Just one-fifth of fitness apparel sold in Canada sees the inside of a gym

Fitness expert Brent Bishop buys sports apparel for exercise, but a new study finds he’s in the minority. NPD reports that just 19 per cent of activewear is purchased with sports or exercise in mind.



Misty Harris

Published: January 18, 2013, 12:24 pm

Updated: 7 hours ago

When buying fitness apparel, Canadians look for wicking, comfort, functionality and – for a surprising number of people – the garment’s ability to imply a recent workout when, in reality, the only sweating done inside it was at McDonald’s.

Market researcher The NPD Group reports that just 19 per cent of activewear is purchased for sports or exercise, while fully one-third is bought with casual wear in mind. Other occasions cited by Canadian consumers include school, work and even sleep.

In other words, even as fitness apparel historically sees sales climb by double digits in January, much of it will rarely, if ever, see the inside of a gym.

“Workout apparel doesn’t necessarily need to be for working out,” said Tracey Jarosz, NPD Group’s executive director for Canada Fashion. “The beauty of today’s sports apparel offering is that consumers can put it into their rotation of everyday clothes.”

Of course, it’s not news that yoga pants have infiltrated everyday wardrobes. But the fact activewear is now predominately purchased for that reason is likely to surprise those outside the industry.

Perhaps the most telling sign of all? Sales of sports bras – which are as crucial to a woman’s cardio routine as water – are said by NPD to “barely register” at the beginning of the year, instead peaking in June and July.

And even then, Jarosz suspects it’s not all about exercise.

“Part of it is probably because a sports bra can be worn as a tank or something layered under another top,” she said. “Again, more of an apparel piece than a workout piece.”

Greg Schindler, a former college football player, admits he’ll “spend entire weekends in athletic shorts and T-shirts, just because they’re comfortable.” Nevertheless, he believes there’s a line in the sand on what’s reasonable.

“People wearing $100 Lululemon yoga pants just to get coffee shouldn’t be allowed to exercise any rights,” quipped Schindler, marketing manager at Funny or Die.

The good news, according to fitness expert Brent Bishop, is that the mere act of putting on sportswear can trigger an exercise-positive mindset. At least at the beginning.

“When you buy great-looking athletic apparel, there’s that initial inspiration where your chances of getting active are higher,” said Bishop, Toronto-based author of The Think Factor. “However, as time progresses and you don’t put that inspiration into action – getting into the gym or trying a personal training session – the novelty wears off.”

Healthy New Year’s resolutions do appear to play a role in purchases at the beginning of the year. NPD reports that unit sales of activewear saw a year over year increase of 15 per cent in January 2012.

Similarly, Statistics Canada reports that sales of fitness equipment at large retailers rose to $41.3 million that same month – more than double the 2011 monthly average of $17.6 million. To put that in perspective, wannabe workout mavens invested almost as much on exercise equipment in a single month as the Canadian Cancer Society contributed to research over an entire year.

In general, however, the trend toward “fashletics” – a term used by activewear retailer Sporting Life – is king in Canada.

“I have a pair of Prana yoga tights that I just wear as tights-tights because they’re thicker, they hold things in better, and they’re so stretchy and comfortable,” says Shawna Labine, the retailer’s branding specialist.

“There are so many women you see at Starbucks on Saturday grabbing a coffee in yoga pants, but are they really going to yoga? Probably not.”



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