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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VIRGIN SPORT SAN FRANCISCO CEO MARY WITTENBERG DISCUSS THE FESTIVAL OF FITNESS, HER FAVORITE FITNESS WEARABLE AND MUST TRY WORK-OUTS

The Virgin brand is synonymous with access and opportunity (see Virgin Galactic). Virgin Sport San Francisco, Richard Branson’s movement to connect people through sport and culture; has created a weekend long event, a Festival of Fitness. Scheduled to take place in San Francisco on October 14th and 15th, the event will have something for everyone; from running and fitness activities to music, art and local fare. JWS had the opportunity to speak with CEO/Chief Exercise Officer Mary Wittenberg about the event, its sponsors, wearables and workouts.

JWS: The company’s stated mission is to “move the world through sport”. How does Virgin Sport define success?

Mary: In the short term, we’ll be looking at the net promoter score; do the participants want to come back. We’ll be looking at sponsorship growth from the first year to the second, participation growth and the strength of the relationships we are able to develop with local, grass roots fitness groups, within the communities. Longer term we’ll be focused on traction gained in adding cities (currently focused on SF & London). 1 million participants in 10 years would certainly be considered a success.

JWS: When selecting sponsors for the event, were you looking for companies aligned with the mission or the most lucrative financial agreements?

Mary: Virgin Group incubates companies and then brings strategic partners in along the way. Who you partner with early on says a lot about your brand. Richard fully funded the company, so we can partner with companies that share our vision (Motiv, Clif, Nuun, Headspace, Flywheel Sports, Classpass). Richard has also always been very supportive of entrepreneurs.    

JWS: ASICS (TYO: 7936) is the founding partner sponsor of the event. Besides the fact that they manufacture shoes and apparel needed for a weekend of sports activities, what makes them a strong partner? 

Mary: ASICS is interested in culture. They wanted to be a co-creator. They are at our side and have a real voice. When you can create with a partner, they are going to be that much more engaged.

JWS: Do you have a favorite in the fitness wearables market?

Mary: I’ve tried a bunch, Apple (AAPL), Fitbit (FIT); I like the watch. I’m excited about the ring that Motiv is working on. I like functional accessories.

Howie Long-Short: For those wondering, a net promoter score is an index ranging from -100 to 100 that measures the willingness of customers to recommend a company’s products or services to others. The customer is asked just one simple question, “How likely are you to recommend the company/product/brand to a friend or colleague?” They are asked to rate on an 11-point scale (0-10).

Fan Marino: Mary qualified for the 1988 Olympic marathon trials, so she knows a bit about training. I asked for some ways to keep exercising from getting stale. Mary suggested joining November Projects (now in 41 cities) and trying FlyBarre (particularly guys who think ballet when they hear barre).