ACTIVEWEAR: PLAYING THE FIELD
Byline: KARYN MONGET
Activewear items that pack a dual-purpose punch will be among the top ideas this year in women’s sports apparel.
Retailers say that sales have generally doubled over the past year in one classification in particular: activewear-inspired items of fleece, thermals and jersey.
As a result, retailers and manufacturers are singling out these easy lifestyle-inspired looks as a source of untapped potential in the women’s segment.
The items — which include two-piece pants sets, jumpers, crop tops and bra tops, and a variety of shorts and jackets — are being worn by consumers as both casualwear and fitness apparel.
But while sales of women’s active looks are reportedly booming, the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association says women haven’t been the main focus — and a lot more could be done to build the women’s active business in a market in 1993 that added up to a $32.2 billion industry at retail.
In a recent study conducted for the SGMA by Directions for Decisions, it was noted that sports apparel is equally owned by men and women, with 86 of males owning sports apparel and 85 percent of women. However, 63 percent of the sports apparel found in all stores is targeted to men.
The study also revealed that 56 percent of consumers use sports apparel for both casualwear and sports activities; 35 percent strictly use it for casualwear, and only 8 percent strictly for sports or fitness activities.
Ready-to-wear firms also see the long-range possibilities, and big rtw names are aggressively pursuing the activewear business with their own interpretations of active looks.
As Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president of fashion direction at Bloomingdale’s, pointed out, there’s a new breed of consumer who may not have an athlete’s body, but certainly wants to dress like an athlete.
“We think clothes have to be multipurpose these days. This past spring, we began making several statements about armchair athlete clothes in both newspapers and in our windows.”
Jack Neff, senior vice president and general manager of Reebok Apparel, Stoughton, Mass., noted, “Lifestyle activewear that has more than one end use is what has been extremely successful for us.
“The whole workout-walkout concept continues to be happening, and retailers are very excited about this concept going into fall.”
Ideas that are expected to continue on the fast track this year include:
More items in fleece, thermals and jersey.
Textured treatments such as rib-patterns, piqués and pointelles.
Softly layered and wrapped effects.
More coverups, especially items that can be layered over accessories pieces like bra tops.
Expanded assortments of cross-training apparel that can double as casualwear.
Golf or tennis apparel items that have a strong look of sportswear.
While many stores at different levels of distribution are expanding branded as well as private label assortments of active looks, makers predict there will be a bigger demand for branded goods, especially names that have long been established within the athletic community.
A good portion of these names, such as Champion, are crossing over from the men’s field and focus primarily on looks that have a relaxed, rtw feeling. The crossover from the men’s arena has even penetrated the golf apparel industry, which has traditionally focused on the men’s business.
Many of the new active looks in women’s golf apparel have a look of casual sportswear, and according to vendors, women are willing to pay a higher price for apparel they can play golf in, as well as shop in.