UK consumers who place a greater importance on healthier lifestyles are increasingly willing to spend more on niche sportswear brands.

UK sportswear sales grew on average 8.2% annually from 2012 to 2016, reaching nearly £7 billion last year*. Despite this, established market leaders such as Nike and Under Armour have recently announced sales that have fallen below investors’ expectations, with both Adidas and Nike losing share from 2015 to 2016**.

Much of the success of sportswear has been driven by the continuing athleisure trend, which has attracted generalist high-street players (e.g. H&M and New Look) to the market. However, more specialised, premium positioned brands are focusing on developing a unique proposition that appeals to a core group of committed and engaged consumers.

Lucas Hugh, whose women’s leggings cost up to £240, places a focus on style, in addition to the traditional area of performance enhancement. Sealed seams and UV protection are promoted alongside founder, Anjhe Mules’, design experience at Alexander McQueen. Lucas Hugh’s statement prints, complimentary cuts and website featuring artistic, high-fashion photography clearly resonate with its target market of affluent, well-living, millennials.

Other brands, such as Castore, home in on quality. Billed as the first premium sportswear brand specifically for men, it appeals to the more serious amateur sportsperson via its technical credentials, such as silver chloride infused fabrics (to prevent odour) and laser cut micro-openings (for ventilation). The brand builds up an authentic technical narrative by promoting the fact that both founders are former athletes and all designs are tested on professionals for 100 consecutive days before entering production.

Castore co-founder, Tom Beahon, told Pragma, “Consumers increasingly want to feel a personal connection with brands”.  For those looking for something more than the mass market sportswear names can offer, brand story and ethos are key, which informs such brands’ route to market strategy.

At this point, no-one else can tell our story to the consumer better than we can,” Tom added.  “We want to build a deeper attachment and loyalty to the brand and so our strategy is, for now, to distribute exclusively through our own website.  Eventually we’ll look to expand with a physical presence which builds upon our established Castore online community.”

For brands looking to grow in this market, we believe success will belong to those who master both product and message. Once a winning range has been developed, the benefits and brand values must be convincingly communicated to the core audience in a focused way. We anticipate that category winners will use a combination of a compelling website showcasing the brand story, targeted social media, and collaborations with relevant ambassadors and institutions, such as sport-specific instructors, boutique gyms and up-and-coming athletes.

Alex Cook