ACTIVEWEAR GETS GOING IN UK
Byline: James Fallon
LONDON — British women are becoming more active, but they’re still several laps behind their American counterparts.
Activewear retailers and manufacturers in the UK reported sales are booming, with growth rates in some cases topping 100 percent.
Executives said British women are at last waking up to the benefits of working out and are beginning to spend money on the apparel in which to do it.
“My impression is that the UK is ahead of the rest of Europe and closer to the U.S. in the development of sport-specific products for women,” said Mary Peveto, international marketing manager for Adidas AG.
But there is still a long way to go before the British market rivals that of the U.S., executives stressed. In addition, many women are still working out in whatever garments they can find rather than looking for the latest high tech apparel. Industry consultants TMS Partnership estimates the women’s activewear market in Britain totaled about $317.24 million (206 million pounds) in the year ended November 1995, compared with the $360.36 million (234 million pounds) of the men’s market. The women’s market saw a slight decrease in sales, which could stem from the difficult sports retail environment overall, they said.
“Everything to do with health and fitness here is in its infancy compared with the U.S.,” said activewear designer Sam de Teran, who opened her own 555-square-foot shop on Fulham Road last fall. “Stores here are only beginning to focus on activewear as a category separate from sportswear.”
There continues to be confusion as to what “activewear” means. Store groups such as House of Fraser, a 53-unit operation carry all their activewear in their sports departments — some of which are leased areas run by the British sports chain, Olympus Sports.
The difficulty in defining activewear makes it hard for stores to estimate their customers’ average purchase. Teran said hers has been about $760 (500 pounds) because she’s mainly been selling skiwear. Buyers at other stores said purchases range from a single T-shirt at $15.20 (10 pounds) up to a designer leotard at about $136.80 (90 pounds). Women are beginning to buy entire outfits rather than items, buyers said. As a backlash to the aerobics image, women want to assert their athleticism with two-piece coordinated outfits that also can be worn as streetwear, said Peveto of Adidas.
Some stores are waking up to the potential of activewear within their overall fashion departments. Harrods carries most of its activewear on its sports floor, but lines such as Polo Sport are featured on its fashion floor. Selfridges offers Polo Sport and Norma Kamali and is keen to add more resources to its Casual Collections area, said David Elliot, fashion director.
Debenhams used de Teran as a consultant to develop a private label activewear line, while designer retailer Karen Millen plans to introduce activewear-inspired looks this spring. The collection, which will be called M-Sport, will be more for nightclubs than the gym but will focus on high tech fabrics.
Susan Whiteley, head of buying for women’s wear and accessories at Harvey Nichols, said the store’s customers are looking for activewear that carries a designer label. Kamali’s gym line performs strongly at the store, with price points beginning at $137 (89 pounds) for a leotard.
“Women are buying the entire outfit and want the whole look that they can wear to the gym and out on the street,” she said. “The problem is that our customer wants internationally recognized labels but they are hard to get in Europe right now. We have asked some of our resources, such as Liza Bruce, to do activewear especially for us, but so far they are not interested.”
De Teran said many stores still do not know where to carry activewear; most of them have not established separate bodywear or activewear departments on their fashion floors as department stores have in the U.S.
She said she opened her own shop because of her difficulty in wholesaling, although Harvey Nichols has taken her line of tenniswear and swimwear for spring 1996.
De Teran soon will introduce riding apparel, footwear and shoes for aprAs ski.
Meanwhile, many traditional sports retailers continue to ignore the potential of the women’s markets, vendors complained. While such chains as Olympus, Champion Sports and Allsports are doing a good job in introducing more women-specific products, sports in Britain remains a male-dominated area, they said. Adidas, Nike, Reebok, Russell Athletic and Champion are currently offered in many sporting goods stores.