The Future is Female: The importance of appealing to women in the sportswear market

26/02/2016

Sportswear brands are falling over themselves to appeal to women right now. Gemma Woor, of Dentsu Aegis Network Sport & Entertainment, looks at how some of the big players are wooing the female vote...

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Last year, Sport England launched the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign empowering women of all shapes, sizes and ages to participate in sport. The government-funded message saw women from all over the UK taking part in a range of sports in a bid to get fit.  The government is not alone in targeting women in sport; recently there is a growing trend of brands appealing to women, especially in the sportswear market with all the big brands trying to showcase their appeal.

While targeting women in the sportswear industry isn’t new, the interest and dominance of the market has grown dramatically. Nike claim the reason for this is the “athleisure trend”; women in their 20s and 30s not only using sportswear to work out in, but wearing outfits for day to day activities. Several brands have also seen the relevance of focusing on their women’s wear range, exploiting the “athleisure trend” in order to increase sales.

adidas have recently hired Christine Day as Strategic Advisor to improve the brand’s womenswear performance, following the trend of turning womenswear into everyday fashion. This is a common move across women’s sportswear to implement flexibility and choice. adidas clearly recognise the importance of this and have pulled in the support of female athletes in their latest campaign to support their focus on women’s sportswear; unveiling a number of films featuring athletes including Caroline Wozniacki, Karlie Kloss and Candace Parker.

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These short films feature images and photos from each athlete’s Instagram to give the videos an authentic feel.

Nicole Vollebregt, head of women's at adidas, says: “We are obsessed with the versatile female athlete. In 2016, we will consistently roll out women-focused activations, partnerships, products and events that will allow us to further connect with this athlete on a personal level."

Last year, adidas launched an influencer-supported advertising and events drive for the Energy Running movement, gathering together influential, but not necessarily professional, female runners from cities around the globe.

The idea here was to focus on women who would be easily relatable, giving female runners something they could aspire to.

Nike, too, have targeted women in a bid to increase sales – they predict their womenswear line could add up to $2 billion in additional sales by 2017.

Back In 2014, Nike worked with Karlie Kloss on a major marketing campaign to form a synergy between women’s fashion and sportswear. To complement the partnership, Nike launched the ‘Women’s Innovation Summit’ in New York. Karlie Kloss was joined by Olympic gold medalists Allyson Felix, Sanya Richards-Ross, and Adelina Sotnikova on the runway to showcase the brand's newest range. Nike President Trevor Edwards, explains that in women’s business “there is no performance without style”; “she wants to make sure that she looks good, feels good and she functions well”.

Following this, in 2015 Nike launched their biggest ever advertising push, solely targeting women. The ‘#BetterForIt’ campaign message shifted from previous Nike campaigns which focused on established athletes towards an encouragement of all women to challenge themselves regardless of their level of experience.

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Under Armour have also focused on targeting women with their largest ever global women’s campaign. The ‘I will what I want’ campaign partnered with supermodel Gisele Bundchen and ballerina Misty Copeland. The campaign declares that all women are athletes and use brand ambassador training stories to inspire. CEO Kevin Plank’s aim is to grow the women’s business to be “at least as large if not larger than our men’s business”. Plank stated that the women’s brand performed above both men’s and the youth category with ecommerce.

And just last week, Puma proclaimed the “future is female” after announcing Rihanna as a brand ambassador and creative director. Rihanna has launched a collection of footwear and apparel styles which helped boost sales growth. Puma has also signed Kylie Jenner as a brand ambassador to promote women’s sportswear.

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This superstar-focused activity does slightly jar with the #ThisGirlCan campaign – it could be viewed that using supermodels and celebrity brand ambassadors isn’t relatable for everyday women and their fitness. There’s the chance they may isolate brand audiences and pose questions of the authenticity of their sportswear. Yet, as sportswear is becoming more of a fashion statement, partnering with fashion icons may also entice women to purchase as they look for both performance and style. Used in combination with ‘real people’, as adidas seeks to do with their influencer-led work, this can be very effective.

Women are having an impact on the sportswear space due to their lifestyle demands and brands have created a shift to support this. It is apparent that brands are seeing the importance in appealing to women in the sportswear market to utilise the new “athleisure trend” to increase sales. It will be no surprise to see more sportswear brands in the near future launching women-focused campaigns to compete in an over-crowded market and embrace that the “future is female”.

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