China Still Untapped for Active Brands

A shift in beauty standards, increase in sports participation and a desire for fashionable athletic attire drives a new generation of Chinese women.

This fitness boom among women in China marks a departure from the country’s long-held beauty standards of extreme, waif-like thinness as the ideal to an acceptance of more defined and shapely figures.

It has been spurred, as with many other trends among the country’s growing middle class, by a national obsession with sharing an aspirational lifestyle on the country’s most prevalent social networks, WeChat and Sina Weibo, as well as the influence of celebrities and key opinion leaders, commonly called KOLs here.

Accordingly, the number of marathons organized in China increased from 22 in 2011 to 123 in 2015, with over a million participants, according to statistics from the General Administration of Sports of China.

According to data from Euromonitor, China’s health and wellness boom has driven sportswear growth to a point where it threatens to overtake luxury goods by 2020.

Euromonitor estimates the sector will reach a retail value of more than 300 billion yuan, or $45.85 billion, by 2021, up from 187 billion yuan, or $28.58 billion, in 2016.

One thing brands can’t count on from Chinese Millennial consumers is loyalty. A 2016 UBS survey showed the under-35 set in China to not only be less loyal than the previous generations but also less loyal than their Millennial counterparts in the U.S.

It’s not just smaller international sportswear brands poised to take market share from the sector’s major players.

International fast-fashion retailers such as H&M and Uniqlo are also proving popular with Chinese sportswear consumers and are likely to pose the biggest threat to the likes of Nike and Adidas. There is room for smaller US brands in the activewear category like Lulu Lemon who has been very successful entering the market with it’s multi pronged approach to engaging this customer.