From Crocs to fidget spinners, there have been many fads over the years – though not everyone has jumped on these bandwagons of course! But there have also been recent cultural shifts that have affected the way brands position themselves and as a result increased their consumer base. A cultural shift is defined as a “lasting change to the shared ways of thinking, beliefs, habits and customs within society.” These perceptual shifts have impacted the way many consumers approach brands; for me most notably it has been the increased awareness of the benefits of health and fitness. This increased awareness has given rise to more health conscious consumers, with growing numbers immersing themselves into a fitness lifestyle. This involves continual “training,” rather than a one-off gym session to compensate for an indulgent night after an all you can eat buffet. This shift has subsequently been mirrored in the wardrobes of consumers.
With this change in lifestyle has also come a change in attitude towards wearing sports clothes; a UK study by Verdict Retail showed that 52.3% of consumers now wear activewear more than once a week, furthermore, 43.3% of consumers prefer to wear activewear over other clothing items. Haven’t we all seen first-hand that activewear is now a socially acceptable dress code regardless of the involvement of any physical activity? More so, “activewear” is used for exactly the opposite of any gym oriented activity, may it be a trip to the supermarket or even on a night out (behaviour which has been mercilessly lampooned in a viral YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYRENWT8lz8)!
This attitude towards activewear goes above and beyond the trend seen in the 90s where sports labels like Adidas and Nike were almost seen as fashion labels in their own right regardless of functionality. Instead it centres more around image and lifestyle which has put pressure on brands to not only serve their functional purpose but also compete fashionably. It is interesting to see how brands have capitalised on this cultural shift, closing the sport-fashion divide by focusing on this opportunity from both ends of the spectrum. By this, “sports” brands have become more “fashion” oriented, and “fashion” brands have become more “sports” oriented.
Adidas has closed the sport-fashion gap. The company has been a quintessentially sport-oriented brand “built on a passion for sports and sporting lifestyle” as indicated in their mission statement. Their recent partnership with Kanye West has been the most significant partnership between a non-athlete and athletic brand to date – directly representative of this cultural shift. Adidas are now moving into new territory, combining the fashion capabilities of Kanye West, and their own sporting capabilities to satisfy the needs of the fitness-obsessed consumer, both in and out of the gym.
Ellesse, inversely, has bridged the fashion-sport divide. Although originally branded as a “sports apparel” brand, Ellesse has been perceived as fashionable sportswear, having always kept their classic designs and adding contemporary influences without necessarily incorporating the latest sport enhancing technologies. They have targeted consumers outside the gym through fashion outlets such as ASOS, but to attract the sport-savvy consumer, Ellesse developed a women’s sporting range with well-known fitness entrepreneur Lucy Mecklenburgh in late 2015. This has enabled Ellesse to branch into the fitness world, and like Adidas, Ellesse has attracted a wider set of consumers by capitalising on this cultural shift.
This relationship between activewear and leisure has become so widespread, “athleisure” now has its own place in in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The US has already seen a huge increase in athleisure, with an estimated market size of $44 billion in the US alone, with Morgan Stanley estimating it to grow to $83 billion by 2020. Globally this has seen a growth from $197 billion in 2007, to a predicted $350 billion by 2020. From a research perspective it would be interesting to explore how the perception of these brands have developed, and if activewear has really become synonymous with fashion.
So as cultural shifts develop and come into fruition, it is important for companies to be aware of how their offering may link to these shifts. This opens up opportunities in other arenas which may not have been immediately obvious but nonetheless can be just as profitable.