Business ideas: Women’s sportswear

With shapeless, nondescript sportswear out and stylish, athleisure in, find out more about why you should launch a female gym wear brand this year…

Long gone are the days when being caught in your gym wear would be a hideous embarrassment.

Instead, being out and about in the right kind of sportswear (think Lululemon-style trendy patterned yoga pants with a matching crop) is a symbol of not only how wonderfully fit and healthy you are but also what a fashionista.

In the same way that Instagram has made gym selfies all the rage (encouraging more people to get fit), thanks to hashtags like #fitfashion – women are becoming more demanding of their gym wear. While it still needs to be practical and comfortable, it also needs to be stylish.

Market research firm Key Note noted that sportswear sales in the UK were expected to exceed £6bn last year, and while the big brands are beginning to take note, with sport shops launching celebrity collaborations such as Adidas’ Rita Ora range, and high street brands expanding into the sportswear market, (boohoo, Gap and New Look all have their own sport ranges now), 2016 could still be a great time to launch your own sports clothing line as fashion never stops.

Starting a women’s sportswear brand: Why it’s a good business idea

In Euromoniter’s latest Sportswear in the United Kingdom report, participation in sport, and general fitness activity was predicted to continue building over the next five years, “predominately driven by the rise of budget gyms and fitness classes which have become increasingly common.

And while more fitness activity lends itself naturally to a larger consumer spend on sportswear, fitness wear is also no longer confined to just sporting activities – opening up an even bigger opportunity.

Fashion sites and retail brands, particularly in the US, have been talking about the growth of “athleisure” for a couple of years, (a clothing line that is designed for either athletic or leisure pursuits, or both), but it’s a trend that is now gaining momentum in the UK.


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A report by market research house Mintel in September 2015 said: “Of those who have purchased sporting goods in the past 12 months, 70% purchased them for sports use whilst half (51%) purchased them for non-sports use.”

What’s more, the report specifically confirmed that women are “showing more interest in the market”. This need for crossover active wear – think gym stuff you could turn up at the office in – has sparked a whole stylish female sportswear movement.

While the major sports brands still tend to only target 30% of their products towards women, use 2016 to change that with an independent women’s sports label that capitalises on the predicted £8.65bn sportswear spend by 2019.

Women’s sportswear business opportunities

Starting a stylish women’s sportswear brand is therefore the most obvious opportunity. While a number of big businesses are muscling in on the action already, it’s not been without controversy.

Kate Hudson’s activewear label Fabletics has received a number of negative reviews both in terms of the quality of the product and for its less-than-transparent business model. And while Kanye West’s debut collection for Adidas was in high demand, shoppers have slammed its outrageous price tags.

Instead, consumers are hungry for high quality, well-made but affordable sports fashion. Following last year’s assertion that ethical clothing is on the rise – consider starting a sustainable line that stands out for the right reasons.

A niche brand that targets particular type of sports could also work well. Cycling clothing brand Vulpine recently secured £1m fundraising via Crowdcube for its “understated apparel that is functional on the bike and stylish when you get there”.

And it’s not just clothing that offers a lucrative start-up option, sporting fashion accessories represent a significant market opportunity too. GymTote launched in 2014 to wide-ranging fanfare for its fashionable gym bag disguising itself as a tote and Next has recently revealed a very similar looking range.

Finally, as wearable tech continues to evolve and fittech increases in popularity, there’s scope to launch your own smart fitness clothing. In the US, Ralph Lauren recently launched the Polo Tech Smart Shirt which features built in sensors to track heart rate and movement.

Insider opinion

GymTote’s co-founder Helena Searcaigh commented:

“The fact that athletic brands were the top searched items on fashion site Polyvore in 2015, and that countless major high street and online retailers are now launching their own sports fashion lines, shows just how commercial athleisure has become. The market is growing rapidly – according to retail data company Verdict, the athleisure sector will grow by about 24% over the next five years – and to make a splash you have to be a unique product or offer better designs, materials and a brand that people really engage with.

“We sold out of our first collection in about three months and demand has continued to grow internationally. We regularly sell out across all our lines and sell around 30% of our bags in the US. The UK sports luxe market is buoyant – aided by Instagram and social influencers – consumers are not afraid to spend money on quality sports fashion products, designs and brands.”

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