Why sales of women's sportswear are gathering pace

By Barbara Balfour
Business reporter

Image source, Striders Edge
Image caption,
Striders Edge has expanded from the UK to the American market

The days when women would simply throw on an old T-shirt to do some exercise are long gone.

Instead, in today's ever more fitness and fashion conscious world, a growing number are willing to pay as much for a new gym outfit as they do for a new formal party dress.

This has led to a big increase over recent years in the value of the women's sportswear market.

In the US alone, combined sales of such products - from yoga leggings, sports bras and vests, to tracksuits - totalled $15.1bn (£10.3bn) in the 12 months to August 2011, according to research firm NPD Group. It said this was 10% higher than the prior year.

Image source, Claudia Gardner-Pickett
Image caption,
Katy Biddulph launched Striders Edge from her one-bedroom flat

Meanwhile, sportswear giant Nike said last October that the rate of sales growth in its female clothing ranges was outpacing that of its products for men.

Analysts say that the rise in sales of women's sportswear has been helped by an increased emphasis on the style of the clothing - making them look and feel as good as possible - which in turn has led to an increase in the number of women wearing such items as fashionable leisurewear.

And with the market being so valuable, it is not surprising that a growing number of small companies - predominantly led by women - are launching their own ranges of upmarket female sportswear.

'Feel great'

Katy Biddulph didn't need gym membership when she launched her women's sportswear brand Striders Edge in London back in 2011.

Initially running the business from a second floor one-bedroom flat, she would get her exercise by carrying all her deliveries up and down the stairs.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Figures show that sales of female sportswear are expanding around the world

The 31-year-old says: "It looked like a fairly big business to the outside world when I was just starting out, but I was receiving all my goods from the manufacturer in Portugal from a truck outside my flat.

"I had hundreds of garments landing in the street, and I had to get all the boxes up the stairs by myself. I never slept that first year, but I just knew there was a gap in the market that I could fill.

"Now I've got an office that overlooks the London Eye."

Ms Biddulph set up the business after previously working for fellow British women's sportswear company Sweaty Betty, where she designed and managed a number of product ranges.

Image source, Live The Process
Image caption,
New York-based Live The Process saw its sales surpass £1m in its first year

Her industry experience and knowledge persuaded a number of private investors to back her venture.

Striders Edge's clothes are now stocked by UK retailers Harrods, John Lewis and House of Fraser, and the brand launched in the US in February. It also sells globally via its website.

Now with nine members of staff, Ms Biddulph says she wants to hit £2m in sales within the next 12 months.

She adds: "You want your customer to feel great and part of something. As a female, you know the standard concerns."

'Something different'

But just how do you convince women to spend more than £60 on a t-shirt or a pair of leggings?

"It's not as hard as you would think," says Brittany Morris-Asquith, spokesperson and designer for Titika Active Couture, a Canadian brand based in Toronto. "Women are always looking for something different.

Image source, Titika
Image caption,
Titika now has seven stores across Ontario

"They're asking more questions about fabrics, and if they understand the construction that goes into it, they're willing to pay for a better product."

Since Titika's founder Eileen Zhang, 32, opened her first shop in Toronto in 2009, Titika has expanded to seven stores across the province of Ontario.

And in March of this year it expended its online sales to the US, with plans to ship globally later this year.

Ms Morris-Asquith adds: "We provide clothing to women that make them feel good, we encourage them to try on things that they would never think about."

Titika also offers free in-store exercise classes to promote a healthy lifestyle - from yoga and kickboxing, to zumba dance workouts. And inspirational slogans affixed above fitting room mirrors urge against body shaming.

'Double bottom line'

Catherine Elliott, a professor at the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa, says that businesses such as Striders Edge and Titika share an ethos which is typical for female-led companies.

"They tend to have a double bottom line - to create wealth, but also to make positive change for girls and women," says Prof Elliott, who is co-author of a recently published book on the subject called Feminine Capital.

Image source, Live The Process
Image caption,
Robyn Berkley says her business is more much than just a clothing brand

"When women are defining the objectives of [a clothing] business, they're going to see it as something that empowers women as opposed to just making them look sexy.

"The sports clothing industry is about feeling good about yourself, and wearing clothing that fits and makes you feel comfortable."

She adds: "A lot of women have talked about how being in sports and fitness has given them the leadership skills and confidence to be successful in corporate settings and entrepreneurship."

At New York-based women's sportswear business Live The Process, founder Robyn Berkley says the aim is for the brand to not just be about clothing, and instead "offer authenticity, honesty, and embrace the idealism of wellness".

Its website features editorial content from 32 contributors, offering tips ranging from changing careers to taking care of your skin.

Established in 2013, the company's clothing range was an immediate hit, with sales topping £1m in its first year.

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