Under Armour Looks for Growth in Athletic-Inspired Sportswear Trend

Under Armour Announces New UAS Line

Under Armour launches their newest initiative, UAS or Under Armour Sportswear September 15, at New York Fashion Week for immediate sale at Barney’s, Mr. Porter, their own brick and mortar stores and a dedicated UAS website. This upscale, fashion sportswear product is anything, but performance athletic apparel. The athletic-inspired clothing is targeting “ambitious Millennials” with “modern American sportswear, at home in a professional work place and not on the field.

UAS Under Armour Sportswear

Photo credit Under Armour

Why UAS Makes Sense for Under Armour

Some people may be scratching their heads over this move into sportswear, but it makes perfect sense for a several reasons.

In 1997, Under Armour was a pioneer that introduced expensive, fashion performance apparel to a market used to activewear as thoughtless, cheap basics from footwear companies. They were the first major aspirational athletic brand for men, as Lululemon was for women.

Under Armour created an athletic brand that sold strength, prowess and status in the mind of the wearer and by the way, sold comfortable, performance apparel. Fashion branding is about stirring emotion and they have been squarely in the fashion business, since the beginning. They upped the ante on the whole men’s athletic market.

Under Armour is an epic brand, at a time when it is getting harder to achieve mega-status in a niche-driven, individualist market. The appeal of their brand gives them license to branch out into other categories and price points, upscale, technically-inspired sportswear being one.

Consumers started wearing the higher quality, more stylish and comfortable clothing out of the gym. The use of performance fabrics and athletic details in everyday sportswear has been gaining steam for a while, as a natural extension of this trend.

The market is overflowing with spandex blended fabrics, polyester is no longer considered “low-rent”, performance properties abound and even merino wool has been “recast” as a technical fabric. Apparel startups Kit and Ace (former Lululemon founders) and Ministry (former MIT students) are two examples of this major trend. The new Van Heusen Flex Collection is selling comfort and technical properties to the men’s moderate wear-to-work market.

Sportswear is being inspired by athletic apparel and is experiencing a huge disruptive change to the look, feel and function of these categories.

UAS Under Armour Sportswear for men and women

Photo credit Under Armour

The Athletic Apparel Market Is Extremely Competitive

For more than a decade now athletic apparel has been the big growth story in a lack-luster apparel industry. Athletic startups and existing brand extensions have exploded. There is much less breathing room in the active market right now. Either you innovate, take risks, extend your brand in new categories or stagnate, shrink or die. Puma, Adidas and Nike are all responding to this market shift with collaborations and extensions.

This market explosion has blurred the lines of distribution away from sporting goods to all retail channels, not good news for apparel-dominated sporting goods stores.

Under Armour was born from apparel lineage, so it is an easier transition for them. Many strong athletic footwear or sporting goods brands have yet to even capitalize on the seismic shift that happened in active lifestyle apparel. They are missing a great opportunity and do this at their peril. UAS has now gone beyond athleisure to sportswear.

UAS won’t be Under Armour’s biggest initiative simply because of price points, certainly not the huge opportunity of their new moderate distribution to stores like Kohl’s; but it will allow them to capture the imaginations and wallets of new customers.

 

Some other posts you might enjoy:

Decoding Millennial Shopping Traits & Habits

Are Sporting Goods & Outdoor in a Death Spiral?

7 Common Fashion Brand Management Mistakes

The Dix & Pond Blog, by Stephanie Bernier is the blog of  Dix & Pond Consulting, a Boston-based, company that consults on business strategy, creative direction, brand experience, trends, product development and merchandising. Clients include retailers, apparel, footwear & consumer companies.  CONTACT US TODAY! 

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The New Definition of Athletic Apparel

Athletic Apparel Has Been Permanently Disrupted

Remember when athletic apparel was mostly made by footwear and sports equipment companies? It was budget-priced, logo-driven basic tees, sweats and shorts, sold primarily in sporting goods stores, for working out and active sports. It was the ugly step child to the primary businesses.

Market disruption started about 10 years ago when higher-value athletic apparel started to hit the market by fashion and price pioneers, Under Armour and Lululemon. They were innovators with more costly, functional fabrics, fashion-driven styling and unique branding; think of Under Armour’s powerful mannequins and Lululemon’s yoga cult brand experience.

Their flattering and comfortable styles, outperformed and outlasted their cheaper competitors. Customers found emotional value paying for creative, sexy and fashionable looks at a higher price and started wearing them in and out of the gym. They created “aspirational status” athletic brands.

The athleisure trend took off and has been the biggest trend in apparel for more than 5 years. Active and casual apparel blurred into a new category. The genie is out of the bottle and it is never going back.

Athleta pushes urban lifestyle products.
Athleta pushes urban lifestyle products.

Competition in Athletic Apparel Has Gotten Fierce

As athleisure has grown, the competition for market share has gotten fierce. Many non-athletic brands including Tory Burch (Torysport) and Free People (FP Movement) now offer their own active apparel. Footwear companies like Nike really upped their fashion game and companies are doing designer collaborations like Stella McCartney and Kayne West’s Yeezy for Adidas.

High-end, ecommerce specialists like Carbon 38, and Bandier (online and opening stores), have sprouted up, carrying ediger brands, like Michi and Heroine Sport. Designer ecommerce company Net-A-Porter started Net-A-Sporter.

Lululemon is seriously challenged lately by Gap’s Athleta. Athleta fully understands the blurring of the category with their combination of performance and sophisticated street wear looks (they used to only carry bright colors and the cliché “zen-like” NorCal prints). Lululemon has recently vowed to double-down on market-leading innovation and put a greater focus on performance athletes, in a recent article with Bloomberg.

Lululemon is pushing market-leading innovation.

Lululemon is pushing market-leading innovation.

Retailers like Target, Kohl’s and JC Penney greatly improved their active offerings. Macy’s, late to the athleisure party, now has a big selection in 700+ stores and online. Victoria’s Secret has an growing sports bra and athletic business. In fact, the sport bra  business has seriously dented fashion bras. Fast-fashion stores like Primark, have large active assortments at rock bottom prices.

Primark has rock-bottom prices, like $10 pants.

Primark has rock-bottom prices, like $10 pants.

Active Apparel Distribution Has Been Diluted

Distribution has been widely diluted across all retail channels. Sporting goods stores are no longer where most women buy their athletic apparel. Footwear and sports equipment companies have to sell direct to consumer and forge forward-thinking relationships beyond the sporting goods channel to regain market share.

It’s no wonder retailers like Sports Authority and defunct City Sports didn’t capitalize on this mega-trend. Sporting goods stores have to do more than display apparel in cavernous spaces and start competing head-on with real apparel merchants. They must be discerning, take brand risks and edit out the so-so.

Adidas at Urban Outfitters.

Adidas at Urban Outfitters.

2016’s Definition of Active Apparel

Athletic apparel is two-pronged. A smaller percentage is worn for true performance sports, but the lions’ share is used as casual, lifestyle clothing. Shorts designed for running, are a teenager’s summer staple. Sports bras are worn all day. Leggings and sweats are paired with Uggs for school. Hoodies are everywhere.

Design teams must understand the bulk of their products will never be worn for active sports. Personally, I own at least a dozen Lululemon tops and have never even tried yoga. Active designers simply can’t assign cursory importance to the “lifestyle” part of their business.

The definition of athletic apparel in 2016 is predominantly knit-driven, fitness inspired, comfortable casual apparel that is made of functional and innovative fabrics that can be worn for range of casual uses, including sports activities.

Fierce competition in the women’s and men’s apparel and accessories markets requires real innovation in styling and function. I’m not just talking “anti-stink” here, but unique and compelling designs as trend relevant as the underlying brand. The emotional connection to an active lifestyle is more important than the intended use of the clothes.

The world doesn’t need another ordinary half-zip. If the label was removed would anyone recognize your brand? What’s compelling about your products? The innovative brands will have pricing power, the copy-cats will experience significant mark downs and price deflation.

 

The Dix & Pond Blog is the blog of  Dix & Pond Consulting,  a Boston-based, company that consults on trend and creative direction, brand experience and business strategy, product development, merchandising and provides executive coaching for retail, apparel, footwear & consumer products companies.  CONTACT US TODAY!  or call 617.733.7411

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