If Sex and the City were re-made for this decade, Carrie’s weak spot would not just be “Manolos” or other iconic high-fashion shoes, but also perhaps high-performing, high-design sports apparel.
In fact, these days, sports apparel is no longer just about performance, but also technology and fashion. And in all categories, women are driving the market in a major way.
“The incredible energy around women's sport and fitness is a cultural shift, not a trend. We recognize that fitness is not just what she does, it's who she is,” Kerri Hoyt-Pack, VP of brand marketing for NikeWomen, told The Oregonian. “Where Nike leads is with our unparalleled connection with athletes at every level - from the world's greatest stadiums to the local gym, from professional athletes, to master trainers and coaches, to everyday athletes.”
The Lululemon effect
Lululemon has spent the past couple of years playing catch-up in many ways. It took a while for the retailer to put its quality-control issues behind it, and that took in some part the departure of founder-CEO Chip Wilson. But, regardless of where Lululemon’s place in the incredible booming sports apparel and ath-leisure market is these days, there’s little question that the company has shown big boys in sporting-goods retail that women make up a formidable market.
Lululemon devised athletic wear made of patented performance fabrics (another area that, quality issues aside, Lululemon brought to women in a big way), made it flattering so that it was wearable outside of yoga class, and convinced women to pay a premium price for it.
"The industry has under-served women for years," says NPD Group sports retail analyst Matt Powell told Bloomberg. "Only in the last couple of years have we seen brands and retailers really starting to give women equal weight."
And the credit goes to Lululemon, in part because the retailer showed how women opened their wallets wide for sports apparel that fit certain criteria, Powell says. ”When a brand can come out of nowhere and capture the kind of mindshare that they did, as quickly as they did, I think it woke everybody up,” he says.
Under Armour’s commitment
Despite surpassing Adidas in the U.S. last year, Under Armour is still seen as the underdog in the athletic-gear sector. That’s because Nike remains number one, by far, outpacing Under Armour’s $3 billion in annual sales tenfold ($30 billion). But, almost like a jealous suitor, Nike appears to be closely watching how Under Armour is courting women.
Under Armour went viral last spring with its stunning and emotionally moving video of ballerina Misty Copeland, later signed supermodel Gisele Bündchen, and launched a massive global women’s marketing campaign. That campaign is part of the company’s effort to boost its $600 million women’s business to match or surpass its men’s business.
Adidas and Nike are likewise taking steps to make their appeal to women more visible, in ad campaigns and on the store floor. Nike says its women’s business was $5 billion in 2013, but represents just 20% of Nike’s total revenue.
One sign that women are getting more respect from these retailers is Nike’s move to offer jerseys from women’s sports teams in men’s sizes for the first time.
And beyond advertising, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank says the company is working on expanding its merchandise for women, to include more apparel that can be worn outside her underwear and outside the gym. Nike and Under Armour alike have concentrated a lot on sports bras and leggings, and less on the boom alth-leisure trend that has women wearing their gear to happy hour.
"We don't believe we played our best game yet. We don't think when you walk into a store you're getting the best version of Under Armour yet,” Plank said. "I think you'll see Under Armour continue to take those steps towards being more relevant in more aspects of her life.”
Fitness tracking technology is another area in which Under Armour and Nike are investing heavily, from the hardware to the apps.