Trends & Features

Increased sales of female apparel is driving growth in the UK sportswear market

Louise Ramsay reports

Sportswear sales in the UK are predicted to break £6 billion by the end of 2015. According to market research firm Key Note, the anticipated growth will be driven by the female apparel market, which saw an 11 per cent increase in volume sales in 2014, boosting the value of the UK sportswear market by 9.5 per cent to £5.9 billion. This compares to growth of 1.9 per cent in 2011.

A primary reason sales are on the up is that women are more interested in sport. Prominent marketing campaigns such as This Girl Can launched by Sport England, Intersport’s Expert Advice For Tough Mothers and England Rugby’s Pitch up and Play are all helping to tackle the stigma attached to women in sport.

Female success
The success of women in the field is also playing a part. It’s hard not to be inspired by the likes of Victoria Pendleton, Jessica Ennis-Hill and England Rugby’s World Cup win last year. And who wasn’t positively gripped by the FIFA Women’s World Cup during the summer? Adding to that is the push as a nation to get fit and ward off a myriad of conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Cafe du Cycliste offers a range of premium cycling clothing for men and women. Its products are technically astute, but also decidedly gorgeous, so it’s no surprise the brand has seen significant growth in its women’s wear collection. However, Remi Clermont, co-founder of Cafe du Cycliste, is keen to point out that looks are only part of the package.

He explains: “First and foremost, any kind of sportswear has to work. It’s only from that point that the design and look of a garment comes into play.

“Obviously, a woman’s garment has to be designed from the ground up to work as well as it can – just shrinking a men’s version won’t give the same result. Women are looking for pieces that work as they should, fit beautifully, feel comfortable and look great.

“The fact cycle wear is becoming fashionable is down to cycling becoming part of their lifestyle rather than simply a separate activity. If cycling is an integral part of your life, you need clothing that works for that.”

Growing fast
Saucony has also seen an increase in sales for women’s performance apparel. “Sales for Saucony women’s apparel and footwear is growing across the EMEA region at a faster rate than men’s,” Jonathan Quint, marketing manager at Saucony EMEA, says.

“Life on the Run, which is at the top end of our performance range, is doing particularly well. Yes, it’s designed to perform, but it looks good too.”

Already a female friendly brand, in America, Saucony sells more shoes and apparel to women than men in a 47/43 per cent split.

“Our head of apparel is Leigh-Anne Zavalick and as a woman she’s got a head start on what women want,” Quint says. “One of the major advantages of women’s apparel is that it’s much more diverse than men’s. It’s possible to do so much more with it.

“A man will wear shorts and a t-shirt to do pretty much everything, but women are interested in a much broader range of products, such as leggings, capri pants, tight shorts and baggy shorts. There are more opportunities to use colour too.”

Looks can’t be ignored
But while it might seem more important that a piece of kit does its job, how it looks can’t be ignored.

“Most women are getting into sport because they want to look and feel better,” Quint says. “Kit that looks good and makes them feel better helps them achieve their aim.”

In terms of the retail environment, Quint recommends retailers create an atmosphere that women feel comfortable buying products in: “Retailers don’t need to refit the store, but it can be made more attractive.

“Make sure there’s a good changing area, not just a curtain around some boxes of shoes. Staff should also feel confident talking about the products and to women. Most commonly, middle aged men work on the sales floor, but women sell well to other women. It’s no coincidence that women’s running shops do really well in apparel.”

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