There was a time when the active and sportswear category could do no wrong and was fashion retail's top performer. Whether you were a dedicated brand or had a sportswear assortment, it meant relevance, traffic, and profits.
Fast forward to 2023, the externalities are...shall we say...complicated. We're post-pandemic, yet in a state of sustained high inflation, all the while fitness and active lifestyles remain key areas of consumer interest and demand. So we had to ask, given the number of external factors and the natural cycle of lifestyle and fashion trends, "Have we reached peak sportswear?" And more importantly we want to talk about what's next for this corner of the retail market.
Note: we use the words active and sportswear throughout, referring to the entire category of goods for both performance and lifestyle purposes, unless otherwise specified.
Muted Consumer Search – Selectively
It was to be expected that as post-pandemic occasions started re-populating our calendars, demand for certain types of lifestyle and performance activewear would soften. And this is precisely what we're seeing through search data. Why online search data? This data is a leading indicator of what's top-of-mind for consumers; when something is quickly increasing in searches, that's a brand's cue to explore whether that trend has relevance to them. Looking at this selected data, we see something striking: active and sportswear apparel searches are down markedly YOY. "Sports bras" have declined 42%, "leggings" 21%, "yoga pants" 10%, and "sweatshirts" 9%. Even more specifically, we see that the big three brands (Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour) show declining searches across various product types YOY.
BUT, with every data trend, there is nuance to be highlighted here. Searches for brands, especially those in the performance footwear category, are actually growing. Case in point: Hoka is up 56%, New Balance 31%, and Asics 22% YOY. Learn more about this by checking out our recent trend report on "sportstyle shoes" inside the platform.
Higher Discounts Levied Sooner
One of retail's most used promotional tactics? The trusty old discount. And even though many active and sportswear brands have often out-performed others in the fashion retail space, it doesn't mean they're exempt from the same promotional pressures.
Our data shows that since early 2022, the percentage of sneakers on discount has been marching upwards, jumping from 27% in January 2022 to 32% in January 2023. In fact, at the end of 2022, discount penetration for sneakers was moving towards levels seen in the earlier days of the pandemic. A notable bright spot: active apparel has a lower share on discount than footwear and has remained stable in discount penetration - at 25% YOY.
Further evidence of overall weakening? Not only are retailers having to mark down more active and sportswear apparel and footwear, they're doing so earlier.
The average days to first for active and sportswear apparel declined from 116 to 88 days between January 2022 and January 2023, a decrease of 24%. Likewise, sneakers saw days to first discount decrease from 224 to 157 days, a 30% decline in time at full price.
A Slowing Rate of Newness
Another way to assess where a category is at entails examining rates of newness. Are retailers introducing a lot of new products? And how do product introductions compare over a historical time period? We can parse out some interesting themes looking at the latest and historical data in the context of the activewear category.
One takeaway here is, yes, there's an overall slowdown in newness happening in active and sportswear apparel for both men and women. But the second takeaway is this: it's not just a recent phenomenon. You can trace the general slowdown in newness to late 2021. There's been a few temporary upticks since, but the general momentum seems to be towards a lower average rate of newness.
Just because we might have reached the peak growth rate for the active and sportswear category for now, doesn't mean we've tapped all the opportunities. The reality is far from that, in fact. Let's talk about some of the areas brands and retailers should explore.
In the height of the pandemic, tennis was one of the most popular sports people were taking up, and demand for tennis-themed attire soon followed. Product counts for tennis merchandise has continued its momentum, growing 43% YOY. The tennis phenomenon reminds us that sport-specific opportunities for brands in this space are there for the taking. Dedicating long-term focus to specific sports merchandise requires product and merchandising expertise, but the rewards of customer brand loyalty can be immense.
In this conversation, we can't neglect to mention pickleball. The more approachable cousin of tennis, it's the fastest-growing sport in the United States, and designer Norma Kamali even made a dress for the express purpose of playing.
Furthermore, golf continues to drive consumer interest; searches for "women's golf shirts" are up 36% and "golf shorts" 31% YOY. Sustained demand has meant sell-through too; golf apparel and footwear sold-out rates have increased from 5% to 11% YOY.
And one more sports-adjacent trend that's going mainstream is "motocore." The theme is influencing collections as far-ranging as Jil Sander and Diesel, along with fashion-focused lines from Harley Davidson. It might be more fashion than sport, but it's sure to influence certain products and categories in the coming months. To learn more, check out our trend report on motocore.
Keep in mind, these niche sports opportunities don't necessarily mean launching new products right away; rather consider how you can create product edits and marketing campaigns that enable you to gauge the market's appetite for these products.
What's Old Is New Again
Runway designers continue to take inspiration from sports culture of the past, while consumers look to vintage sports inspirations for modern day manifestations.
Labels like Casablanca, Ferrari, Celine and Wales Bonner are all examples of key designers whose latest collections for Fall Winter 2023 drew inspiration from sports culture of yore.
Another current case of vintage revival is the Adidas Gazelle sneaker, whose history dates back to 1960s and which can be spotted on every other influencer these days. It's so relevant that Gucci is re-upping its previous collab with Adidas and launching four new versions of the Gazelle sneaker, while the sneaker is carried by a diverse set retailers the likes of Farfetch, Asos, SSENSE, and Luisaviaroma.
The takeaway for brands is that while active and sportswear will remain relevant, its actual definition is changing. And while sportswear may become less trendy in the years to come, let's not forget that the importance of functionality and comfort in clothing is likely to remain a key factor in design and consumer behavior.