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The rising popularity of sports wear in India

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Sports aesthetics have had enormous influence on fashion and styles over the years. From knitted shirts to pleated skirts, the trend is nothing new to the fashion world. But what’s new and surprising is the breakneck speed at which sportswear is inundating global fashion today.

Sports is the new buzzword of the fitness conscious world and sportswear is finding its way into our everyday clothing. Mesh insets are found almost everywhere, pants have gotten wider and looser, jogger pants can be seen sported by everyone from young Millennials to office CEOs… sportswear is just exploding today!

Even the sports world and the fashion industry are closer knit than ever. From Christiano Ronaldo, David Beckham to our very own Virat Kohli, athletes today are setting fashion trends across the globe. Of late, we have seen many sports icons in both India and abroad turning fashion brand owners and entrepreneurs – while some of them have launched their own fashion brands or lines in collaboration with established fashion companies, others have made investments in or have set up their own fashion-focused businesses. Then there are celebrities flaunting sportswear as their go-to-choice for everyday wear. Be it Priyanka Chopra and Alia Bhatt’s airport look in black tracksuits or Karan Johar on reality television shows in his oversized sweatshirts and chunky sneakers, celebrities are actively participating in bringing stylish sportswear to mainstream fashion.

The Sportswear Market in India

According to a research report published by , the global market for Sports and Fitness Clothing is projected to reach US$231.7 billion by 2024. The research also indicates that technological developments designed to improve comfort and performance has also led to the growth in sales of sports apparel. The report points out that the Asia-Pacific region is expected to be fastest growing region, with a CAGR of 6.9 percent over the forecast period, with countries like India and Thailand acting as the epicentre of this whole fashion revolution.

Market research has shown that the Indian sportswear market grew 22 percent between 2015 and 2016, outpacing the segment’s global increase of 7 percent. By 2020, it is expected to grow at 12 percent CAGR, all stemming from the increased demand from consumers who want to look better, feel better and above all are super health conscious.

“There was once a time when no one in India considered sportswear, or fitness, to be an industry that generated demand. But with the growing influence from new age media, influencers and celebrities the sportswear market has really taken off successfully in the Indian subcontinent. India is a young country,and in that sense, new information, new trends are well received and adapted fast,” says , Marketing Head, , that holds exclusive licensing rights for in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

While the men’s category continues to grow steadily, it is the women’s sportswear category that has exhibited fantastic growth over the last 2-3 years. The paradigm shift in women’s lifestyle is evolving their buying behaviour. Also, the growing demand for athleisure in everyday fashion and for various occasions is driving strong growth. Additionally, there is increasing popularity of sportswear in everyday fashion and for various occasions of use; driving growth strongly.

“There is huge upswing in sneaker culture and some of our most popular products are modern renditions of heritage sports products. Another category that’s underpenetrated is kids. This is a huge focus area for our brand, and we will continue to build this category going forward,” asserts , Executive Director Sales and Operations, .

Growth Drivers

The growth of the sportswear category in India can be better understood by co-analysing it with the key changes in the general ecosystem of the country. Changing lifestyles, higher disposable incomes, home grown brands bringing contemporary international fashion to Indian stores and well known international brands setting up business in India, etc., a profusion of factors have culminated to give impetus to the changing fashion sensibilities of the Indian populace. This changing fashion sense coupled with affordable prices has pushed the market for almost all fashion segments in the recent past.

“India, today, is at par with wider global fitness trends. The booming economy and changing lifestyle preferences have compelled Indian consumers to be more health conscious and add new health and wellness routines to their hectic lifestyles. This trend has largely benefited the sportswear industry in India, which now is among the top in demand fashion segments of the country,” says , CEO, Skechers South Asia Pvt. Ltd.

Taking about the size of the Indian market, Roy says, “The current size of the Indian sportswear industry is pegged at around Rs 4,000 crore and is experiencing a 10-15 percent YoY growth. Growing interest in fitness and overall orientation around healthy living is fast changing the lifestyle of people in India. Added to this, Indians are taking to sports both professionally and as recreation more than ever. Digitalisation and evolution of social media continues to propel the adoption of global trends around fitness, innovative designs and latest products, fueling our growth in products for Sports performance.”

The success of e-commerce has also contributed to this growth as has the digital boom. Retailers have been able to gain potential customers, improve their communications and messaging, track finances, implement research and improve their brand in a cost-effective manner. Digitalisation and e-commerce marketplaces have provided the retail industry with several avenues with an active consumer base that prefers shopping online, allowing them to purchase products whenever they want.

“Digital is one of the key growth drivers for sportswear, reaching more consumers not just in the metros but also from smaller towns where the consumer demand is steadily growing. Our direct to consumer e-commerce business has grown the fastest in 2018. As we sell directly on the online marketplaces, we have been able to enhance our customer experience, and this has also improved our speed to market. We have been pleasantly surprised in India about the demand of our products on the day of their global launch. We have also tripled our sales through www.puma.com in this year and we will continue to keep this momentum,” says Roy.

This also has aided brands in offering a uniform experience across all platforms. “Unlike earlier times when the brand or product experience could be given only in an exclusive outlet, now we have extended the same experience online as well as update our consumers on multiple digital platforms – be it the new technology benefits or the latest collection. The digital media has opened integration among store teams as well as they are continuously connected to give a uniform interaction experience across the country,” asserts Vira.

New Brands Emerge

As a whole, the sportswear market in India has traditionally been dominated by the big international brands, aptly named the ‘Big Four’—Reebok, Adidas, Nike and Puma. Most of these brands entered the country in the 1990s and in the years that followed established their presence through a flood of local franchisees.

But, in the recent past, given the ardent inclination of consumers towards sports and sportswear in general, a slew of brands, both homegrown and foreign, have mushroomed to cater to the rising needs of the consumers.

“Addition of new International and domestic brands in the organised retail segment only helps grow the overall market. The challenge that most brands today face is being able to provide quality products consistently at competing price points and staying true to their origin. Consumers today are not just buying brands, they are buying the lifestyle aspirations associated with the brand and for me, that is key,” says Sehgal.

While the slew of brands that have emerged in this category in the recent past has definitely intensified the competition in the Indian sportswear scenario, modern customers are well aware of every brand’s stand and decide their association accordingly.
“The competition between any brand is as per the acceptance and inclination from customers. The quality of product, technology usage and need-based product availability count now as factors during purchase,” adds Vira.

Also, as the demand and the market exploded, a new trend of exclusive sports large format stores by bigger brands has come to the forefront. These stores have not only helped in increasing the overall market size and general penetration for sports but also support even the smallest of categories which otherwise have no market in India.

“Stores are no longer just in the business of buying and selling goods but strive to provide a unique experience to the customers. With bigger players in the sportswear industry opening exclusive large format stores, the sportswear retailing market has only improved, especially by plugging in brand activations and more customer-friendly improvements to make shopping for sportswear an experience like no other,” says Sehgal.

“With exclusive large format stores, we open the brand to a larger consumer database, creating visibility for the brand in a defined structure. It helps in gaining loyalty and change perceptions. It gives us the opportunity to launch high-end, exclusive ranges in the stores, increase the product catalogue and change the shopping experience beyond transactions,” Vira further states.

Innovation by Brands

Growing trends and brand awareness have led to increased consciousness and more awareness of global fashion trends, resulting in a much more aware and demanding consumer. Increased options and brand availability have compelled brands to add many innovations to their product portfolio. Fila’s key focus categories include motorsports, tennis and basketball.

The brand’s innovations are focused on specifically designing utility lifestyle-based products. “We have introduced the performance segment (with FPS) this year which is technology based. The segment focuses to ensure comfort, flexibility and lightweight performance in both lifestyle and sports footwear. Our biggest advantage is our connect with the local Indian market, where we are focused on innovating products that suit the tastes of real consumers and creating beautiful products that service these needs,” says Anupam Sehgal.

Fila has recently launched its mountaineering inspired range Explore for the Adventurist, a collection that comprises of clothing, accessories and footwear.

Puma has always been looking to include an element of fun and easy wear in all its products. Bringing to life the brand’s philosophy of “where the gym meets the runway”, Puma’s collection offers a broad range of colour options to on-trend styles that can easily be worn from work to an evening out with friends. “Puma experiments with different fabrics like waffle, jacquard and Ottoman. Some of our sport-style products also feature anti-bacteria finish and Puma’s Dry Cell technology for breathability and moisture management. In addition to this, we are also introducing on trend fabrics and silhouettes with open hems, oversize fits and tapes,” says Roy.

Skechers offers unique product features like Ultra Lightweight, M Strike and Hyper Burst technology which provide unique benefits in fitness use. Given the unique features and the wide range, the brand is addressing a growing need in the market with a unique product. Apart from this, the brand’s range of shoes includes kids, fashion and lifestyle, sports inspired, sandals and slippers, golf training, walking, running and work wear shoes.

As the need for sustainability has become an imperative over the past years in fashion, several sportwear brands are increasingly focusing on adhering top greener production techniques.

Puma’s sustainability strategy focuses on creating a substantial positive impact. By the end of 2018, about 50 percent of all cotton and 66 percent of all polyester used in Puma apparel came from more sustainable sources like bluesign certifi ed polyester, and cotton from the Better Cotton Initiative, an organisation seeking to improve the environmental, social and economic impact of cotton production. “Now Puma is aiming to increase it to 90 percent by 2020. I would also like to add that sustainability is an expensive proposition and Indian consumers are still reluctant to pay the full price for it,” states Roy.

Penetration into Smaller Towns & Cities

Trendy sportswear is no longer the prerogative of the urban elites today but has also penetrated the semi urban towns and Tier II and III cities of India. The population of these cities today is far more aspirational and demonstrative and showcases a higher propensity to buy ‘brands’ in the sportswear space. Hence, these towns and cities are fast emerging as lucrative retail destinations for brands and retails alike.

“Between 2015-16, sportswear in metro and Tier II and III cities grew close to 80 percent. The footwear category hit a 100 percent for metro and Tier I cities, with very strong demand from Tier III cities which grew over 110 percent. These numbers and figures only go to show that it is absolutely crucial to expanding into Tier II and III cities, even for a sportswear business,” says Sehgal.

Rahul Vira also echoes similar thoughts and goes to the extent of calling these destinations the epicentre of retail growth in the near future. “The retail sector is experiencing exponential growth, with development taking place not just in metros and cities but also in Tier II and III and smaller cities and towns. In fact, these smaller towns are often touted to be the future epicenter of retail growth in India. While an increasing number of both domestic and international retailers have been vigorously expanding into India’s vast hinterland over the last few years, penetration into smaller cities as such needs rehashed retail strategies as well as and depth of the understanding of the consumer,” he says.

The Future

The past few years have seen a drastic change in the fashion industry as style and taste are not restricted to age, but an individual’s personality. Gradually, the market has witnessed a welcoming change with casual wear gaining popularity across all demographics, even regardless of age. This is a clear indication that the sportswear trend has been successful in transcending beyond the millennials and the younger generation to become a timeless trend that is here to stay.

Also, the sportswear segment in India, like many other fashion segments, is undergoing an astounding change of perception as well as evolution. A noticeable change in the Indian sportswear industry is that it’s becoming increasingly organised; and modern retail is picking pace in small cities too, much to the delight of brands, suppliers and retailers of sportswear and sports lifestyle products. As sportswear retail grows and penetrates smaller towns, it is imperative to maintain the same standards and quality of retail experience through store environment, store teams and customer service.

India as a market is always ready to absorb, adapt and adopt changes, especially when it comes to trends and lifestyle. The footwear industry, especially the ones catering to fitness and sports, is ever-evolving to keep up with the times, thus bringing about constant change in each segment of shoes. The rising demand for trendy, technologically superior yet comfortable footwear among all age groups is a key factor driving the industry.

We have just launched the ‘Explore’ Collection and the ‘FPS’ Collection recently. Explore is a limited edition collection inspired by the heritage of the brand in the outdoor adventure inspired lifestyle space. The collection is divided further into categories, namely- Canyon, Woods, Mountains and Elements. Our other collection FPS stands for the Fila Performance System —they are technical performance shoes with a fashionable edge. Few stylesfrom the range are equipped with BOA technology, a laceless closure system that adapts to the feet and comfort of an individual.

The country is also seeing a surge in the sneakerhead subculture – people who collect, trade and admire sneakers. Sneakerheads know their subject. They associate sneakers with a piece of history or street wear. The growth in Indian fashion and lifestyle market has given us a major impetus to the footwear industry. From a basic need-based industry, it has become an evolving fashion and style category. As a brand we have started bringing more exclusive and limited edition products which earlier would probably not work in India.