The women’s activewear business is on an upswing, according to manufacturers and buyers at the Super Show here last week.
Observers cited two reasons: More women are interested in physical fitness, and the fashion and styles available in the market now – particularly those in vibrant colors – have made activewear more popular.
Retailers said they are excited about this development, and many plan to increase their inventories and sales of women’s activewear this year. Suppliers are looking at it as either a growing market or a new one.
Wilson, for example, introduced its first women’s tennis line at the Super Show. Companies that already offer women’s activewear want to increase their involvement.
“Women’s represents 10 percent of our business now, but we believe it has a larger potential,” said Steve Gomez, director of marketing for Nike’s Apparel Division.
Gary Peck, vice president of marketing for the textiles division of Adidas, U.S.A., agreed. Like Nike, women’s represents 10 percent of Adidas’s business, which Peck said is “in sync with what other companies are doing.” He said, “We do see a lot of potential in the women’s business.”
Attendance at this year’s Super Show, which ended Sunday, was more than 85,000, about 8,000 more than in 1989. Show officials said department store representation was very strong.
When asked how strong her department store business was, Marilyn Tam, president of Reebok’s Apparel Division, laughed and said: “We have 35 department store appointments today, alone. We’re beginning to do more business in department stores.”
A manager for Lady Footlocker, who asked not to be identified, said that women’s activewear is “definitely a growing market. The colors are very vibrant now and women are attuned to them and the fashion available.”
Tony Cantini, manager of an Appalachian Athletics store in Harlan, Ky., said the industry is geared toward men’s wear but that women’s is a growing market. “More women are doing fitness programs and running,” he said, “but fashion is helping it, too. They want to look pretty.” Women’s wear is already 20 to 25 percent of the store’s apparel, but he plans to increase that. He did not say by how much.
Tim Shepherd, manager of Honus Wagner Co., Pittsburgh, Pa., said he has just recently opened an area in the store specifically for women’s activewear. Women’s sales, currently done with Hind and Nike, represent only five percent of total sales but, he said, have the potential to capture 15 to 20 percent of the store’s business.
Manufacturers are offering vibrant colors in all areas of athletic wear, and the collections are color-coordinated. Several resources said coral is a hot color for fall. Most are using the bright colors on a background of white or black.
Warmups are made of fleece or various kinds of nylon – Supplex, nylon satin, or IZ nylon. Fashion touches include contrast color cuffs and collars, tie-dyed looks, and discreet logos looking more like unusual designs or crests.
Fred Perry Sportswear has completely revamped its apparel lines. Joy Miller, director of U.S. sales and marketing, explained that the company’s licensing agreement expired Jan. 1, and now everything is being made in the U.K., rather than Hong Kong and Singapore.
The Fred Perry women’s line is all cotton in classic styling. The pieces are coordinated. Distribution is to better resorts, pro shops and other high-end stores.
“The line is not promotional,” Miller said. “We want to keep it clean.”
Nike’s distribution, said Gomez, is primarily through sporting goods stores, but also to some department stores and specialty chains. Nike is projecting $300 million this year in apparel sales, with 10 percent in women’s. Introductions at the show included cycling outerwear with the “pitzip” – a zipper at the armpit that unzips to let in more air – an expanded walking line, and a jacket that folds into a fanny pouch.
Mary Haskell, marketing manager for women’s, Adidas, said that the firm has cut back on its number of stock keeping units in women’s to focus on “what we do best.” The line is narrower, but Adidas also wants to increase its sales.
Although distribution is primarily to sporting goods stores, Adidas wants to expand more into department stores and specialty stores, said Peck.
“Most of the consumers are shopping at the department store level,” he added. “Once you get into that, you can start developing a track record and see more growth in the women’s business.”
Reebok showed some new looks for fall, including what it calls “abrasion invasion” – a dye process that imparts a speckled look on fabrics. The line is over-sized and baggy, and colors, though rich, are darker than the bright colors seen elsewhere at the show.
Tam said it has been received “very well.” She said, “We’re doing an evolution so we don’t look like everyone else.”
Donna McLin, marketing manager for tennis apparel at Wilson, said the company introduced its women’s tennis line because “the trade channels we’re in, pro shops and specialty stores, are 70 percent women’s clothing.”