British sporting spectacles such as the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, which closed this week, and England's triumphant UEFA Women's Euros have provided sportswear brands and retail giants with a welcome boost in activewear sales this summer.
The activewear boom in the summer of 2020, when newfound interest in fitness caused by people exercising at homes and during the "one hour-a-day outside exercise" endorsed by the UK government was further intensified as gyms, swimming pools and other sports facilities reopened in England after a four-month lockdown. However, following the long-anticipated "freedom day" on 19 July 2021, sportswear and trainer sales had started to dwindle.
This was largely credited to the post-lockdown return of tourism, weddings and social events, for which consumers started purchasing summerwear, swimwear and occasionwear for the first time in two years.
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However, it seems the summer of 2022 is bringing renewed interest in activewear reminiscent of the summer of 2020, which can be partly attributed to the exceptionally hot and sunny weather, believes Tom Beahon, co-founder of Manchester-based sportswear brand Castore: "The warm weather has resulted in more people training outdoors and driven increased demand for our core T-shirt and shorts ranges," he tells Drapers, adding that "strong brands with great products and strong connections with their customers will continue to be successful, despite the current economic challenges".
However, the summer's sporting spectacles have caused the biggest surge in sales.
This week heralded the closing ceremony of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, which ran between 28 July and 8 August and hosted 4,600 participants from 72 nations and territories competing in 22 sports, including netball, athletics, boxing, hockey, badminton and weightlifting. Gold medallist Australia, which won 178 medals, was narrowly followed by England, with 176 medals.
England finished with a record medal tally, beating its previous record of 174 at Glasgow 2014, but fell just short of topping the leaderboard. Australia came first with 178 medals. Scotland and Wales came in sixth and eighth place, respectively, with 51 medals and 28 medals. The four-yearly event was viewed by 968,000 people on average and included the largest para-sport programme in history, The Commonwealth Games Federation reported.
The annual Wimbledon tennis championship, which this year ran from 27 June to 10 July, led overall sales for the Grand Slam tournament’s official clothing and accessories retailer grow by more than 10% year on year. Sales to the US market more than doubled in the final three days (8-10 July 2022), compared with the same period in 2021 (9-11 July 2021).
However, sports brands and retailers report that the most significant sporting event of the summer, if not the entire year, is England’s Lionesses' football team’s victory against Germany at the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 final on 31 July. Fans had followed their teams' progress throughout the 25-day tournament, which took place at football venues throughout England.
Nick Mavrides, owner of Ace Sports in London's Kentish Town, describes the Commonwealth Games as “more of a spectator sport rather than ‘must have the gear that they're wearing’ kind of an event”.
However, Mavrides, who is currently in the process of developing ladies-fit football jerseys for the Haringey Borough Football Club, says the heightened interest in women’s football is “a massive market opportunity”.
“The most influential thing is probably the Lionesses [football team] and the result at Wembley [2:1 against the German team in the Euro final], that's going to generate a lot of interest in girls’ football at the moment."
Witnessed by a crowd of 87,000 spectators at Wembley Stadium and up to 17.6 million TV viewers – a record for the BBC – the impact of the victory on the sportswear retail sector is undisputed.
The white Nike sports bra (see image above) worn by Lionesses forward Chloe Kelly, who revealed the garment as she took off her jersey top in celebration of scoring the winning goal against Germany, became an overnight hit, and searches for the specific bra model on the Sports Edit's site rose 70% in the three days after the game, the activewear retailer reports.
Ellie Froud, merchandiser at The Sports Edit, says the retailer witnessed a 214% uplift in sports bra sales in the three days following the final in comparison with the the days before the final, and a 274% increase in Nike sports bra sales.
Marks & Spencer also reports a rise total sales of sports bras.
"Sales on Sunday (31 July) were level on the week for sports bras, and from Monday onwards, we have seen a rise of 12% versus last week," says Lisa Illis, head of womenswear design.
M&S revealed on 4 August that it had been named as the official tailor to the England senior men’s and women’s football teams.
Illis explains how the focus on the women's football has also dipped into formalwear: "Tailoring in womenswear is having quite a moment, and styled in a more casual way with fresh white trainers can create a really modern and stylish take on traditional power dressing. Opting for a navy colourway (rather than the more expected black) feels much more contemporary too.
"Over the last few weeks, following Sarina Wiegman [manager of the England women's team since September 2021] wearing a M&S suit to the Euros, we have seen an increase in sales of our women’s tailoring offering, which as a department is up 19% on the year and also 19% up on last week [commencing 25 August], and offers our customers those statement wardrobe essentials at great value and quality".
Grace Vella, founder of women’s footballwear brand Miss Kick, tells Drapers that July, when 31 matches were played during the tournament, had been the best-performing month for online sales and social follower growth in 2022, while the Lionesses’ victory at the championship final sparked a rise in sales and social media engagement. She did not break down sales performance.
Castore, which launched its first women's football sportswear collection at the start of 2022, says sales have significantly exceeded expectations, prompting the brand and manufacturer to expand its womenswear range further and "forecast this to be the fastest-growing part of [Castore's] business in 2023".
"We have seen a significant increase in revenue in recent weeks driven by growing interest in both the Women's [Euro championship] and Commonwealth Games," Beahon says. "As a digitally native brand, Castore is well placed to capitalise on these moments with agility, creating content around events and launching products that resonate with consumers." Castore has partnerships with Harlequins rugby club, England Cricket, Newcastle United Football Club, Rangers Football Club, and sportsmen such as Matt Fitzpatrick, Sir Andy Murray and Adam Peaty.
Ace Sports’ Mavrides predicts the demand for women’s football kits to be “a slow burn”, with an estimated 20%-25% increase in sales at the beginning of the next football season commencing August 2023. However, he predicts that these figures could “double” by the end of 2024 if the next prime minister accepts the recent plea from the 23 members of the Lionesses team.
In an open letter published on 3 August, the Women’s Euro winners asked Conservative party leadership candidates Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss to ensure that all UK schoolgirls are allowed to play football in schools the players’ own difficulties in being able to participate in the sport at school age.
Dipu Kapur, owner of independent sportswear retailer Euro Sports on north London’s Finchley Road, says that in his 46 years of trading, the store has never seen such interest in women’s football gear. However, minimum order spends at sportswear wholesale giant Nike are blocking independent stores from being able to participate in stocking the Lionesses’ football kits. Drapers has contacted Nike for comment.
“We obviously had quite a few enquiries about the [Lionesses] shirts, but most of them are usually sold through Sports Direct and JD Sports,” Kapur tells Drapers. “The suppliers tend not to supply a lot of the independent shops now – they just deal with the major multiples. Years ago, in the 1970s, we used to have the majority of [football] kits, but now the market is so volatile in that department – the shirts are so expensive and they keep changing all the time.”
Kapur also warns that, if the UK’s Department for Education fails to ensure that all schoolgirls have access to playing football during physical education (PE) classes, the interest in women’s football might dwindle – and so will sales: “As long as the schools also allow [girls to play] football, then you will see the increase [in sales]. Otherwise, what happens is, the tempo sort of dies down. [If] they're not exposed to it at school, they lose that interest.”
Sweden's H&M Group is also keen to remove barriers to sport. On 4 August, H&M unveiled a new Jane Fonda-fronted activewear collection called "H&M Move", which comprises men's, women's and children's wear. It says it aims is to equip the world with stylish and functional "movewear" that will support customers of all abilities and skills to move "comfortably and confidently".
"Removing barriers to sport is very much at the heart of our purpose, starting with democratising sports apparel," says Simon Brown, general manager for H&M Move. "We provide a wide range of movewear across several categories that are stylish, functional, and incredible value for our customers."
In pictures: fitness brands race into 2022
Although the Lionesses will forever be remembered for winning England’s first major football trophy since 1966 and promoting the case for gender-inclusive physical education in schools, they can also add another notch on their belt: kickstarting the post-pandemic activewear sales.
Tags activewear Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Euro 2022 football sportswear Wimbledon
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