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Sports apparel and footwear companies outrun fast-fashion and lifestyle rivals since the onset of Covid-19


Sports apparel and footwear companies have outrun fast-fashion and lifestyle rivals since the onset of Covid-19 as sales of sportswear have continued to grow during the pandemic, driven by increasing appetite for fitness in the country and increasing adoption of sporting disciplines other than cricket.

Companies such as Decathlon, Asics, Puma, Skechers and Reebok grew 7-24% in the year ended December 2020, significantly outpacing apparel retailers Zara, Benetton, Marks & Spencer, Levi’s and Lifestyle, which either declined or expanded in low single-digits during the year, according to regulatory filings.

“There is an increasing number of people who are getting inclined toward health and fitness, and more people going to the gyms, where young consumers don’t just want to be fit but also want to look good. So athleisure products have a blend of performance and looking good,” said Rajat Khurana, managing director at Asics India and South Asia. “The market dynamics is working in our favour and we grew 30% last calendar year.”

For 2019, the company had reported 18% growth.

India has seen increasing interest in sports such as kabaddi, soccer, volleyball, hockey and badminton. It now hosts professional leagues in most of these sporting disciplines, drawing participants from across the globe

According to data insights firm AltInfo, French sporting goods retailer Decathlon grew 24% in the year ended march 2020 to Rs 2,231 crore, nearly doubling sales over the past two years while Reebok grew 7% to Rs 428 crore. German brand Puma saw sales increase 22% to Rs 1,413 crore during the year ended December 2019.

Unlike most apparel companies, which saw slow growth due to store closures from March and apprehension among customers regarding stepping out even after the easing of lockdown, sportswear sales continued to increase.

Sportswear companies which had long relied on bricks-and-mortar retail also benefited from boosting their online platforms.

Puma India managing director Abhishek Ganguly said consumers have been adopting sports and fitness wear due to higher awareness of health and well-being. “This is a trend which is pronounced since the last two-three years and has been revalidated and become more pronounced since the unlock.

Consumers are now much more focused on health than ever before and the market has expanded during Covid when the overall apparel segment is seeing headwinds,” he said.

As per industry estimates, the sportswear market grew 8-10% year-on-year in the July-December 2020 period as consumers wore such dresses for both fitness and as work-from-home attire or video meetings.

Walmart-owned Flipkart said it saw a surge in demand for T-shirts, track pants, running shoes, walking shoes and women’s tights. Sports shoes grew in popularity even in tier-3 markets, said a Flipkart spokesperson. “Fitness as a category has been consistently growing year-on-year, and during the evolution of the pandemic we have noticed the trend of consumer searches increasing for fitness wear and gear on Flipkart as they continue to explore different fitness routines,” said the spokesperson.

Amazon India said the demand has been high for sportswear and comfort wear apart from work from home essentials like open footwear. During the festive season last year, we observed a strong customer interest in sportswear with 1.2 times higher demand year-on-year with consistent strong demand for running shoes, especially 1.6 times growth in women running shoes, the spokesperson said.

With a population of 1.3 billion people, India is one of the fastest-growing and largest international markets for footwear companies. Brands such as Reebok, Adidas, Nike and Puma have been around for more than two decades in India and have grown by virtue of pushing their wares partnering cricket and other sporting activities. Newer players, however, have been positioning themselves as comfortable lifestyle and regular athletic wear brands.

In an earnings call last year, David Weinberg, chief operating officer at Skechers USA, said prospects for the brand in India were extraordinarily bright, especially over the long term. “We have seen incredible traction for the brand. For the full year, the growth rate was near 50% and it’s starting to become a very meaningful contributor to the overall economics of our international subsidiary business,” he had said.

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