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Where is the Indian athleisure market today?

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Athleisure, which originated in the West, is no longer a passing trend but a thriving industry that continues to evolve. Explore the dimensions, driving forces, and potential growth avenues within the Indian athleisure market

Bengaluru: The fashion landscape all over the world has experienced a significant transformation since the pandemic, embracing the trend of dressing for comfort. This shift has popularised the use of athleisure—sportswear and functional, comfortable, and fashionable attire all rolled into one. The trend has been catching up in India ever since, spawning a thriving industry.

“The athleisure market in the past five years has just blown up in India and taken the market by storm,” said Raunaq Singh Prem, co-founder of OffLimits, a direct-to-consumer (D2C) sports apparel brand.

Athleisure is part of India’s sports equipment, footwear and apparel market that reached a total of Rs 218 billion rupees in the financial year 2022, marking a growth of approximately 122.5% from the Rs 98 billion recorded in 2015, as per data analytics platform Statista.

“People are not just wearing athleisure to the gym, but to casual outings or even formal events these days. 10 years ago, the per capita ownership of shoes was barely 2-3 pairs, now it’s easily around 4-6 pairs of shoes,” added Prem.

Behind the growth

Various studies estimate the category to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between 7 to 13% from 2020 to 2025. But what is driving the growth of this segment?

“Three key factors fueling this remarkable growth are India’s rising fitness consciousness, the fusion of fashion and function, and the seamless blend of traditional and contemporary lifestyles,” said Saurabh Srivastava, vice president at Amazon Fashion India. He declined to share numbers.

“The market will witness continued growth, driven by a deeper integration of technology into athleisure products and increased focus on sustainable and eco-friendly materials,” he added.

The nature of the clothing itself is a key factor driving its growth. “Athleisure offers clothing that’s both comfortable and stylish. In a hot and humid country like India, comfort is considered essential,” said Jeevika Tyagi, chief executive officer of Aastey, an eco-friendly athleisure brand.  

Size inclusivity is another pivotal factor contributing to the remarkable growth of the sector in India.

“There is a rising demand for creating more size-inclusive sportswear for women of all sizes and body types while asking companies to shift away from categories like plus size and petite,” Tyagi said.

The celeb angle

Indian celebrities, including athletes and actors, have actively endorsed athleisure brands – like Anushka Sharma for Puma and Smriti Mandhana for Nike.

Celebrities and influencers endorsing athleisure and even launching their own lines have given it a significant boost.

Celebrity-owned activewear brands that have popped up in the last few years include Prowl by Tiger Shroff, HRX by Hrithik Roshan and Just F by Jacqueline Fernandez.

“Athleisure category and trends were also promoted by a number of influencers and celebrities and eventually became well known, which played a significant driver in influencing customer choices,” said Rahul Dayama, head of marketing, Urbanic India, a multi-category fashion e-commerce platform.

Influence of tech

Technology plays a crucial role in the industry at various stages. Brands are compelled to adopt cutting-edge technologies to advance the boundaries of manufacturing, production, marketing, and the overall wearability of their products.

“The usage of technology has been the biggest growth enabler in the whole fashion industry, providing value and increasing the efficiency of operations in the industry,” said Dayama of Urbanic India.

“With the right technology, brands can develop smart textiles which can be beneficial in tracking fitness goals and body movement, thus enhancing efficiency,” he said adding that at the distribution level, technology helps in improving transparency and traceability in the supply chain.

Brands are also utilising innovative technological advancements  that are driving constant improvements in the performance, comfort, and fit of athleisure products.

“Athleisure brands incorporate technologies to enhance both comfort and functionality, introducing features like sweat-wicking fabrics in apparel, responsive cushioning in insoles, or carbon plates in shoes for stability. These experience a massive increase in interest from the consumers, who all want some sort of performance-boosting technology combined with amazing looks at the same time,” said Prem of OffLimits.

Possible obstacles

The obstacles encountered in the athleisure industry can vary significantly based on the specific needs and circumstances of each individual brand.

Aastey being a sustainable athleisure brand faced peculiar challenges when it entered the market. “Literally every manufacturer said no to us and was not ready to do minimum order quantity (MOQ) for sustainable fabrics when we started on this journey. So, we couldn’t initially directly plug cloud manufacturing. Post-launch, it is now a pull effect,” said Tyagi.

Other challenges the brand faced included a lack of availability of fabrics in India, compelling the brand to build a global supply chain, which takes time. “The community or investors need a mindset and understanding of why we need to reduce carbon footprint and how it is crucial for our planet,” she added.

A universal challenge confronting not only athleisure brands but also all players in the fashion industry is the constant demand for newness and innovation.

“It becomes a really big challenge to cater to the needs and to launch a product that inspires people, especially with the rising competition in the industry,” said Prem.

“Because there is consumer focus also on style and fashion now, newness becomes one of the bigger challenges faced by the industry today. Fashion is perishable and almost an FMCG product today,” he added.

Moving forward

While athleisure initially arrived as a trend in Western countries, it has now evolved into a lifestyle.

“The increasing involvement of women and children in sports activities, the promotion of activewear as casual attire by major brands like Jockey, and the emergence of youthful direct-to-consumer (D2C) labels are all positive indicators for the expansion of India’s activewear market,” said Tyagi.

“Moreover, the surging popularity and increasing reach of e-commerce platforms in tier-II and tier-III cities are playing a pivotal role in broadening the activewear market,” she added.

Data analytics platform Statista predicts the sports and athleisure retail market in India to grow to Rs 402 billion by the financial year 2025.

“In the next 4-5 years, the potential growth that can be seen in the athleisure market will be about 15-20% year over year (YoY). With the youngest working populace, ranging from delivery boys to office-going employees, there’s a myriad of people from all over the country that are potential customers for the industry. For young India on-the-go, athleisure is a true partner,” Prem said.

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