That truth is driving the apparel industry to place big bets on the fast-growing women’s activewear market, which represents more than $18 billion in annual sales, according to research firm NPD Group. While women’s activewear makes up less than 20% of the total apparel market, it’s expected to continue to grow faster than the men’s market for workout clothes.
The hottest niche in a hot category, activewear was the driver across all consumer segments in apparel, especially among women, where dollar sales increased 8% in 2014 compared to 2013, NPD reports.
Big names vying to capture a larger share of the market include New Balance, Nike, and Dick’s Sporting Goods, which in August launched a specialty store concept dedicated to active women. Called Chelsea Collective, Dick’s two new “fitness and lifestyle boutiques,” located in Pittsburgh and Tysons Corner, Virginia, sell a curated assortment of sports merchandise and services for women, including apparel, equipment, footwear, accessories, and beauty products. Featured brands include Nike, which last year launched a line of women’s activewear that the company hopes will generate some $2 billion in annual sales by 2017.
The stores also sell CALIA by Carrie Underwood, a line of women’s sports apparel and accessories developed exclusively for Dick’s by the country music star. Dick’s is counting on the CALIA line to help contribute a 1%-3% projected increase in same-store sales this year.
Competing for sales with Nike and CALIA is athletic shoemaker New Balance, which debuts a revamped apparel line targeted at the “metropolitan female athlete” this fall. Like its pricey running shoes, the company’s NB Women line of “athileisure” apparel isn’t cheap ($120 jackets and $85 cropped pants). The line boasts fabrics that wick away moisture, capture warmth, resist wind and water, and prevent chafing. It’s also fashionable enough to wear outside the gym. “Women desire form and function in equal measure,” says Deidre FitzGerald, VP of global apparel at New Balance.
New Balance joins Nike, yoga-phenom Lululemon, Gap-owned Athleta, Under Armor, Adidas, Reebok, and a slew of newcomers all vying for a larger piece of the women’s activewear market. Fortunately, the fast-growing market shows no sign of slowing down. “This is no longer a trend — it is now a lifestyle that is too comfortable, for consumers of all ages, for it to go away anytime soon,” says NPD chief industry analyst Marshal Cohen.
Alexandra Biesada shops everyday, whether she wants to or not, and pines for the days when it was strictly a recreational activity. She has covered the retail beat for Hoover’s since 2001. Follow her on Twitter.