Sector sportswear: hard but promising

After the current crisis, the sportswear sector may well be the first to resurrect. The segment favors everything – history and science in particular. 

For forecasters, this is a hard time. There is a great deal of insecurity in several countries about the COVID 19 pandemic, the geopolitical tension and the rise of protectionism, and the global economic recession and unrest. Some Black Swans lurk in the dark like always. Yet, it is not that stupid to expect a bright, medium-term future for the sportswear sector in India.

One important point is that we are encouraged by rational optimism to believe that after the dip of the corona, the HRI is continuing to increase. Human development trends may be more relevant than the holy cow of annual GDP growth for the sportswear business. The HDI is now also a respected tool for comparing countries’ performance thanks to people-oriented economists, such as Pakistani economist Mahbubul Haq, and his close friend, India’s Nobel Prize winner, Amartya Sen.

Is the symbol of human development more attractive than sportswear? It is admitted that sportswear’s per capita use or consumption is not statistically measured under HDI in the countries compared (189 countries in 2019). However, global spending per capita on sportswear seems reasonable to expect to continue to rise as long as key HDI dimensions are growing.

Everybody who wears a sports shirt and running shoes says: 

I’m investing, having access to education, a long and healthy life, and a decent standard of living. These are the three main dimensions of the HDI.

Reason and Science

Can you be sure this index continues to rise? In Einstein’s four-dimensional universe, some forecasters present themselves as if they were at home. They say without much hesitation to the public and companies what the future has for a heavy fee. His detailed predictions, like those of ordinary mortals, often appear to be biased and wrong. It is wiser to give some independent thinking based on statistics and other data instead of relying entirely on the advice of half-blind futurologists. That’s what Steven Pinker did when he wrote Enlightenment Now: a book from Canada-US.

You are likely to admit that HDI and associated phenomena, as sportswear consumption, will continue to grow if you agree with Pinker’s analysis and conclusions. Indeed, to improve their health (also to survive in the next pandemic), people will probably spend a little more active time doing sports and enjoying a good life connected with others. In particular, the current pandemic might benefit outdoor sports. On June 8, the European outdoor group (EOG) released new research details showing that enforced Covid-19 restrictions have strengthened the attractiveness of outdoor activities.70 % of participants reported that they are looking forward specifically to participate in outdoor activities in a survey of consumers in seven countries.

The Big and the Bold

According to market investigators from Statista, the US company Nike is the world’s largest producer of sportswear and sports goods, with a turnover of $39 billion in the fiscal year 2019. The steady leader of Adidas, trailing by VF Company, Puma, Under Armor, Asics, is $25 billion in 2018. Columbia Sportswear, Fila, Umbro, Reebok, Li Ning, Patagonia, Lacoste, Kappa, Lululemon Athletica, and other brands are among other major brands. In terms of financial gains, Nike is also the global number one. According to McKinsey’s Fashion 2020 State report, Nike’s 2018 profits were $3 trillion, compared to the $1 trillion Adidas, the US$ 861million, the US$ 532 million, the US$ 500 million, the US$ 400 million, the Lululemon (Canada), the United States of America, the United States of America and China (USA).

All sportswear brands collectively fished in the pockets of eager consumers for $174 billion in 2018 around the world. In 2018, the sportswear market in India was worth more than €540 billion in the country as well, almost €100 billion more than last year, according to Statista. In India, over the years since 2015, there has been an overall exponential increase in sports apparel and footwear market value.

Allied Market Research, acting as a fortune teller, anticipated that sportswear industry turnover by 2020 will increase to $184.6 billion. Of course, they could not know that Covid-19 would become a pandemic in the first months of 2020. However, even if they knew it, the impact of coronavirus on the production, distribution, and consumption of wear would not have been predicted.

Great Sector

Not too long ago, sectors that outstood in growth and profitability, such as “big oil,” “big pharmaceutical,” “big food,” “big finance,” were held out as “great industries,” regardless of the positive or negative contribution that they made towards people and the world. Today, business analysts tend to focus less on accounting results and a little more on social and ecological performance. It looks like today, with the notable exception of medical clothing, the sportswear subsector “loves” more than other textile and clothing subsectors. This may be because the entire sportswear is recognized as produced and consumed more consciously than other products. Sportswear brands also tend to be more brave and enlightened than other brands.

That ought not to be a surprise. Sportwear brands that want to communicate with their last customers know they will talk more consciously and more intensely with people who live (and probably think), on average, than most others.

Woke Brands

People who practice a sport regularly enhance their fitness and their creativity (jogging and cycling compete as a source of creative ideas for the daily shaving session). In the long-distance runner’s soleness, Alan Sillitoe suggested that endurance sports, in particular, stimulate independent thinking. Brands that communicate with sporty people are nevertheless aware that they do not speak of couch potatoes but rather “working” people.

The NFL player Colin Kaepernick took a computed risk in a new promotion campaign when he selected the 2018 NFL player. In 2016, Kaepernick was the first player to kneel at the national hymn in a silent protest against police violence and racism in the United States, in the anger of Donald Trump and the likeminded. At the end of May 2020, Nike took the lead once again by responding promptly to the scandalous assassination of the black citizen George Floyd, who was killed in Minneapolis by the police. The world-famous shoe and sportswear brand ‘Just it’s launched the striking ad ‘For once, just don’t do it.’ Competitor Adidas joined immediately. The Minnesota Police’s brutal intervention reminded people of the narrow-mindedness of the little town of Minnesota on Main Street (1920), where the Nobel Prize winner Sinclair Lewis sawdrown.

The name of the most important sportswear companies, such as Adidas, Lululemon, Nike, Under Armour, VF Corporation, among those who committed themselves to full payment for orders completed and in production could be identifiable on COVID 19 Tracker of the Worker Rights Consortium (‘which brands are acting responsibly for suppliers and workers?’). Astonishingly, the GAP was not on this list yet. Athleta, a female athletic wear brand, is one of the six main divisions of GAP.

Suing the President

Sportswear brands such as Patagonia, Nike, Adidas, or Asics are eager to persuade consumers that they are of prime importance to environmental sustainability. It’s hard to judge whether they really deserve their green picture. How can I differentiate between green and real image building? You’re never sure, but it seems reasonable to accept what brands talk about themselves, as long as they don’t protest angrily from specialized NGOs or others, knowing that it was easier for companies to control that sell material than for organizations and professionals that just produce words.

A case in point. Patagonia’s website contains at least 1 percent of sales from 1985 to environmental groups (in 2019, Patagonia had around $800 million). Patagonia’s outdoor clothing brand Patagonia donates about 500 million dollars of sales). “We’re working to save our home planet, Patagonia says proudly as well. We take action on our world’s most pressing environmental issues, from the promotion of young people against oil drilling to the President’s prosecution.

Good on You

How, for example, is Patagonia judged by the famous Australian organization ‘Good on you? ‘Good on you is a brand rating specialist that is sustainable and moral. The recent news is because, on the 16th June, the board of the French luxury fashion conglomerate Kering (including Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen) joined its high-profiled supporter Number One, British actor and ethics Champion Emma Watson.

“We have given the overall ‘Good’ rating for Patagonia based on our own research in September 2019. The company meets the standards it has set throughout its activities to achieve sustainability. To reduce its environmental impact, Patagonia is taking impressive measures. It leads the way in the field of labor policy. It received the second-highest rating on living wages, transparency, and empowerment in the Ethical Fashion Report for 2019 (the sixth such report published by Baptist World Aid). Patagonia also has strong policies on animal welfare.

Companies better than the ‘Good on You’ rating are scarce. According to the June 2020 report, the German sportswear brand Bleed is a ‘Great’ brand in all aspects. It uses a large number of environmentally friendly materials. In most of its supply chain, it ensures payment of a living wage. Its animal rating is also ‘wonderful.’ Bleed says its whole range of products is vegan. Bleed is a small enterprise; its size makes it easier to score extremely high than big firms.

Not Perfect

In an unperfect world, nothing is perfect. The standard-bearers in the sportswear sector are also subject to this rule. The boards of directors of Nike and other famous American enterprises, which supported the protests of the Black Lives Matter following the George Floyd assassination, were examined and strongly criticized. The examination led to an unmasking opinion of many Black Americans: most of the company’s supporters had none or just one black director on the board of directors. Nike has recognized the lack of diversity in its ranks of executives. While approximately 22% of Nike’s employees are Black, the proportion decreases as you move up the ladder. 10% are black, and 77% are white when you reach the level of vice-presidents. In addition, under pressure from top runners like the six-time Olympic Champion and Nike runner Allyson Felix, Nike had to change her pregnancy policies about women athletes.

Today, the clothing sector, including the sportswear sector, is mainly fired for its environmental and social shortcomings. More aspects of the industry will inevitably be examined and criticized in the future. How should sportswear brands protect themselves from Scottish psychiatrist RD Laing’s claim that “parental love” is often a form of violence? Should firms continue to conspire in the hard world of competition and heroism with parents to attract young children as soon as possible?

Some Speculations

Contact sports such as wrestling and forums such as soccer or horse racing are very likely to receive severe blows because of the compulsory adaptation of COVID-19. The future is difficult to foresee concerning the consequences of corona on outdoor sports. Let’s indulge in speculation nevertheless:

  •  The future corona shocks combined with increased climatic awareness can be expected to produce fewer per capita consumption of sportswear but an increase in interest in high-quality products that can be used for longer periods of time.
  •  Although more people will hopefully make more rational purchasing choices, it is an illusion that consumers are suddenly relieved from “consumption” and mimetic desire (see French social scientist Rene Girard), which is coined by American économist Thorstein Veblen. On 20 May, in some newspapers that wear the RectoVerso brand jogging pants, the elegant Belgians’ crown Princess Elisabeth doubled the brand’s sales the next day.
  •  In what the American cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker described as a “symbolic pillar of self-esteem” for many consumers, sportswear will continue to play the role of the animator (The Denial of Death, 1973). Therefore, brands continue to develop audacious slogans and create attractive products to support the myth that sports are a fountain for young people.
  •  As Israel’s historian Yuval Noah Harari named the corona effect in March2020, the ‘acceleration of history’ is likely to provide the basis for the largest and most rich sportswear brands. They look better than their small competitors’ chances of survival. Again, the winners are going to get everyone. Many SMEs will disappear, or larger companies will be taken over.
  •  There will continue to be traditional national sports favorites, including Indiapreferring cricket, US football fascination, and Brazil soccer fancy. 
  •  Market differentiation is even more important than in the past, with brands bringing more and more women and children into the fields of sport.

Brands will also still try to turn more casual sportspeople into sports enthusiasts. Casual runners tend to follow Mexican long-distance Tarahumara runners’ example of simplicity. Runners of this tribe in Indian clothing and self-made shoes can easily run 160 km over the mountains and the valleys. On the other hand, sports freaks tend to listen to a world-class racer like Meb Keflezighi, an American sponsored by Nike most of his career. Keflizighi explains in his book 26 Marathons (2019) how athletes can cost “fighting mishaps,” the mistaken choice of footwear, a victory, and a career. It goes without saying that freaks like Keflezighi always spend far more money than their more moderate competitors on sportswear.

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