Fashion Labels Take Activewear Market Share, Activewear Brands Now Reside on 5th Ave

Lululemon 200x200

Activewear brands and the retailers who sell their products have had a difficult start to 2018, as sales were “essentially flat between February and April.” NPD Group senior sports industry advisor Matt Powell attributes the struggles to “the proliferation of fashion brands emulating performance wear” (think: Moncler’s Grenoble collection, BIT: MONC); including high fashion labels like Isabel Marant that are now launching activewear lines. It’s not just the athleticwear labels (think: Under Armour – UAA, Columbia – COLM) that are hurting from the industry crossover though, athletic specialty/sporting goods stores are also struggling as “department stores now capture more activewear sales than the true sports channels.” Activewear is the fashion industry’s fastest growing category, expected to grow 6-7% in ’18; compared with 2-3% for the balance of the fashion and footwear industry.

Howie Long-Short: One company that has not been negatively impacted by the trend is Lululemon Athletica. LULU posted “astonishing” Q1 ’18 results, before increasing its full year financial forecast. Net income grew +141% YoY (to $75.2 million) on revenue that rose +25% YoY (to $649.7 million), with e-commerce growth (+62% YoY), new customer acquisition (+28% YoY, 30% of which were men) and a significant rise in gross margin (from 49.4% to 53.1%) highlighting the quarter. Shares popped 16% (to $122.19) following the June 1st report; they’re up 55% YTD and 135% over the last 12 months despite the February resignation of CEO Laurent Potdevin (workplace misconduct) and other public missteps (think: see-through tights). Adidas (ADDYY), Champion (HBI) and Patagonia were also all strong performers within the activewear category during the first quarter.

Fan Marino: While fashion brands are working to take activewear market share, activewear companies are taking up residency on 5thAvenue (NYC) alongside high-fashion retailers. Why? As Powell explains, “to be next to some of the most prestigious names in the industry really elevates the prestige of the athletic brands.” Adidas, Asics (TYO: 7936) and The North Face (VFC) already have stores open on 5th Avenue, Nike (NKE) and Under Armour have signed leases on space and Puma just announced it’ll be opening a 24,000 SF retail store on the street.

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RUSSELL ATHLETIC LEAVING UNIFORM BUSINESS TO FOCUS ON HERITAGE, CORPORATE AND PROMOTIONAL MARKETS

Berkshire Hathaway’s (BRK.A) Russell Athletic has decided to exit the team uniform business (primarily HS and youth leagues) and turn its focus towards a “longer-term, more-healthier place” in consumer retail. A new line of “heritage” styled lifestyle and streetwear clothing, to be launched at Barney’s before to being sold at retailers like Urban Outfitters, will be a part of the company rebrand. A partnership with S&S Activewear (3rd largest U.S. distributor) provides the company with access to previously unreachable corporate and promotional business. Russell plans to maintain its team channel; selling non-uniform items and using S&S Activewear to service those sales.

Howie Long-Short: There is certainly some cache surrounding the “heritage” market, with companies like Champion (HBI), Fila USA (KRX: 081660) and Calvin Klein (PVH) experiencing recent resurgences. HBI reported Champion Q2 ’17 revenues were up 7%, with Fila USA and Calvin Klein up 11.5% ($71.3 million) and 8% ($786 million) respectively, over last year’s figures. It’s been 20 years since Russell Athletic has been relevant, but if you wait long enough, everything comes back into style.

Fan Marino: For those too young to remember, Russell was the largest marketer and manufacturer of athletic apparel in to the early 1990s; when Nike (NKE), Adidas (ADDYY) and Under Armour (UAA) began to pump big dollars into D-1 athletic contracts. Just 2 programs remain with the once dominant brand, Georgia Tech and Southern Miss, both of which have contracts ending with the company in 2018. There has been no word on if their new suppliers will offer cut-off jerseys, the signature look from Russell’s heyday.

Russell Looks To Build On Retail Momentum