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By: Emily Potts

There’s no doubting that the apparel success story of 2014 was sportswear, and its popularity shows no signs of slowing in 2015. As with every pocket of opportunity in apparel, competition has intensified, and the category’s major players are constantly revising their strategies to keep consumers coming back for more. The closing weeks of 2014 saw a fresh focus on gender-specific stores.

In late November, Lululemon opened its first store targeting male consumers, in Manhattan. Meanwhile, Nike opened its first store catering just for women in California a few weeks earlier. Is this the start of a battle of the sexes in sportswear?

Lululemon looks beyond its core market

Lululemon’s men’s store is the company’s latest step to widen its core market beyond female yoga wear. The obvious benefit of the move is that it opens Lululemon up to the 50% of the population previously marginalised by the brand. Although Lululemon has long offered a limited range of menswear, it was definitely offered as an afterthought to its core, female range.

Given its strong positioning as a women’s yoga brand, Lululemon has made the right choice to invest in separate stores to target its new male demographic. Most importantly, separate stores mean men are far more likely to come through the door than they ever were before, which is an obvious, but vital first step.

Lululemon’s brand strength could however pose a problem to this new venture. As a well-known women’s lifestyle brand, Lululemon sits far from the usual macho appeal of men’s sportswear. Because of this positioning, it is questionable whether a separate store will be enough to convince male consumers to buy into the brand; a separate male subbrand might have been a better option to follow. Risks aside, a strong performance in menswear would certainly be a welcome relief for Lululemon after its difficulties of the recent past, and the move may well pay dividends, but there’s no doubt a significant amount of marketing will have to come into play if the brand is to capture the male consumer.

Nike makes a push for the female athlete

Women’s sportswear is nothing new for Nike. It is perhaps surprising that the brand has taken this long to open a store specifically targeting women. But given that Nike is currently seeing faster growth in womenswear than men’s, it makes sense to up its efforts now.

The new stores – the first in California, the second in Singapore – come at a time when Nike is preparing a barrage of initiatives aimed at exploiting what it calls the “thunderous” energy in women’s sportswear. The company is hoping womenswear will add US$2.0 billion to its annual sales by 2017. Nike’s established credentials in womenswear bode well for the success of these new stores and make Nike’s new venture seem a more natural candidate for success than Lulelemon’s.

To date, womenswear in Nike stores has, as a rule, played second fiddle to menswear, with a range of stock far smaller than is available online and located in quiet corners of the stores. Female consumers who are offered a wider range of apparel to choose from in a pleasant retail environment, where they no longer have to navigate rows of football and basketball gear to find what they are after, are nigh on certain to browse for longer and make more impulse purchases. Facilitating impulse purchases is key to thoroughly exploiting the potential in sportswear’s arrival on the fashion scene and is the primary reason why 2015 may well herald more sportswear stores targeting female consumers.

Female-specific stores allow for a fashion focus

While brands looking to make the most of sportswear’s enduring period of success in the year ahead would be foolish to overlook either sex, it is primarily women that are behind this boom time. Although gender-specific stores may not yet be critical to any sportswear brand, with regard to women consumers in particular, the emergence of gender-specific stores is important if sportswear manufacturers are to fully exploit the potential that the category and the ‘athleisure’ trend hold. Women’s appetite for sportswear with a fashion focus is still far from satiated, meaning there is much to be gained from creating a favourable, gender-specific retail environment conducive to facilitating impulse purchases.

 

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