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Why athleisure wear is outpacing the rest of apparel categories

Growing at a rate of 20-25% annually, the athleisure segment is exploding in India. Labels owned by celebs such as Hritik Roshan, Virat Kohli and traditional players such as Puma and Adidas are leading the market. finds what’s driving the category that was pretty much non-existent a decade ago

India’s growing obsession with fitness is leading the sales of athleisure brands on both e-commerce and brick and mortar platforms. The category is booming at an annual rate of 25%, almost double the growth rate of regular apparel brands.

At the time when the apparel category has cut down on their advertising budgets, the athleisure brands are also driving adex, especially on digital and on-ground activities.

Brands such as Puma, Adidas, Giant and ASICS are heavily investing in experiential and omni-channel marketing. The massive discounts provided by fitness studio chains such as Cult Fitness among several others is also an important reason why sales are peaking in the metros.

Rajat Khurana

“We have seen the athleisure category grow at a rate of 20-25% annually, and according to me it is only going to go bullish. The athleisure trend is here to stay, and with fitness becoming such an integral part of everyone's lives, people are opting for athleisure wear rather than the mundane clothing,” said Rajat Khurana, Managing Director of ASICS.

Aditya Bafna

Globally, the athleisure wear market is expected to touch $8bn or INR 54,000 crore by 2020. In comparison with the global athleisure market, India only accounts for 2% of the total pie. Even though the growth is increasingly steadfast, India still has a long way to go when compared to international markets, said Aditya Bafna, Managing Director, Element Retail, which has Giant’s first flagship store in India.

Bafna said the athleisure trend is clearly not just a western world phenomenon and is being experienced in India as well. The lines between traditional sportswear and fashion apparel are increasingly blurring.

Celeb-led brands also fuelling growth

The growth of the category could be attributed to several reasons. There is growing health awareness among Indian consumers and an increase in consumers taking up fitness activities such as aerobics, yoga, running, swimming and cycling. This has translated to an increase in consumer expenditure on health and wellness, which has contributed significantly to the growth of the athleisure segment.

Another big push to the segment is given by celebrities who themselves have launched their own line in the category, other than being just the brand ambassadors. Sonam Kapoor, Virat Kohli, Anushka Sharma are among those who have their own lines. 

ASICS has made a conscious effort towards this direction by roping in Tiger Shroff as the brand ambassador in India. Khurana said that his reach and connect with the younger audience will surely help the brand to establish the presence in this category.

With too many players in the market, he said it has become quite important for the brands to get hold of customers, wherever they can find them.

Marketing fitness

The key challenge for a brand is to understand the dynamic trends of the industry and how these trends will create an impact on customer demand. Bafna said that the brand also needs to heavily invest their time and resources to maintain consistency across all channels.

He added, “Fitness is not a one-time purchase but rather a lifestyle change. With omni-channel marketing, customers are constantly updated and aware of innovations and new entrants in the market. This helps them make the right choice and stay updated on trends.”

For the players competing in this category to stay ahead, brands will now have to create an omni-channel presence which will enable them to be present across all the channels where their customers are present. Today consumers demand a seamless connect with the brand through e-commerce, social or in-store experience. There is a big digital transformation that brands are adopting to bridge the gap between retail and sale to make it more consumer friendly and accessible with a mere click of the button.

Since this customer is available on multiple platforms with multiple touch points, it is imperative for a brand to have an omni-channel presence to meet dynamic needs. A customer needs to have access to constant updates on messaging and developments on the brand front.

To this, Khurana said it is a must for brands to be accessible to the consumers. The use of technology along with tools to measure and enhance physical and digital experience is a key to building a community of loyal consumers to survive in this competitive market, he said.

Attracting price sensitive consumers

The Indian consumer is highly price-sensitive and at the same time is updated on global fashion trends. Bafna said if a newcomer brand thinks from the pricing and an updated fashion perspective, it is sure to have headway in this market.

“We can expect to retro fashion mixed with athleisure style becoming a huge trend. Also sustainable fashion such as using recycled plastics as a core production material can be an expected brand trend in the near future,” he added.

The upcoming trend in the category will focus on performance technology and iconic style aesthetics. The design fusion will be more authentic to its heritage moving forward, which will be optimised to deliver in performance technology and style, Khurana said. And that’s what a new entrant should keep in mind.

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