Trends & Features

The number of sports-related start ups is on the increase

Everywhere I look these days it seems that there are sports start ups.

The global sportswear market appears more popular now than ever before. From running to yoga to weightlifting, there’s athletic clothing and activewear to suit every sport or activity out there. Start ups are increasingly edging their way into the market, taking a piece of the pie away from big corporations and brands by catering to underserved consumer segments and offering one-of-a-kind athletic products.

Brands are exploiting niche opportunities in every sport and looking at areas where, with the ability to exploit the long tail through social media and direct to market strategies, perhaps historically the rewards would have been too small to operate.

The darling of the sportswear sector is, without doubt, Gymshark who, at barely seven years old, are in a rocket ship growing out beyond £240m revenues in 2019 and pushing ever onwards to, perhaps, £1billion plus.

With many brands trying to be like Gymshark, only a few are creating the buzz needed to potentially have similar success, yet the global sports apparel market is expected to garner $184.6 billion by 2020, registering a growth of 4.3 per cent by 2020.

This is happening due to the growing awareness of a healthy and active lifestyle, and the popularity of fitness activities such as aerobics, swimming, running and yoga, and expectations are that the sports apparel market will continue to reach new highs going forward.

Exploit the niche

The cornerstone of much of this growth is the ability of these brands to exploit a niche.

Gymshark, for example, arrived at a time where no brand was really “talking” to the gym-going, weightlifting, bodyconscious consumer. They were forced into more mainstream sporting goods brands such as Nike and adidas and, thus, Gymshark was able to provide a relevant and targeted apparel solution directly for this niche audience.

Their ability to then broaden the appeal into the wider health and fitness market is now allowing them to grow at the aggressive rate which they are.

As a business they understand that at the core of any successful business is the consumer. Carefully selecting and understanding that consumers will guide important decisions of product selection and brand identity. This can also direct growth, as effectively providing for a selected group can build reputation and aid acceptance of future ventures. After identifying the needs of the market comes developing a quality, innovative product or service to cater to them.

Niche companies provide services tailored to small audiences. Once that specified market has been infiltrated successfully, opportunities for expansion can present themselves: initially by exploiting within that niche and eventually branching out. Companies such as Gymshark serve emergent crowds and have effectively shown that a deep understanding of their customers’ needs and continuous innovation can translate into effective growth and be used in promotions to broaden their appeal.


There is little doubt that, whatever the brand and strategy, timing (and some might say luck) can also play a huge part in product development and launch. Companies must have an understanding of the social context into which their product is being launched, and once this context is taken into account can have a huge influence on the perception of a product and its success once released.

It can have a significant impact on word-of-mouth marketing: an invaluable form of promotion and, again in the case of Gymshark, this was an incredibly powerful tool.

Be different

For all the ability to exploit the niche and to be lucky from a timing perspective, one key element that any new start up must have is a point of difference.

A “Me To” brand has little chance surviving in today’s market place as consumers are incredibly savvy. There must be a reason for the brand to exist and a solution being presented that is credible and compelling.

If I relate the analogy to an area of sporting goods that I know particularly well – goalkeeping gloves – there has been an explosion of “brands” over the past few years driven, not least, by the ease with which gloves can be sourced in small quantities from (predominantly) Pakistan.

However, the result is a glut of bog standard, uninteresting, price point driven product, and yet, even in this crowded market there is still room for new brands , such as T1tan, to develop by creating product that the end consumer can connect with. Strong and relevant social content is the driver here rather than an endorsement strategy – something that the “traditional” glove brands are still using but that is, perhaps, outdated.

Direct to consumer

Without doubt the biggest development in recent times is the ability for these start up brands to reach new audiences very quickly. Easy set up eCommerce solutions such as Shopify and the power of social media means that, if the previous elements discussed have been addressed, connections with the target end consumers can happen quickly and aggressive growth can follow.

Any segments where consumers are underserved will undoubtedly see growth over the coming years.

The key for the budding entrepreneur is to find those areas, create a relevant and compelling brand and then target effectively.

Those that manage this will continue to drive this aggressive start up culture and further fuel the sports apparel market.

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