Leg-up for activewear

As demand for stylish workout apparel booms amid the pandemic, some home-grown labels are steering their resources towards starting a gymwear line or expanding their offerings

Before the pandemic, consultant Merlyn Kang considered herself lucky if she could fit in two workouts a week.

Now with more time at home, the 26-year-old finds herself attending fitness classes almost five times a week. And with the increased frequency, she has had to buy more workout gear too.

Since Covid-19 started, she has been shopping from brands such as Lululemon and Nike up to three times a month, picking up leggings, sports bras and tops.

"Most of my clothing purchases during Covid-19 are activewear, compared with before, when it might have been workwear mostly," she says.

The pandemic may have brought much of the fashion retail industry to its knees, but one sector has seen unparalleled growth: activewear. With many turning to exercise - either to stave off boredom or stay healthy - in a global crisis, the need for stylish workout wear has accelerated a boom in the sector, which had already been on the rise in recent years.

A study from the iPrice Group conducted between January and June found that Google search interest in South-east Asia for sportswear brands Nike and Adidas soared by 605 per cent and 577 per cent respectively, compared with before the pandemic.

In Singapore, global sports brands reported similar demand.

Mr Nils Swolkien, managing director of Decathlon Singapore, says the company saw a "modest year-to-date growth in revenue of 3.9 per cent as compared to 2019", with a "strong surge in sports like cycling and fitness" this year.

And while equipment sales are "exponentially higher than the sale of our apparel", Decathlon's house brand of activewear has been selling well, he adds.

"Fitness and jogging apparel is in our top-selling list, and our yoga and jogging apparel for women has also been exceptionally popular among Singaporeans."

The brand opened a duplex Experience store at The Centrepoint and a Click & Collect store in Tiong Bahru Plaza this year. Mr Swolkien adds: "We can say the business is stronger for us now than it was previously."

Physical retail at Under Armour suffered during the pandemic, but was saved by e-commerce, says marketing director of Under Armour South-east Asia, Ms Yvonne Tey. The US sports brand opened a store in Parkway Parade last month and opens its refreshed Orchard Central flagship store today.

Ms Tey says: "Sales via our e-commerce platforms increased as consumers' mindset and consumption patterns shifted during the pandemic, with more seeking digital-led, at-home and low-touch experiences. Overall, while it has been difficult, we have also seen growth."

The booming interest in working out has not gone unnoticed here. Two home-grown apparel brands are capitalising on the demand and have launched gymwear lines.

For the first time in its 45-year history, B2B (business to business) uniforms brand JML Uniforms has debuted a gymwear label selling direct to consumers. Called F Brand, the co-ed label launched online (fbrand.com.sg) last month with a range of activewear basics.

The company cut its teeth supplying fashion apparel to department stores such as Isetan and nowdefunct chains Oriental Emporium and Yaohan. It switched to making uniforms in the 1990s.

When business slowed because of Covid-19, the company's director Jack Ou decided to try B2C (business to consumer), after consulting with the SME Centre at Enterprise Singapore. The 37-year-old says it was not a blind leap of faith because the company has built up a network of apparel contacts over the years.

Gymwear was top of mind because Mr Ou was inspired after reading news of people crowding parks to exercise. Seeing a manufacturing partner in China switch to specialising in gymwear in 2015 gave him added confidence.

However, his mother, Madam Ng Gim Kwee, 67, who started the company with Mr Ou's fifth uncle, needed some convincing.

"To her, it wasn't feasible because we were too used to doing B2B business. We manufacture what people order, and not manufacture to wait for orders," he says.

F Brand's women's range is priced from $23.80 for a singlet to $103.80 for quick-dry pants, while the men's line goes from $28.80 for tees to $58.80 for runner pants. Since its launch, it has received just under 100 orders.

With no physical stores, it has been hard getting word out as customers cannot feel the products in person, says Mr Ou. Many Singaporeans, he adds, also still prefer global brands like Adidas, Nike and Lululemon, which boast variety and prestige.

Similarly, fellow local apparel brand YeoMama Batik had its fair share of obstacles trying to brand and debut its activewear line. The batik fashion label, founded by Ms Desleen Yeo and her mother in January 2018, launched, albeit unsuccessfully, a batik activewear line called Ninja in September last year.

"We didn't realise how different activewear was from regular clothing. We'd assumed YeoMama Batik followers would also support Ninja, but it turned out to be a small percentage," says Ms Yeo, 29. They also struggled trying to target both the pole dancing community - Ms Yeo is an avid pole dancer - and the general fitness crowd.

Covid-19 gave them the opportunity to rebrand and relaunch.

"I realised everyone was doing home workouts, even friends who don't usually work out were buying activewear," says Ms Yeo.

Refocusing on the fitness community, the team redid the product photography and partnered with local yoga studios to promote the apparel. The products Ninja first debuted with remain the same - bra tops ($68), leggings ($88) and shorts ($58). Unlike the main line, which is made from hand-stamped batik, Ninja's patterns are digitally printed, as batik dyes cannot seep into lycra.

Since relaunching in end-April, products have been moving at a 60 per cent growth rate, Ms Yeo says. They started stocking Ninja on e-retailer Zalora and have been selling about 20 pieces a month.

She believes they still have a long way to go in building a relationship with the local fitness community, and creating "motivational content" to sustain the brand.


Home-grown activewear labels


Petite, curvy and modest collections from Gym Wear Movement. PHOTO: COURTESY OF GYM WEAR MOVEMENT

Complement your work-from-home situation with a stylish workout from home - in these local activewear labels.

F BRAND

Pick up straightforward, clean-cut activewear basics from co-ed sportswear label F Brand, launched last month.

For the women's line, find bra tops ($29.80), shorts ($39.80 to $41.80) and the top-selling Bare Some Skin Pants ($45.80) that come with pockets.

The men's line comprises tees ($28.80), shorts ($34.80) and runner pants ($58.80). Sizes are available in XS to XXL. 

Available at: fbrand.com.sg

GLOWCO 

The idea for modest activewear marketplace GlowCo came about in 2018 after fitness instructor Nawal Alhaddad, 30, noticed many of her Muslim clients struggling to work out comfortably.

"Their traditional hijabs wouldn't stay on and their outfits would ride up, leaving them drenched in sweat and feeling hot and uncomfortable," she says. Most would wear cotton T-shirts or activewear from international brands, and have to don an added layer on top before leaving the house or studio.

She wanted to "cut that step" and empower her clients to leave home confidently in activewear. She launched GlowCo early last year with just four brands, including an in-house label, GlowCo Exclusive.

The GlowCo Exclusive line is designed in Singapore and manufactured in Thailand. Pieces range from $14.90 for a jersey shawl to $79 for modest swim tops, with bestsellers being the Afterglow sports top ($49) and printed tights ($49 to $54.90). The line will debut sports hijabs ($39) next month.

Ms Nawal adds: "We pride our sportswear line on being functional, sweat-wicking, stylish and modest." 

Available at: 09-46 T-Space, 1 Tampines North Drive 1, and glowco.shop

GYM WEAR MOVEMENT 

With a focus on inclusivity, Gym Wear Movement makes athleisure for all shapes, in sizes from XS to XXL. Apparel is also categorised into petite, curvy and modest collections.

The wide selection of women's activewear includes hoodies ($55), bra tops ($39 to $65), leggings ($58 to $80) and shorts ($42 to $45) in a wide variety of colours. The brand also offers casual and leisure wear suitable for light workouts or running errands. 

Available at: gymwearmovement.com

NINJA BY YEOMAMA 

Fancy batik on your workout gear? This batik activewear line was started simply because co-founder Desleen Yeo wanted to be clothed in batik at all times.

The second line from batik apparel label YeoMama Batik launched in September last year with sports bras ($68), leggings ($88) and pole shorts ($58) that double as swim shorts. The pieces feature three traditional Indonesian patterns digitally printed onto lycra fabrics, and are produced by a gym wear manufacturer in Indonesia. 

Available at: 01-87 Oxley Bizhub 1, 65 Ubi Road 1, and yeomamabatik.com

OUTFYT

Founded in 2017, Outfyt touts sustainable activewear made of eco-friendly fabrics such as Econyl regenerated nylon - made from recovered waste that includes discarded fishing nets and fabric scraps.

Pick up sports bras (from $70), bicycle shorts ($72) and sports leggings ($110 to $125). The pieces are suitable for water sports too.The brand works with an ethical manufacturer in Indonesia that pays its staff fair wages. 

Available at: 35 Haji Lane and shopoutfyt.com

REVIVE&CO 

Launched in May, co-ed athleisure label Revive&Co was born after founders Natvianne Devajothi and Gloria Oh, both 27, were inspired by the role exercise played during their times of hardship. Wanting to reach out with fitness to others facing difficulties, they launched Revive&Co, inviting customers to share - on the brand's social media - their struggles with mental and physical wellness, and how they overcame them through exercise.

The apparel includes bra tops ($45 to $48), tights ($55), tanks ($35) and shorts ($40 to $45) for women. For the lads, the offerings are a T-shirt ($30), dri-fit shirt ($35) and shorts ($30). The apparel is designed and manufactured in China. 

Available at: revivecolabel.com

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2020, with the headline 'Leg-up for activewear'. Print Edition | Subscribe