Activewear continues to grow, but casual fashion with special features is driving industry growth

There have been a lot of headlines proclaiming the prominence of activewear in American wardrobes, but, according to a recent report from The NPD Group, the action is in casualwear.

“Fashion’s future depends on casual clothing,” Marshal Cohen, NPD’s chief industry adviser, said in a statement. “But, today’s casual fashion is different from what was once referred to as ‘sportswear’ in the American fashion industry.”

Nonactive casual clothing represents more than half of the U.S. fashion industry’s sales.

This category made $103 billion in the 12 months ending June 2019.

The category includes casual pants, polo shirts and blazers. It does not include activewear, outerwear, tailored apparel and underwear.

While performance-oriented activewear has gotten all of the press, it’s casual clothing with an emphasis on comfort and special features that will drive sales, says a new NPD report. Despite its robust growth over the last few years, activewear is still a relatively small portion of the total U.S. men’s and women’s apparel market. According to The NPD Group, non-active casual-wear represents more than half of the industry’s annual sales – $103 billion in the 12 months ending June 2019.

“Fashion’s future depends on casual clothing,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry advisor, The NPD Group. “But, today’s casual fashion is different from what was once referred to as ‘sportswear’ in the American fashion industry.”

Consumers are looking for their clothing to do more. Dollar sales of non-active casual-wear apparel that has special features like stain-resistance, wicking, antimicrobial, and wrinkle-resistance grew 7% percent in the past year, with nearly every applicable category contributing to the growth.

Today’s consumer is mixing and matching their clothing styles, price-points, brands, and retailers. Non-active casual-wear* is maintaining its place in the consumer’s closet. Wardrobe staples like casual pants, golf/polo/rugby shirts, and jackets and blazers are making a comeback. Over a quarter of the spending in this segment comes from Gen X (39-54 year olds), up 2% in the past year.

“Today’s definition of everyday apparel has no clear boundaries, and this is the approach today’s apparel manufacturers and retailers need to take,” Cohen said in a press release. “It’s about delivering clothing that solves consumer problems while staying true to your brand.”

The report measured the reach of the casualwear market. Specialty stores took 29 percent, the lion’s share of the casualwear business; department stores made up 15 percent of the market; and off-price retailers made up 14 percent.

Cohen said that this market will be marked by change. Growth in the casualwear market will come from off-price and manufacturer-owned/direct-to-consumer stores.

Along with casual, comfort is a major concern for consumers, according to a separate NPD report.

Released in July, the “Future of Apparel” report noted that sweats, swimwear, dresses and sleepwear would drive fashion-industry growth. In the 12 months ending May 2019, total sales of sweats and active bottoms, including adults’ and children’s products, grew 8 percent to $23.6 billion, and sleepwear sales increased 2 percent to $7.8 billion.

*Excludes activewear, tailored apparel, outerwear, socks, underwear, undershirts, and bras

Source: The NPD Group / Consumer Tracking Service, 12 months ending June 2019

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