total revenue. Ceo and director Calvin McDonald said that they have definitely witnessed a growing demand in accessories categories for yoga mats and yoga blocks as customers are working out from home.
Pip Edwards and Claire Tregoning, founders of the buzzy activewear label P.E. Nation have also been seeing their online business “remain quite buoyant” with particular demand for leggings and crop tops.
“Now is the time for people to feel comfortable, supported, and in clothes that speak to their new way of at-home life,” said Edwards and Tregoning, who have seen a lot of global activity at the beginning of the year, following the launch of a sustainable capsule with H&M and remain confident that they can continue to attract new users.
The advantage of active wear brands – that more traditional fashion labels often lack – has been their ability to put their product into a broader context of wellness, fitness and overall wellbeing, so it continues to withhold some relevance even at this time of crisis.
“It’s all about the way we speak to our audience. This has always been an important part of business that we curate and articulate with great consideration, but moving forward, it really isn’t about pushing product, it’s about creating a positivity around our new way of life. It’s around finding meaning and purpose in our life and how that relates to our product and how our product can help every woman in these trying circumstances,” added Edwards and Tregoning.