Who buys the most activewear? — SCI (Sport Casuals International) (2024)

It's no secret that more and more people are joining gyms, playing sports competitively, or just for fun. The demand for high-quality and stylish clothing that can withstand a range of conditions like cold and heat is at an all-time high. But who is embracing this trend en masse, more specifically, which country and demographic is buying the most activewear?

North America, in particular the United States, accounts for a majority of the global activewear market. Younger females within the millennial and Gen Z age groups are the most active consumer, and this behavior increases with gymgoers, yogis, and athletes among those generations.

As the lines between activewear and athleisure continue to blur, athletic clothing of all classifications continues to make its way into everyday life. This article examines the global and regional growth of activewear and athleisure markets, their primary consumers, influencing factors, and trends.

What Country Buys the Most Activewear?

The United States is the largest consumer of activewear in the global market, where in 2020 it was valued at $126.1 billion. It was projected to grow at a rate of 5.6% through the year 2025. Growth of the US activewear market is most likely even higher through 2022 due to the pandemic.

While the virus presented many challenges to industries, consumers, and companies alike, activewear boomed. Consumers became more focused on health and wellness and had more time to exercise or try new activities.

There was also more spending money for consumers due to economic stimulus and a desire to wear comfortable clothes both at home and at the office.

A spiked interest in sports also played an important role in the increased spending on activewear by Americans, including clothing and accessories to support their favorite teams, as well as workout gear to play sports.

Clothing accounted for the majority of sportswear sales during the pandemic. Nike, Adidas and Under Armour were the top 3 brands in the market. Footwear was also a significant chunk of spending, with sports accessories coming in third.

What Customer Segment Buys the Most Activewear?

Women make up a majority of activewear purchases, accounting for close to 60% of activewear sales. However, men aren’t far behind, and the rate of growth in men's activewear sales is increasing rapidly. This trend is expanding into athleisure apparel as well.

Lululemon, a brand that found early success in making clothes for women, has rapidly expanded in recent years due to growth in the men’s market. Men are becoming more interested in brands like Lululemon, Fabletics, and Alo, all of which have activewear and athleisure lines for men. According to YouGov, only about 5% of men aged 19-45 were aware of Lululemon and their men’s clothing line. As of 2019, that number grew to 13%.

Still, a majority of consumers in the activewear market are women. Interest in athletic clothing among women doesn’t seem to be declining, either. Lululemon’s web traffic is still roughly two-thirds female.

This is perhaps due to activewear becoming more stylish, which allows clothing to be worn outside the gym or for other recreational activities; meaning one consumer can buy more clothing from the same activewear brand.

Another possible reason for the continued growth among women is the increasing popularity of women’s sports. For example, the women’s NCAA basketball finals were viewed by some 4.85 million people on ESPN, up 18% from the previous year.

As women’s sports continue to evolve, female athletes and sports enthusiasts alike are likely to become more interested in activewear. The growth isn’t limited to basketball, either. Women’s hockey, tennis, soccer, and the Olympics are seeing increased interest.

But consumers no longer purchase activewear simply for the function it provides, so demographics aren’t as straightforward.

Before activewear was acceptable in places like the office, or even anywhere outside a gym or sports club, it was easier to predict. Now, an activewear consumer isn’t necessarily someone active.

Young People Want Activewear

Younger consumers make up a dominant share of the activewear market, although that majority isn’t as great as it was before the coronavirus pandemic. Young people seem to have a more positive attitude about wearing sports clothing in the office, at home, or in social settings.

Another reason for the popularity among young people is their focus on health and fitness. While older generations were physically fit and it’s not entirely new to Western culture, Millennials have taken exercise much more seriously. One estimate suggests that Millennials will spend more money on fitness than college tuition in their lifetime, roughly $112,000. Included in this price tag is clothing.

Despite their focus on fitness, younger generations don’t seem to be as interested in sports. Roughly 30% of millennials identify as athletes, while 95% say that they’re interested in fitness.

Millennials and Gen Z consumers put their wallets where their mouths are. Lending Tree reports that 40% of people from either generation have put themselves into debt to spend on health and wellness. Compare that with 28% of people from other generations.

It’s not surprising that younger people are willing to spend more on health and wellness. Roughly 43% of Gen Z and 38% of Millennials believe that spending on their well-being is an investment, and aren’t afraid to take on debt to do so.

Younger people spend more money than other generations on fitness, and activewear is a large part of that investment. While the most common expense in this category goes toward a gym membership (72%), the second-most common expense was apparel.

How Do Most People Buy Activewear?

Around 45% of sportswear sales, including activewear and athleisure, came from online platforms in 2021. While physical in-store is still the primary purchase channel, online is an essential part of the purchase journey where more than 80% of activewear customers use the internet to find products.

Interestingly, sportswear sees slightly more online activity than the broader retail market, but before the pandemic, consumers were 44% more likely to buy activewear in-person than online.

Many consumers research activewear online before purchasing but feel more comfortable buying in person to make sure the clothing fits and is comfortable. In other words, consumers are shopping online even if they end up making purchases in a physical location.

Activewear Consumers Are Eco-Friendly

Sustainable clothing seems to appeal greatly to activewear consumers. They tend to be more conscious of the environmental impact of their purchasing decisions, as can be seen by trends in sustainable clothing.

Purchases of activewear clothing made from recycled materials saw an increase of 642% in male shoppers in 2021. For female shoppers, it went up 388%. This trend of recycled materials is popular in both the clothing and footwear activewear market.

Younger generations seem to be the most interested in buying sustainable clothing. In general, it seems to be a factor in purchasing activewear. One study reported that it’s the fourth-most important criterion for consumers.

The activewear market is certainly here to stay, as is athleisure - a similar segment, but one that leans more into the casualwear and comfort side of sportswear.

The High Demand for Athleisure Apparel

The past decade saw a new trend emerge casually: athleisure. Brands like Lululemon skyrocketed in popularity on the backs of quality goods, premium price points, and community-building marketing efforts.

Large brands followed suit by releasing their athleisure lines, including Nike and Adidas. Although Lululemon rightfully gets all the buzz in athleisure, thanks to its categorical disruption, Nike and Adidas own a large chunk of the entire market.

During the coronavirus pandemic, athleisure became even more popular as people wanted comfortable clothes while working from home.

The worldwide market maintains a strong position of growth, even years removed from the onset of a global shutdown.

Athleisure represent an exciting opportunity for athletic apparel brands as it merges sportswear and fashion, expanding the potential market for sports brands and fashion powerhouses. Read on to learn more about the consumer appetite for athleisure, from a global to local scale.

How Big is the Athleisure Market?

The global athleisure market was valued at $306.62 billion in 2021, as estimated by Grand View Research. The research firm goes on to forecast the global athleisure market to increase at a CAGR of 8.9% between 2022 and 2030, meaning the global athleisure market will be more than $700 billion in 2030.

While the entire earth seems to be aboard the athleisure train, one nation, in particular, has fully embraced the comfort and athletic hybrid that only athleisure apparel can provide.

Who Buys the Most Athleisure Apparel?

At a national level, the United States purchases more athleisure apparel than any other nation; valued at $87.2 billion in 2021, Americans accounted for roughly 28% of global athleisure sales. The American market is forecast to grow sharply through 2030, yet slower than the global average.

Who is the Athleisure Consumer?

In the US, Millennial and Gen Z females spend more on women’s athleisure than men's and children's athleisure combined. Athleisure affinity increases with fitness and health enthusiasts, where yogis are the most active consumers.

This segment represents a sizable portion of the fitness community. In the US, yoga participants grew by 5% from 2012 to 2016 and reached roughly 36 million in 2020.

Why Do People Buy Athleisure?

People are reportedly wearing their athleisure clothing at home to lounge around or to workout. Roughly 43% of Americans say that half of their clothes are athleisure. Most people say they want clothes that are comfortable (59%), others are price-conscious (49%) and want durable clothing (31%).

One study, published in the International Journal of Fashion Design and Education, found that two main factors drove Americans to buy athleisure clothing - past purchases and lifestyle.

  1. Past Purchases: In other words, if someone has purchased athleisure in the past, they’re more likely to do it again.

  2. Lifestyle: Another determining factor was their views on health and fitness. People who are more conscientious of their health and fitness are more likely to purchase athleisure clothing.

The two factors could be related, since people who are into fitness are more likely to be familiar with athleisure brands, and have more of a reason to purchase athletic clothing.

Outside of North America, two of the strongest and fastest-growing markets for athleisure apparel are located in Asia.

APAC Athleisure Market

China and India are the newest frontiers in several consumer categories, including athleisure. As the two most populous countries on the planet, over a third of the global population lives in either China or India, marking significant opportunities for brands to grow.

Three factors are exacerbating commercial interest:

  1. Large Import Markets: Both countries are active importers of global markets, but also include homegrown brands. Despite a brand's geographical origin, China and India represent a contemporary gold rush for emerging athletic apparel brands.

  2. Growing Middle Class: Each country is in some state of an expanding middle class. This is creating a large swathe of consumers with buying power who are eager to spend on high-quality products.

  3. Interest in Health and Fitness: Further compounding the athleisure opportunity is a societal interest and benefit awareness of health, fitness, and sports. Perhaps accelerated by the hosting of the Olympic Games in China and Japan, in recent years.

Outlook: Local Sourcing and Global Imports of Athleisure

Li-Ning is an example of a Chinese brand that’s become a powerhouse in the Chinese athleisure market. They’ve capitalized on the streetwear trend in China, merging luxury street fashion with athleisure.

At the same time, lockdowns in China are slowing growth in areas of the Athleisure market. Lululemon reported some slowdowns in China because of the pandemic.

Large corporations, such as Nike, are still making headway in APAC today. The Nike App reportedly expanded the company’s athleisure market in India, Singapore, Taiwan, and Malaysia during the worst episodes of COVID-19.

European Athleisure Market

The athleisure wave is also coursing through Europe, where consumers are estimated to have spent €12.1 billion in 2020, with projected growth on the horizon. This is mostly concentrated in western Europe instead of Eastern Europe where there's higher awareness and interest in health and fitness.

The vast majority of the theater sales in western Europe occurred in a handful of nations, where Germany, France, Italy, and Spain generated nearly 57% of all athleisure sales in 2020.

But there's a significant gap in athleisure sales between the top-selling nation (Germany) and the runner-up (France.)

France imports roughly €1.54 billion, Italy accounts for €1.3 billion and Spain contributes €1.21 billion worth of the share of European imports. Close behind are The Netherlands, Poland, Belgium, and Austria.

The country with the highest-projected 5-year growth, as of 2020, was Poland. Their market for athleisure imports is expected to grow by 12.9%, more than triple that of most Western European markets.

As the most populated Western European country, and the country with the largest volume of athleisure sales, Germany is worth exploring in greater detail.

Athleisure in Germany:

Germany imports more athleisure apparel than any other EU nation, where CBI values the German athleisure market at roughly €2.8 billion in 2020, but a slower rate of growth at .7% per year. The German market is sizable, at nearly twice the size of France, which has the second-largest athleisure market.

Germany is also the largest importer of athleisure made in developing countries.

It imported €1.45 billion worth of athleisure clothing in 2020, which comprised 27% of the European market for such imports. However, its 5-year growth in this segment of the market is set to decline by 3.4% over the next 5 years.

Germans seem to crave one particular piece of athleisure clothing over any other, according to CBI, and that's the anorak.

Anoraks are jackets made to keep you warm and safe from the wintery elements but are also very stylish. They can be worn casually during the winter or on cold nights, and are entrenched in the winter sports culture.

This product can fit into multiple classifications of clothing verticals, in some instances, an anorak is best classified as outerwear, and in others can be an athleisure product. This is largely dependent on construction and materials, as it can be modified for insulation or breathability.

Skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing are popular activities in Germany, given the topography of the region, which would pulse the outerwear vertical instead of the athleisure market.

However, there's a surge in demand for athleisure anoraks.

Anoraks, particularly those made for women and girls, make up 52% of the entire fashion sportswear market in Germany. The second highest-selling product is also the anorak, but for men and boys.

Behind the anorak market, tracksuits make up the largest segment of athleisure purchases in Germany. Total imports in 2020 were valued at €403 million by CBI, however, growth is expected to slow the most in the tracksuit category.

Most European nations follow a similar trend, spending mostly on women’s anoraks, with men’s anoraks not far behind, and tracksuits accounting for the third-largest amount of imports.

Athleisure Trends in Europe

Fashion, innovation, and sustainability are the largest trends that CBI sees in the European fashion market. Consumers are increasingly interested in fashionable athletic clothing, led by interest in stylish clothing that uses nanotechnology in its fabric and materials, and is eco-friendly.

Adidas, one of the largest European athletic brands, has increased its focus on fashion by releasing lines like Adidas by Stella McCartney, which target fashion-oriented consumers.

But other companies such as Lululemon and Fabletics are tapping into the European market.

Consumers in Europe are also concerned with sustainability practices.

European consumers are growing increasingly concerned with manufacturing practices and environmental sustainability, extending far beyond the reach of a garment; they want to know that the entire supply chain is as sustainable as possible.

Companies are increasingly expected to take some form of action in these areas. This sentiment is a global concern though, and not constricted to European borders.

Sustainability in the Global Athleisure Market

A small but rapidly growing sector of the athleisure market is sustainable clothing. There’s an interesting crossover between active and health-focused consumers who care about sustainability practices.

Allied Market Research reports that the global market for sustainable athleisure was around $17.64 billion in 2020, but is expected to grow to roughly $53.43 billion by 2030, making it one of the fastest-growing sections of the market.

Who Buys Sustainable Athleisure Apparel the Most?

Unlike the greater trend of athleisure consumerism, men tend to seek sustainable clothing more than women. However, women are set to be the fastest-growing demographic in this market. Shirts are the most commonly sought-after item, with pants and hoodies not far behind.

Interestingly, corporate clothing is a large and expanding portion of the sustainable athleisure market. Employees want to be comfortably dressed at work, whether they’re in the office or at home. Eco-friendly brands have seen success among this population.

What Country Buys Sustainable Athleisure Apparel?

North America makes up the largest market for sustainable athleisure. Consumers tend to be interested in sports and recreational activities, such as camping. Younger generations are willing to pay more for quality, eco-friendly clothing.

There are certainly many areas of overlap between the sustainable athleisure market and other verticals of sportswear, but as all of the sportswear markets become more fashionable and trend-focused, sustainable practices will likely become more important to companies and consumers alike.

Activewear and Athleisure Purchasing Trends

Young women are particularly fond of activewear and athleisure clothing, but different sectors are gaining ground. Men’s activewear and athleisure is a particularly interesting area to watch since it appears to be growing at a quicker pace.

Consumers tend to be younger and internet-savvy, making many of their purchasing decisions online even if their final transaction occurs in-store.

While it's easy to think of the US market for both activewear and athleisure apparel, the global appetite is growing and worth every brand's attention. The United States remains the largest purchaser, but China, India, and Western Europe are active opportunities.

While this article doesn't explore South Africa or South America, they are also emerging markets for activewear.

Overall, it’s one of the most exciting segments of consumer goods and retail to watch over the next decade. And if you're brand is looking for ways to stand out and earn a market share in any geographical region, let's talk.

Covering the entire supply chain, Sport Casuals is an experienced guide in this regard. Working with startups and global sportswear titans over the past 30 years, we know what it takes to succeed in today's fast-paced and ever-changing athletic apparel industry.

Who buys the most activewear? — SCI (Sport Casuals International) (2024)
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