Sportswear is carrying the global apparel industry

You could go to the gym in these clothes by designer John Elliott, but you probably wouldn’t.
You could go to the gym in these clothes by designer John Elliott, but you probably wouldn’t.
Image: Getty Images/Ali Smith
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2016 was not a banner year for the global apparel and footwear industry, but it could have been much worse.

Sales rose 3.8% worldwide to $1.67 trillion, according to new figures from research firm Euromonitor, the weakest growth since the economic crisis in 2008. Still, the firm deemed the performance “impressive” given the economic turmoil and political upheaval across much of the globe. What saved the industry from even poorer results was sportswear, especially the kind that looks like it’s for the gym but really isn’t.

Sales of sportswear, which includes items such as yoga pants and activewear, outpaced all other categories for the third year in a row, increasing just under 7% in 2016 and “causing growth in other categories to look rather tame in comparison,” Euromonitor noted. While performance sportswear is still the biggest part of that market, “sports-inspired is the category driving growth,” said Bernadette Kissane, Euromonitor’s apparel and footwear analyst, in the report. Indeed, activewear has become a huge part of everyday fashion over the past few years, and eaten into sales of regular clothes.

Sports-inspired apparel grew 6%, above the average seen across all categories, while footwear clocked in at 10%, reflecting the continued dominance of casual sneakers. Sales came from emerging markets, such as India and Thailand, as well as the US, the world’s largest sportswear market. (Euromonitor didn’t mention it, but China has also been a hot spot for activewear.)

Though analysts and others have wondered if the demand for activewear is dying down, particularly given how crowded the market has become, the figures suggest it hasn’t. “It seems the chatter around the demise of athleisure remains just that,” Kissane said.

Overall, 2017 is shaping up to be another tough year for clothing brands, luxury labels included, as consumers shift spending toward experiences, China’s economy settles into a slower rate of growth, and uncertainty persists around Brexit and a Donald Trump presidency in the US.