September 16, 2007

What do you understand by sportswear? Is it casualwear? How different is it from activewear? Who are the main players in sportswear? Any desi brands here? What are the opportunities in this segment? Chhaya Chauhan answers these questions and more. (From "Images Business of Fashion", September 2007)

Sportswear – a term that normally brings to mind an image of an athlete or a sportsman dressed up to begin a game… a cricketer in full gear, a tennis champ in sport clothing.

However, it is interesting to note how during the last few decades the dimensions of sportswear have expanded to an extent that has brought forth a whole new face for this clothing category and what was traditionally sports clothing, is fast acquiring the nomen activewear.

To understand the shifting paradigms let’s take a look at how these categories are completely different…

Active sportswear: Active attire, performance sportswear, or active sportswear is clothing, including footwear and other accessories, worn for sport or exercise. These are meant to enhance the performance while playing the sport and use special fabrics and cuts specialised for each type of sport. Typical garments include shorts, tracksuits, t-shirts, polo shirts and trainers. Specialised garments include wet suits and salopettes. It also includes some underwear, such as the jockstrap. Most active sportswear brands have a lifestyle line of clothes which is inspired by the active sportswear range and these are often worn as casual fashion clothing.

Sportswear: A term widely used and well understood globally and more so in the United States, sportswear is anything more casual in approach than the rigid or traditional definitions. Modern classics, glam comfort… classic sporty look with modern feminine details for the woman who gives equal points to functionality, comfort factor and glamour.

Traditionally inspired by active sports, it is a collection for fast paced city life, and meets the demand for both fashion and function. From its sleek design lines to innovative construction, these versatile pieces help you more than just keep up – they let you set the pace – a perfect blend of trendy and sporty, rich fabrics, subtle prints and feminine lines..for you to relax, function and enjoy in.

Globally, with the growing market and demands of the customer, today sportswear has further fragmented. However, thanks to brand communication and product loyalty that global brands enjoy, even these fragments can be unmistakably understood.

For example, at most fashion stores in the US, there are many more segments under the sportswear category. Nieman Marcus offers you to shop even career sportswear along with casual sportswear. Ellen Tracy’s career sportswear and Nieman Marcus’ career sportswear do not ring a bell even close to ‘sporty’ in the Indian lay man’s context and so does not the casual sportswear attire by Anne Klein.

Further more, at Lord and Taylor, you can shop classic sportswear of the likes of Lauren Alpana along with contemporary sportswear by Lucky Jeans and Calvin Klein Jeans. There is a definition driving these. Sportswear career clothes are of a more relaxed mindset than the regular career clothes. Likewise, there is a difference between the classic and the contemporary sportswear as the classic version is more refined and chic than its contemporary counterpart, which has distinct trendy, younger and frolicsome elements, such that, even if a CK skirt has a handkerchief hem it will be neatly finished to give an overall refined look whereas a CK Jeans’ classic full sleeve shirt will have elements of frolic like raw edges or braid trims.

Clearly, sportswear exists under all major categories, albeit little undertoned in definition than the traditional ones, which is why you even have career sportswear (which is not as formal as regular careerwear) and sportswear evening which is not as dressy as regular formal eveningwear.

Surprising alright to us here, but again, it is fast acquiring recognition in its true essence. Ask a professional from the garment export industry, and pat comes the reply: “It is what you’d call casualwear”.

Even though this sounds confusing to the Indian end-consumer or even our leading brands and retailers, fact is the category exists globally and is the widest spread among all apparel, partly also owing to the fact that the term and category was born in the 1960s and nurtured rather well by the retailers and consumers in American grounds. The fact that the American lifestyle and social attitude has not been too rigid or definition confining unlike most of their global counterparts also lent a helping hand.

India story

Addressing the question if it is time to introduce the sportswear definition in the Indian context, Ashvinder Singh, managing director, USI, a domestic sportswear brand, says, “I think the youth is ready for the definition. The developments that have happened in the past four years in the domestic retail sector are equivalent to what has happened in the past 40 years. Thanks to the Internet, the youth in the relatively smaller cities is also aware of what brands are doing globally, be it fashion or the automobile industry. Many a times, the customer is aware of the products before it even reaches the stores. I do not feel that the customer will be any bit confused by the introduction of this definition, as he well understands the difference between sports and sporty. He is ready to accept provided that the brand imaging is done correctly and crisply and the products offered are in complete symphony with the brand imaging. For example, we have been running a t-shirt line called rugby t-shirts for the last 16 seasons, which is a very smart casual line, inspired by the performance rugby t-shirts. Now rugby t-shirts are very rough with their feel, but our line takes inspiration from the spirit of the game and with the help of very soft fabrics and graphics you have a collection which is appealing to someone who wants to dress up smartly and in some way identifies with the sport.

“The customer should know what the brand stands for and what its offerings are. The product and service needs to be consistent – no surprises. I am very inspired by Burberry, in how it has managed to retain a consistent image. I’ll say it is very easy to build an image, but it takes a lot to stick to it.”

Shailesh Chaturvedi, CEO, Tommy Hilfiger Apparel-India, on the question on measures required to make retailers and end consumers understand the globally accepted definition of sportswear, says: “Sportswear is a very American term because of its casual spirit. It denotes an in-between smarter alternative, a smart casual line for a smarter and sporty spirit fashionable clothing.

"Point is that it is an industry term, as in a very B2B phrase and not necessarily be taken to by consumers. Consumers just need to know how to dress, what piece to pair up with what bottom and accessory, and know the looks and styles which are in for a season. The past four to five years have been progressive as the evolved Indian consumer is actually driving the brand to offer better collections, season after season. Having said this, I do not think we need to follow the US and confuse the clearer definitions that the Indian market follows.”

“I feel that this is the right time to bring in the definition of sportswear to the already existing sportswear labels. Entry of global sportswear brands like Tommy Hilfiger and the likes have also helped broadening the minds of consumers to newer concepts”, says Dhruv Bogra, business head, Nautica-India.

According to him, awareness for sportswear category can be created by effective communication during product launch, conveying what sportswear means. One has to make the customers see that the definition fits into their lifestyle. Then, of course, brand value is critical. “We market Nautica as classic lifestyle clothing, which one can wear to work, or as smart casual attire, which has a soul of exploration and adventure.”

Manish Kelshikar, design head, Shoppers’ Stop feels that the penetration of the definition is very difficult in the Indian market to the end consumers as of now, as even in professional circuits the term is not understood as of yet. Entire branding comes through commitment to the product. However, most brands mix products based on the consumer needs.

“However”, he continues, “following a disciplined way of brand extensions till the brand is well known for a particular category, like sportswear, could help. Currently, most brands are clustered together. An excellent example is Allen Solly, a sportswear brand that has created an individualistic brand image, well dressed with a relaxed attitude. It brought in the concept of Friday dressing in the country, which appealed to the metrosexuals.

“Even though young professionals of today are aware of the sportswear definition as it exists, thanks to the Internet and travelling across the globe, brands still shy away from the definition as the Indian customer is still evolving. Thus, no brand forthrightly declares that it is a sportswear brand in the global definition context. The categories well understood by the Indian market remain as ethnic/festive wear, careerwear, Friday dressing, jeanswear, loungewear, casual or street wear and club/party wear”.

Says Devangshu Dutta, chief executive, Third Eyesight: “Sports-inspired casualwear in India has been around since the days of brands such as Proline, Active Sportswear, Bata, North Star and others. Other home grown brands such as USI have also grown organically along those lines and remain active in that market. However, in the last 10-12 years, the entry of global players such as Reebok and Adidas pushed sports-inspired casualwear into the forefront even more, supported also by the growth of sports telecasts and sponsorships.

“At the same time, globally, sports-inspiration has been creeping into casualwear, and the share of knits has also grown in the overall apparel market – a trend which is reflected now in India also, and supported by the growth of knitwear manufacturing capacity in the country.

"The term sports-inspired casualwear demonstrates a common trend where new product developments start off as being functional, distinctive and different (such as performance apparel, camouflage, cargo-pants, hiking boots), but then influence and blur into the mainstream products as well.

"As far as building awareness is concerned, the core merchandise, of course, rides on the back of sports – whether watching or playing. Television has a huge role to play in this, as is apparent from the growth of sales of team apparel for soccer, basketball, baseball and American football. As the phenomenon of sports (playing, telecasting and watching) increases, the sports-inspired casualwear segment is sure to grow.

"An interesting development recently, film showing the impact of media on consumption patterns and habits in this context is the recent Chak De…India, which has actually caused a small resurgence of interest in hockey, and will surely have a positive impact on sports equipment, sportswear and accessories related to hockey."

How sportswear evolved

The concept was seeded in the Sixties, when the influential Italian designer Emilio Pucci’s sportswear designs and prints inspired by Op art, psychedelia, and medieval heraldic banners earned him a reputation that extended far beyond the circles of high society. His sleek shift dresses, tunics, created a ‘Puccimania’ that was all part of a movement to liberate the female form. His designs, while being experimental, were also in tune with what modern adventurous young women wanted to wear.

The Seventies nurtured it. Nicknamed the ‘me’ decade, ‘please yourself’ was the catchword of the Seventies. In the United States, the general trend in fashion was towards simplification. Pants earned unanimous approval over skirts. Jeans profited most from becoming an accepted part of the American fashion scene, their new-found respectability deriving from their inclusion in collections under the heading of sportswear. Nike debuted in 1972 and running became a popular pastime, and running shoes were a functional necessity. The athletic craze was only just beginning.

Perry Ellis: Central to the success of a new wave of American sportswear was the Perry Ellis label, established in 1978, which used colour and natural fibres to great advantage in its elegant variations on the basics.

Ellis presented his first women’s sportswear line, Portfolio, in 1976. Although he could not sketch, he knew exactly how the industry worked and proved a master of innovative ideas creating new classics that American women longed for at the time. He was acclaimed by critics as the ideal American sportswear designer of the time and loved by female consumers for his clean-cut yet casual style.

Norma Kamali: With short skirts made of sweatshirting, leotards, headbands, and leg warmers, Norma Kamali made jogging look fashionable. She also created the popular rah-rah skirt.

Giorgio Armani: The most influential Italian fashion designer of the time was probably Giorgio Armani who produced his first collection for women in 1975. From the outset, the line was dynamic, urban, and understated, androgynous in inspiration. Armani offered a restrained style that greatly appealed to the increasing population of women who now had access to the world of work and occupied progressively more senior positions within it. This was only the beginning of a tremendous career, which came to fruition in 1981 when Emporio Armani was launched.

It finally arrives

Power suits, dress for success, and the conservative preppie look were everywhere. Fashionable brand names like Izod, Nike, and Adidas were the rage in street styles.

There was no guilt about being greedy in the Eighties. There was money to be made, money to be spent, and you had to look really, really good while you were spending it. You even had to look good while indulging in the new aerobics fad – never let ’em see you sweat. Appearance was related to performance, which was of supreme importance to a whole generation of young urban professionals, whose desire to look the part related to a craving for power. The way in which men and women associated with the latest styles was no more a matter of passive submission but one of active choice.

Women began demanding an alternative to high heels. The image of a power-suited woman in athletic shoes rushing off to work is quintessential Eighties. Quotes such as "It’s harder to climb the ladder of success in high heels" were taken seriously. Some women began dressing in mannish simplicity while attempting to shatter the glass ceiling. Flats and low-heeled shoes in muted colours and classic styles were popular.

Also notable is the extreme popularity of the Adidas sports label, which achieved an incredible level of street cred in the Eighties, even inciting the hip hop group Run DMC to release the single My Adidas in 1986. The legendary shoe designer Manolo Blahnik also rose to fame during the 1980s, with his fantastical divine mules, and majestic boots.

In contrast to the conservative business climate, the voice of colour became louder in casualwear. There were no shy colours, be they primary or fluorescent. New wave bands such as Culture Club featuring Boy George and mega stars such as Madonna and Michael Jackson encouraged in-your-face fashion. Moccasins, espadrilles, and other types of native shoes were reinvented using new colour palettes. Jellies, made of moulded plastic in a variety of colours, were also a huge fad. Even men’s shoes weren’t safe as bright-hued Converse All Stars and patterned became popular.

All the excess, however, was becoming a little too much.

Liz Claiborne: Frustrated at the failure of the companies that she worked for to provide clothes for working women, Liz Claiborne started her own design company, Liz Claiborne Inc, in 1976. It was an immediate success with sales of $2 million in 1976 and $23 million in 1978. By 1988 it had acquired one-third of the American women’s upscale sportswear market.

Ralph Lauren: His aristocratic style at prices the average American could afford created a sensation. For an elite faced with all kinds of avant-garde fashions, it represented a rallying point, endorsing, as it did, a classic look that had been adopted for an active life. The number one of American ready-to-wear, he was equally successful with his sportswear and jeans, which allowed him to reach the widest possible range of social classes and age groups.

Guy Paulin: One of the first French designers to promote a severe, plain, and uncluttered look, Paulin’s garments were classical in their proportions and made for comfort and simplicity.

The Nineties

In the Nineties it was no longer the done thing to follow fashion slavishly, a sharp contrast to the highly á la mode Seventies and Eighties. The phobia of being underdressed was finally completely displaced by the fear of overdressing. Fashion in the Nineties united around a new standard as styles of stark simplicity became the vogue. Clothes by ready-to-wear retailers such as The Gap, Banana Republic, and Eddie Bauer came to the forefront, managing to tap into the needs of women who simply wanted comfortable, wearable clothes.

Lacoste: Starting in 2000, with the hiring of a new fashion designer, Christopher Lemaire, Lacoste began to take control of its brand name and logo, reining in their branding arrangements. Now, Lacoste has once again returned to the elite status it held before a brand management crisis in the Seventies and Eighties.

Michael Kors: Renowned for his classic, chic, and luxurious but sensible aesthetic on American sportswear and other clothing styles, it was in 1981 that Kors launched the Michael Kors womenswear line. The menswear line includes sweaters, tailored pants, and peacoats. In 1997, Kors was named the first ever women’s ready-to-wear designer and creative director for the French fashion house Celine. In his tenure at Celine, Kors turned the fashion house around with blockbuster accessories and a critically acclaimed ready-to-wear line. Kors left in October 2003 to concentrate on his own brand. His knowledge and consciousness of trends enabled him to produce simple well cut garments, whose sophistication and elegance appealed to a whole new breed of wealthy American customers drawn to the new vogue for minimalist chic.

Calvin Klein: One of the first fashion designers to anticipate the globalisation of world markets, the already well-known designer, Calvin Klein, started to market his fashions, perfumes, and accessories not only across the US, but also in Europe and Asia, achieving an unequalled success. A brilliant artistic director, Klein used carefully constructed advertisements containing images tinted with eroticism to promote his sophisticatedly functional mass-produced designs, which won massive popularity among the urban youth of the Nineties.

Current scenario

Globally, the sportswear market is branching out more day by day as new areas emerge and the existing categories evolve further due to market demands, coupled with severe competition and customer needs. The bigger brands are forced to make additional sub segments within the broader definition to stay put at their current position or grow bigger.

Globally, with health consciousness and general well being getting embedded in our mind set more than ever, sports-inspired clothing, be it for work or casual, is gaining popularity world over. Sportswear version styles have begun to replace the traditionals, reflecting the spirit “ I am what I want to be.” There is a fashion statement even in dressing down, it’s just how fashionably you do it. In Europe, sportswear clothing has bloomed majorly because of the affluent aging population which is youthful in spirit; they lead an active lifestyle and to reflect their spirit they like to dress up in smart-casual when not at work.

PVH: Phillips-Van Heusen Corporation (PVH) is one of the largest apparel companies in the world. The portfolio of brands includes Van Heusen, Calvin Klein, Izod, GH Bass & Co, Bass, Arrow and Eagle which are owned, and Geoffrey Beene, Kenneth Cole New York, Reaction Kenneth Cole, BCBG Max Azria, BCBG Attitude, Michael Michael Kors, Donald J Trump Signature, Sean John and Chaps, which are licensed. Phillips-Van Heusen’s business comprises several major business groups.

Currently, its products are distributed through more than 15,000 doors in department, mid-tier, mass market and specialty stores in the United States. It also licenses its brands, to qualified business partners, domestically and around the world. This enhances brand awareness and strength, while increasing revenues and expanding operating margins.


An insider from the company spoke on conditions of anonymity: “2006 marked a year of significant change in our industry as a result of department store consolidation and store closings. The associated effects were felt across markets, across brands, and by our retail partners. Our reaction to these changes was not one of uncertainty, but rather one of anticipation. We adapted our strategy and methodologies early, in preparation for the inevitable and often tumultuous shifts in the marketplace.

“We believe PVH is philosophically and structurally unique. We operate within two business models instead of one. We are organised by product-specific operating divisions for purposes of merchandising, design and sales, while organised across multiple divisions for purposes of logistics, sourcing and marketing. This dual model is, by design, both operationally efficient and brand-centric, providing a structure and platform to expand our portfolio with complementary new brands and product extensions, thus enabling us to seize opportunities.

“Reacting to and finding the opportunities presented by this changing retail environment was just one of the areas in which our company excelled in 2006. We also laid the foundation for future growth and expansion, taking steps to enhance and refine our business model:

a) Agreed to re-acquire from our licensee the operations for Izod women’s sportswear, so that it could build a business that will mirror its successful men’s sportswear operations.

b) Entered into a new license for Timberland men’s and women’s sportswear to expand branded product reach.

c) Committed to presenting the Calvin Klein brand directly to the US consumer through the opening of full-priced specialty stores that will showcase the Calvin Klein white label brand.

We benefit from what we believe is one of the strongest management teams in the industry, a portfolio of worldclass brands and an infrastructure that enables us to execute at consistently high levels across all facets of our business.”


“The performance of our Sportswear group exceeded expectations in 2006, as here too we were able to respond to the changes caused by consolidation in the department store channel. This was achieved through both the strength of our brands and by making additional inroads within the broader retail environment of an exclusive store presentation under the Izod LX label. Van Heusen sportswear broadened its presence in JC Penny as a lifestyle presentation. We worked with our retail customers to adjust their product mix in recognition of the new landscape.

“The Izod brand, whose consistent success speaks to the strength of the brand, will benefit this coming year by bringing the Izod women’s sportswear business in-house, allowing us to be the brand stewards for the totality of both the men’s and women’s businesses. This represents an opportunity to establish what we project could be a $200 million business within five years, while also developing in-house expertise in the women’s wholesale sportswear arena, which could provide us with a capability and platform that can be levered to grow additional women’s businesses.

The strength of the Calvin Klein brand exhibited itself in the performance of our men’s better sportswear business. Sales of the Calvin Klein sportswear business were up approximately 60 per cent in its second full year of operation and door count increased from 500 to 550.”

BCBG Maxazria

Founded in 1989 by founder, designer-chairman-CEO, Max Azria, the brand was named for the French phrase bon chic, bon genre, a Parisian slang meaning good style, good attitude. The company is a combination of European sophistication and American spirit. A retail giant, it owns and operates over 290 BCBG Maxazria boutiques throughout the world with over 210 in the US alone. The collection is also sold through specialty stores and in-store shops in major department stores across the globe including Saks Fifth Avenue, Nieman Marcus, Bloomingdales, Nordstrom. The company has a portfolio of 15 brands, making it one of the most diversified fashion houses. This fall season, the company will add a contemporary outerwear collection under its existing umbrella of clothes, accessories and fragrances.

The BCBG customer is modern, chic and fashion forward. She appreciates clothes that are elegant as well as wearable. The company caters not to an age group but to an attitude.

The BCBG Sportswear line truly pushes fashion to its limits and much more, even as it does not consciously follow predicted fashion forecasts, rather creates fashion looks of its own, so much so that most brands follow what the BCBG Maxazria Sportswear label sets.

In a telephonic interview with Ajitesh Bhatia, director-sportswear, BCBG Maxazria group said: “We are able to provide our clients what they just will not get elsewhere and we make continuous efforts to improve our understanding of the customers’ expectations from us. There is huge competition in this segment and we are considered market leaders of contemporary sportswear styling. The need to keep re-inventing to rise above expectations is the key. We launch about 200 styles per month to cater to the niche segment that the label is in and I am only talking about one of the labels under the company’s umbrella that is BCBG Maxazria Sportswear. We feel that designing is more than 50 per cent of technical knowledge and thus, have a stock of in-house technicians, patternmakers and designers right here in our Los Angeles office.

“We are successful as we capture the latest trend at all price points for all classes of clients. Our brand has an edge because we are ever changing, ever reinventing, trying something new blended with the classic fits. Customers get a complete deal when they are shopping with us. Plus, most of our sportswear pieces can multitask; sportswear has it advantages – the tops can be worn to office as well as a party with little change.”


In 2006, Nike wrested the rights to become the official kit sponsor for the Indian cricket team for five years. Beating arch rivals Reebok and Adidas, it paid Rs 196 crore to the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

The first ‘Just Do It’ cricket ad also made its appearance during the Champions Trophy last year since Nike aimed to connect emotionally with Indian customers, and connecting through cricket passion is truly the best way.

Sanjay Mehra, general manager, Nike-India:

Q. How is this segment evolving in India?

A. Established in June 2004, Nike India aims to lead innovation in footwear, apparel and equipment and introduce to consumers its vast range of specialised products. It aims to raise the bar in terms of choice to the consumer, customer service standards, and stimulate competition in the industry.

In addition to performance products, Nike aims to bring inspiring and innovative sportswear solutions to style-conscious youth throughout the world. Nike aims to energise the street through collections grounded in Nike’s DNA with its sports-inspired line of products called Nike Sportswear. We introduced the premium line of Nike Sportswear in India this summer and the response we’ve received is encouraging.

Q. Please elaborate on your lifestyle line, inspired by the sports line?

A. Nike has a range of footwear that is inspired by sport. Nike has always enjoyed a healthy degree of popularity beyond hardcore athletes. For example, the Air Force 1 franchise, is a shoe inspired by basket ball. A basketball fan would wear Air Force 1 on the streets, whether he plays basketball or not.

At Nike, innovation is foremost and will remain the core of our brand. With our sportswear line, what’s hip and what’s in fashion still blends in with performance. For example, unlike sports shoes, which might get used for a 45-minute game before being tossed back into a locker, the Sportswear line may be used all day. That’s a different mindset, but a chance to explore a different side of product innovation. This range also gives us a chance to integrate innovation across categories, from sports to fashion.


Adidas is a major German sports apparel manufacturer, part of the Adidas Group, consisting of Reebok sportswear company, Taylormade golf company, Maxfli golf balls, and Adidas Golf and is the second largest sportswear manufacturer in the world. The company was named after its founder, Adolf (Adi) Dassler in 1948. In 2006, Adidas acquired Reebok for $8 billion. The deal overshadowed Nike’s purchase of Converse in 2003. The acquisition increased Adidas’ market share in North America and allowed it to further compete with the world’s biggest maker of sports apparel, Nike. Adidas revenue for 2006 was listed at or about 13.625 billion US dollars. “Impossible is nothing" is the current mainstream marketing slogan for Adidas. Today, the brand is also popular in hip-hop fashion. In the video to his new single Rudebox, singer Robbie Williams wears an Adidas jacket with the classical logo and concert and Juggy D, a British Asian singer, wears Adidas branded clothing in his music videos.

Since 2000, instead of the traditional divisional structure of footwear and apparel/accessories, Adidas now has three divisions: Forever Sport, Original and Equipment. (As of 2002, the divisions are called Adidas Sport Performance, Adidas Sport Heritage, ASport Style.)

Adidas’ presence in India is 11-years-old and it has approximately 235 exclusive retail showrooms across the country, informed John Thangaraj, manager-trend & lifestyle marketing, Adidas India. Globally, the company has three brands dedicated to distinct product categories:

a) Adidas Sport Performance, the only collection available in India, comprises technically sound clothes for playing a sport like tennis or golf and competes with brands of the likes of Nike and Reebok.

b) Adidas Original is a sports-inspired lifestyle brand and competes with the likes of Tommy Hilfiger and Guess internationally.

c) Global premium style brand called Y-3, is in collaboration with the Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto. This is a super premium brand and is in the league of the likes of Prada and Gucci. The latter two brands are not available here as of now.

“We feel that the Indian consumer is ready for a lifestyle brand like Adidas Original and we are coming up with our first store of this label in Delhi. Premium lifestyle brands like Fcuk are helping the Indian youth keep in touch with global trends. The evolving sports culture is influencing lifestyle like never before. Sports fitness lifestyle is catching up.”


Reebok was founded in 1895 in Britain by Joseph William Foster. In 1958 two of the founder’s grandsons Jeffrey and Joseph left the family business and started a rival company that came to be known as Reebok. The firm was sold to a group of investors in 1984, led by R Stephen Rubin of Pentland Industries and Paul Fireman, who established a holding company based in theUK, Limelight Limited, renamed Reebok International Limited

Reebok is now owned by the German footwear giant Adidas, which completed its acquisition in early 2006.

Reebok surged in popularity in 1982 after the introduction of the Freestyle athletic shoe, which was specifically designed for women and came out when the aerobics fitness craze started. Not only was the Reebok Freestyle popular as athleticwear, but also on the streets as casualwear because of its comfort and styling.

Reebok started its operations in India in 1995. Headed by managing director Subhinder Singh Prem, Reebok India has a pan-India presence. It claims to enjoy 51 per cent market share of the total sportswear market the country. It has over 500 standalone stores and is the largest sportswear brand with sale turnover of Rs 900 crore on MRP and with 40 per cent of the turnover attributed to apparel clothing range, which works out to Rs 360 crore.

The apparel line, says Singh, is an athletic leisure line, that is a casualwear line with inspiration coming from various sports. “We have stuck to the sports pedigree, and sponsor and design collections for various sport events. I’ll attribute the brand building to women’s fitness as they make most of the calls when buying. We had started a programme called Reebok University Programme, aimed at training women for fitness. Now, 97 per cent of these women have ventured out as either gym trainers or personal trainers and sport our clothes. These are our brand ambassadors.”

Lifestyle fit is getting global like never before. Until four years back, Reebok would launch a product probably six months later in India. Today, India is aligned globally for every launch, be it a product or a marketing campaign.

Among several other associations like the one with Manish Arora or the Hutch Marathon, Reebok has done a full collection around Mahinder Singh Dhoni’s favourite number 7, which is a stylised line. “In fact, Dhoni spent two days with us designing the range. He is very passionate about clothes too and this aspect of his personality is reflected in the lifestyle range. “

The Scarlett ‘Hearts’ Rbk collection is a fashion-forward, athletic-inspired footwear and apparel. meant for the elite, brand-conscious fashion lover. It consists of bright, summer-friendly colours in shoes, track pants, tees and tops in which one can exercise and wear to casual occasions like going out for coffee, movies.”

Reebok has also launched its campaign ‘I Am More’ featuring Scarlett Johansson with a focus on celebration of individuality. Reebok is the only brand to acknowledge that a sports star also has a life beyond sports and has taken this stance in this lifestyle campaign wherein Reebok will talk not just about on field performance, but off field interests as well.

Reebok has also launched a campaign called “2 people in 1” which has a collection of sports as well as lifestyle shoes. Sport need not be boring in terms of style. Reebok is looking at 40 lifestyles stores by the end of this year.


A 34-year-old Italian brand, Lotto was launched in India in 2005. Operated by the New Delhi-based licensee, Sports Lifestyle Pvt Ltd, it has been growing at an average rate of 20 per cent. For the next five years its goal is to accelerate this growth and establish Lotto’s positioning as an Italian sports fashion brand offering great product at great prices; as also, achieve top-of-mind recall among the target group as a true sports fashion brand.

Lotto operates through exclusive stores and around 500 MBOs. The plan is to double this number in the coming years.

On one among the many learnings that Lotto derived from the Indian market is that the way to growth “was not to focus on what percentage of an existing market the brand can achieve, but to work towards building a category which will create a significant market on its own. Hence, there is a sustained endeavour to develop such winners,” a Sports Lifestyle spokesperson said.

The initial Lotto offering was focused primarily on sports. However, a significant increase in the contribution of active lifestyle was noticed and the Lotto range was supplemented with sports lifestyle category to cater to this need.

Tommy Hilfiger

The brand combines American style with design elements to deliver a sportswear look with a designer’s edge under the following labels: Tommy Hilfiger, Hilfiger Denim, Tommy Jeans, and Hilfiger Sport.

Tommy Hilfiger provides casual sportswear and accessories for men and women, prominently under the classic sportswear sub segment; Hilfiger Denim is a comtemporary sportswear line, which is a more fashion forward sportswear collection, with focus on premium denim related separates for men and women and finished with a modern edge and fresh spirit. Hilfiger Sport, is of course, an activewear label for men and women. The designs are performance based and inspired by American heritage.


USI, a home grown label, popular as a casualwear brand inspired by sports, has a presence through 19 standalone stores and 130 shop-in-shops in large retail format chains, boutiquess and family stores. Its managing director, Ashvinder Singh, describes his brand philosophy as “clothing and accessories meant for when you want to be yourself, relaxed and yet smart. We use fits and styling to make a trendy, smart collection for relaxed and youth-spirited collections. Youthwear has a strong connection with sports and our collections draw inspiration from various sports.”

Wills Lifestyle

ITC’s Wills Lifestyle’s label, Wills Sport, is another domestic brand which is as close as it gets to the global definition of sportswear, a relaxedwear line with vibrant designs in breezy cottons and linens. The label is one of the four apparel labels under the Wills Lifestyle umbrella.

One can see brands like these making a statement and bringing about the definition of sportswear, which its label Wills Sports already stands for, because of the image the brand enjoys. Considering that the brand is less than a decade old, it can emerge as the mascot of sportswear in the country in the manner it exists globally.


Guess has been known as a contemporary sportswear brand internationally. However, it is moving into a fashionable eveningwear line with a young spirit, informs Sukanya Dutta Roy, general manager, Guess-India. “Our latest denimwear line not only consists of denims but the look that we relate to as denimwear starts at Rs 5,000. Thus, we are working on an image change to a clubwear line.”

Guess came to India in May 2005 and currently has 17 standalone stores. “We will be opening three more by the end of this year”, said Roy. “ We are known in India as a high-end fashion brand and we have a great appeal with youths who clamour for sexy and adventurous fashion.”


An American brand, inspired by active lifestyle, Nautica is globally known as a lifestyle brand inspired by sports, offering smart casual and semiformal clothing and accessories.

It entered India in May 2006 and currently has 6 standalone stores, with plans to touch the 15 mark by this December along with five shop-in-shops through Central, which is a lifestyle store of Pantaloon, and Shoppers’ Stop. Says Dhruv Bogra, business head for Nautica-India: “Nautica is popular as an active lifestyle brand. We use elements from every sport like sailing, tennis, golf or any other as graphics or embellishments. Our target consumer indulges in the sports spirit through our clothing. The sports-inspired smart casual line has been evolving rapidly in the last 2-3 years. For example, Nike and Reebok are also moving beyond performance lines on multi dimensions.

“Today’s Indian consumer is aware of these brands. Typically, our consumers are well travelled and above 30 years of age and relate to our brand since they are either indulging into these sports actively or aspire to play these sports. The concept of ‘feeling’ old is fast fading out, young needs to be the mindset and not the age; health consciousness has increased manifold and fitness is a big thing. This breed of consumer is the fastest growing and we are providing them with what they need – design or style coupled with comfort.”

“The Indian consumer is closer to his European counterpart rather than the American. Most Europeans lead an active lifestyle and though like to dress formal at work, they go the sporty way for casualwear. The affluent aging population which is youthful in spirit, appreciates sportswear. We import a lot of styles from Europe since they suit the needs of Indian consumers rather perfectly. We use a lot of performace fabrics in our collections. For example, there is one called Coolmax which is popular in Europe. In India, our X 1000, X 2000 series of hi-performance jackets are quite sought after by consumers.”


Lifestyle is a part of the 1.5 billion USD Landmark Group (Dubai). A leading chain of large format department stores, Lifestyle has been in the retail business since 1998 and today it is present through 18 stores across eight cities, housing more than 250 national and international brands and five product categories

Shankar Suryanarayan, vice president- marketing, Lifestyle International (P) Ltd, says: “Sportswear is an important category at Lifestyle where we house brands such as Kappa, Nike and Adidas. Today, India is a fast growing market for sportswear. In fact, the market for sports footwear is growing more than the normal footwear segment. The emergence of fashion sportswear is a new trend among today’s youth who dress sportily not only for the gym but also for college or a casual meeting with friends. Such opportunities will contribute to the growth of this category in India.”

Commenting on the growing pace of sportswear clothing, he says,“The category is growing in a promising manner thanks to established international brands who have adopted a more lifestyle-led positioning to appeal to a wider audience. This is just the beginning of a category that is here to stay”.

“In a multibranded outlet, competing brands are constantly vying for the consumer’s mind space. The retail environment provides dedicated space within the store backed by worldclass promotions and consumer franchise activities.”


Like any other clothing category , sportswear is also flanked by well meaning footwear and accessories that complete the look for sportswear apparel .

Talk of CK Jeans shirtdresses, and you would find in the same stores matching watches, sunglasses and footwear. Similarly, Armani, Lucky, DKNY, BCBG offer a complete look with accessories to choose from and this includes footwear as well.

Closer home, the new age malls have a lot of the “total solutions stores” offering coordinated shoes and accessories. Further, stores like Madame or Bizzare mix and match the accessories and footwear with the apparel, offering a complete look.

BGs, Mia, Aswera The Bangle Store, and Impulse are some of the stores that offer accessories in every category of sportswear apparel. There are also stores like Clarie’s in the US that again offer sporstwear accessories for young consumers.

As far as statistics go, on an average, a Nupscale household in India spends Rs 20,500 on apparel and fashion accessories , which constitutes about 6 per cent of their total income.

Accessories, which include footwear, consume 30 per cent or Rs 6,150 of this. (Based on a study conducted by IMAGES Business of Fashion in September last). The study notes that various products of general use yet low involvement like footwear or innerwear, fail to elicit from consumers the required response and so the number or percentage of people spending on these specific categories may appear much lower than what it actually is.

Most brands offer products for every occasion. Even though none of the brands have marketing lines mentioning sportswear like the apparel brands, many brands are promoting their products as smart chic casualwear, very close to the global definitions.

The sportswear market is the only sector in India that has the presence of all top international brands. The year 1996 witnessed the entry of Nike, Reebok and Adidas that gave a new dimension to footwear and fashion retailing in the country. Then there are brands like Puma and Tommy Hilfiger that are determined to present a whole new experience in fashionable activewear and sportswear. All these brands are today targeting a nationwide expansion and this market segment is suddenly beginning to look a lot bigger than what it was initially perceived to be.

India majors like Bata and Liberty have also responded positively to the challenges in a bid to retain the market leadership. They have significantly transformed their retail formats to become more lifestyle-oriented and are positioning themselves as vibrant and contemporary Indian brands. A look at how some of these brands fare: