Two decades ago, Jerry Seinfeld famously said to best friend and self-proclaimed schlep George Costanza: “You know the message you’re sending out to the world with these sweatpants? You’re telling the world, ‘I give up. I can’t compete in normal society. I’m miserable, so I might as well be comfortable.’”
But fashion designers didn’t give up. Fast forward to 2015, and active wear —whether for activity or leisure— has been reinvented. Active wear is no longer an afterthought. It’s much more than a stitch niche; in fact, it’s become one of the fastest growing fashion segments. According to market research company NDP Group, active wear drove an eight percent increase in women’s apparel from 2013 to 2014.
One of the main drivers of this growth is the versatility of women’s active wear. We’re not just talking about upscale gym clothes; “active wear” connotes attire you can wear inside and out and about. It’s daywear, weekend wear, duds for the coffee or wine bar, comfortable multi-tasking outfits, and even attire built for lounging in the airport terminal. Of course, hanging out at the terminal lounge in sweats and Crocs is something Costanza could really get behind.
But more than anything, the women’s active wear revolution is still about looking and feeling good while maximizing performance in the gym’s cardio wing, yoga nook, and Pilates studio. And then being able to leave without changing, and still looking and feeling just as great.
The Way I See It:
- The social nature of gyms and other workout environments means that word of mouth referrals will be a leading driver of sales in women’s active wear.
- Sweating? No sweat. Moisture-wicking fabrics and other clothing technology have erased the stains and other visible signs of an intense workout.
- Collaboration is one way to merge form and function. Active wear companies have partnered up with well-respected designers to launch new “hybrid” clothing lines.
- The next “bump” in active wear will be driven by clothing that can comfortably accommodate your technology, from smartphones to digital fitness trackers. In fact, this has already begun.
The Way the Industry Sees It:
I sat down with Dawn Dzedzy, Director of Brand Marketing at Lucy, to talk about her observations on the rapidly growing women’s active wear market.
With the growth in e-commerce and online stores, retailers with stores and an online presence face increased competition to win customers and increase sales. Without giving away any of your secrets, in what ways is Lucy increasing brand recognition and brand loyalty?
Yes, competition is certainly heating up from all sides. Let me first address the question of competition from the ecommerce channel. Lucy really operates with an omni-channel mentality. The question of online vs. physical stores is more and more pointing to the benefit of having both. I believe that having both a strong e-commerce business and physical stores (where customers can visit and get a deeper brand experience as well as where we can connect personally with the local community) is a true advantage for Lucy against a pure-play e-tailer. We are seeing even Amazon begin to open physical stores, and I think this clearly indicates that customers are expecting brands to be there wherever they shop. In addition, we are expanding into the wholesale channel (both in stores and online) to be in even more locations where our target customer is shopping and to me, that is a big opportunity for us to get the Lucy brand in front of a wider audience. Having said that, the explosion of brands into the women’s active wear category has amped up the challenge of staying differentiated and cutting through a crowded marketplace. Right now Lucy doesn’t have high brand awareness, but we do have fantastic brand loyalty. Once women try our product, they keep coming back. We are proud of that and fortunately it is a great foundation for utilizing social media strategies, such as partnering with influencers, to spread the Lucy message in an authentic way. We are doubling down on our digital and social media strategies because the authentic content and messaging that is the soul of those channels really resonates with our audience.
Recently, it seems that people are paying more attention than ever to what they wear when working out. Carrie Underwood recently debuted her line at New York Fashion Week, and we are seeing more and more celebrities crop up in the active-wear space. Has the increased focus on active wear changed the way you market to your customers?
It’s a great time for women’s active wear, no doubt; and it’s great to see the fashion world being influenced by athletic and performance apparel. I think this is a real trend that will stick around. We don’t foresee people waking up anytime soon and deciding “no, I don’t want to live a more active and fit life.” The increased focus on active wear hasn’t fundamentally changed our messaging – we have always been a brand that combines performance, style and versatility, with performance first. But it sure is nice that more and more people are pay attention to that message!
Lucy has been around since 1999, and was one of the first on the scene when it came to paving the way for high-end active wear. What methods of advertising did you originally rely on to reach your customers, and how has that changed with the rise of digitalized social media?
It’s true that Lucy was at the forefront in recognizing that there was a huge gap in workout wear for active women. At the time, most of what was available to women was either frumpy or simply a “dumbed down” version of men’s athletic wear. Thankfully, that’s no longer true. Clearly we were right about women’s desire for stylish clothing that stands up to a great workout – as evidenced by the huge influx of new players into the category. Lucy began as an online retailer of stylish active wear and didn’t open its first retail store until 2001, so we were naturally using digital media to get our message across from the beginning. Lucy has always relied on more targeted and direct channels of communication, as opposed to big media buys, to connect with our customers, so digital content marketing – both on our blog and through social media – have been a fantastic opportunity for us. We are completely focused on providing customer-centric messaging and challenge ourselves every day to think about what our customers want to hear from us, not just what we want to say to her, so social media is obviously a great tool for that. If something is falling flat, or isn’t connecting, or is too much about us – we hear about it! On the other hand, it’s also been a fantastic opportunity for us to tell more of our story from so many different angles – to bring our fans into the Lucy organization – like taking them through the product design process, or profiling a Lucy employee’s marathon training – and sharing things that we think our customers will find as fascinating and as inspiring as we do.
Lucy has always put women first – from the design of your active wear to the advice that you post on your blog – how influential is Instagram and social media in regard to sharing your brand mantra?
At this risk of sounding clichéd, digital and social content has been nothing short of a game-changer for us. Customers demand media authenticity and audiences can sniff out fakers a mile away, so for a brand like Lucy, which is truly made up of people who embrace and live the brand ethos, (and which doesn’t have a huge media budget), it’s a godsend.
What’s the most interesting object in your office?
Hanging on my bulletin board is a memento from one of our planning trips for the Lucy Light Forest project we did in October 2013. That summer a bunch of us traveled to Sauk Center, MN to test a prototype of the Light Forest. As you can imagine, there aren’t a lot of places to stay in Sauk Center and we spent the night at a wonderful old hotel called The Palmer House, which I didn’t know until I got there is a famous haunted hotel. I have a key to the room occupied by the ghost named (you guessed it) Lucy. I am a confirmed skeptic on this issue, but I have to admit I didn’t sleep very well that night.