Thanks to recent athletic events like the London Marathon, the rise in sporting role models like Jessica Ennis and Nicola Adams, and the growing support for campaigns like ‘This Girl Can’, there has been a positive growth of female participation in sport in recent years. With this in mind, designers are working hard to support women’s needs with high performance sports bras, but are consumers satisfied with what’s on offer?
On the panel
Ann-Marie Manley: Head of Marketing, Freya Active
Alysha Taylor: Product Manager, Panache Lingerie
Leila Nightingale: Assistant Brand Manager, Shock Absorber
Elise Recor: General Manager, Berlei
Jemma Barnes: Managing Director, Anita Active
Mary Cameron: Managing Director, Chantelle Lingerie
Not being able to find the right sports bra deters one in five women from taking part in sport or exercise, according to a study by the University of Portsmouth. Why is this still a problem for many women?
Ann-Marie Manley: Some women are still not getting properly fitted for a sports bra, so they are not wearing the right size, meaning that their bra isn’t fitting them correctly. Others are not wearing the right type of sports bra for their choice of activity, and they do not understand the different levels of styles offered. We advise women to always ask themselves, ‘is this the right sports bra for me, and does it support me?’ Additionally, there are some women who still wear their regular bra for exercise and, of course, this is not going to provide the correct support and could attribute to discomfort during exercise. We were recently asked to take part in a BBC Radio documentary to help advise on sports bra choices and the fit message, so people are realising this more and more.
Mary Cameron: Women don’t always see the need to spend much money on “occasional” bras and unfortunately that is also the case for their sports bra. Buying from a fashion chain or supermarket means that they will not get the support, fit and comfort that they need. A sport bra should not be a pick-up-and-go product. It has to be selected very carefully and of course fitted.
Alysha Taylor: There is an increased amount of choice in this sector, which is fantastic – especially if it enables more women to be active and participate in sport and exercise. However, there are few products in the market that cater for larger busted women, and that can be a huge barrier. Not only can exercise without a sports bra with excellent support be painful, but women also find that kind of movement embarrassing. With sports bras, as with all lingerie, women need to be aware of how important it is to be fitted correctly. Improve this and we can help to improve women’s participation in sports and exercise.
Jemma Barnes: I am surprised to hear that this would be the case, as there is so much choice and variety on the market. I can only assume that some women are uncomfortable with their size and shape and may be intimidated to go to the correct retailers to get fitted with a well-fitting sports bra, particularly if they are full busted or because they are at the beginning of their new fitness regime. Maybe we have to work harder at encouraging people to come into stores, whatever their size, shape or situation.
Are enough retailers stocking functional and fashionable sports bras?
Leila Nightingale: Some retailers do not offer cup-sized support in their sports bras; it is not uncommon to see sizing such as small, medium and large. Although these bras might tick the fashionable box, they are unlikely to tick the functional box, especially for higher-impact activities. Getting the right fit in a sports bra is the key to getting the support.
Elise Recour: Many retailers offer both fashionable and functional sportswear, but as sportswear is becoming more fashionable in general, this can be a little confusing for consumers because there are many products being created that are fashion-led, but don’t necessarily offer the right support needed. We always advise consumers to opt for sportswear brands with expertise in sports bra technology to provide the comfort, support and longevity required, as there is a great range of trend-inspired products from such brands on the market now.
Alysha Taylor: No. For bricks and mortar retailers, stocking a full size range of sports bras can be a challenge. The nature of the product itself is bulkier than a standard bra, and if you add the additional space and cash investment it takes to accommodate a full suite of sizes and then different colour options expected from consumers, this can be a real challenge to retailers.
Are enough retailers educated on how to advise on which sports bras women should buy?
Mary Cameron: Independent retailers tend to be very well educated and able to offer advice to consumers. Department stores don’t always have dedicated staff on hand to help in this category, which is why consumers tend to self-select. It is important that brands spend the time to train their own staff as well as partners in both department stores and independent shops. Choosing a sports bra doesn’t nor shouldn’t have to be a daunting experience.
Jemma Barnes: Any specialist area of business can be difficult for retailers to keep up with, especially an area such as sports bras where new innovations and developments are happening all the time. For most retailers, I think keeping it simple is the way forward – selecting a bra that offers good control for any sport, along with a wide variety of colours and sizes, will enable them to understand the features and benefits of that product and recommend it with confidence. In general, this works well and means the customer gets good advice.
What more can brands and retailers do to push the sale of sports bras all year-round?
Elise Recour: Have a constant connection with customers, through retailers and targeted communication efforts. Where possible, having a sports bra expert around to offer sound advice and a professional fitting service, as well as a strong point of sale to deliver essential messages, is key.
Leila Nightingale: Strategic promotions are often the best way to encourage sales during the less busy periods. We also maintain a high level of engagement with our consumers and help to motivate them through social media all year-round. At Shock Absorber, we make sure that we are aware of all local sporting events and opportunities to get involved, we introduce POS to encourage purchase and ensure our collection features colours and prints to match the season.
Jemma Barnes: Promote specific features that link to specific events throughout the sporting calendar, including marathons, horse riding events and badminton etc . Events linked to gym groups and local runs also work well for specialist retailers.
Ann-Marie Manley: As a brand we believe it actually has to start with a market-leading design and product, and you then have to give it the support to stand out. We conducted the most comprehensive breast research study
ever undertaken with the University of Portsmouth to provide scientific support for the effectiveness of our crop top sports bra, which was found to reduce breast pain, breast strain and independent movement.
Sports bras are becoming more technical and innovative every season. How do you stay ahead of the competition?
Jemma Barnes: Anita has won the Red Dot award for innovation twice. We are constantly looking at ways to improve the comfort and functionality of our sports bras, via fabric choices and additional features. The bras are developed and tested in conjunction with athletes from all sectors including the extreme sports world, to ensure comfort, support, breathability and sweat management.
Elise Recour: Understanding the consumer’s need for newness and practicality, looking at what sells and what doesn’t in the existing market and predicting future trends through analysis and forecasting.
Leila Nightingale: At Shock Absorber it’s about testing our bras at the University of Portsmouth to ensure that we are developing the best possible bras and exploring new high-tech fabrics. We have recently upgraded the fabrics on our award-winning styles – the Ultimate Run Bra and Active Multi Sports Support – to ensure that our best-selling styles remain the most innovative on the market.
Mary Cameron: At Chantelle, we pride ourselves on offering women quality products at a reasonable price point. Women know to always expect quality from Chantelle. This is our focus.
Alysha Taylor: At Panache, we ensure that we offer a very broad spectrum of sizes, so we can offer maximum support to as many sizes as possible. Our sports bras range from a B to J cup (J Cups available from July). We also recognise that women want choice. That’s why we offer both our Wired and Non Wired Sport Bras. In addition, we’re constantly looking at the latest technology and innovation for this market to ensure women are being offered the very best support.
Ann-Marie Manley: Customers are expecting more so it’s about being savvy and staying at the forefront. Freya Active was awarded the Sports Bra Brand of the Year at the UK Lingerie Awards, which really recognised the brand’s presence in the industry and how much support it has from customers and consumers.
What is driving innovation in the market?
Mary Cameron: Comfort. Wearing a comfortable sports bra can enhance performance and these factors are the ones consumers search for – comfort and performance. The Chantelle sports bra reduces bounce, helps maximise workouts and enables women to work out without experiencing pain.
Alysha Taylor: There is definitely a trend for the interaction between technology and sportswear in the market. For example, with heart rate monitors being connected to your bra. At Panache, sport bra innovation is driven by fit, and our desire to make sport and exercise as accessible to as many women as
possible. We want to remove any barriers that not having a fully supportive, attractive and fit-for-purpose sports bra may cause.
What sports bra trends can retailers expect in SS16?
Elise Recour: Sports bras with added function (sculpting, shaping); fashionable designs (transparent mesh, lingerie-like sports bras); and lots of prints and colours – sports bras are increasingly worn as outerwear and so big, bright prints are important, as is wearable technology.
Anne-Marie Manley: We can’t say too much, but Freya Active will continue to push the boundaries. In November, we are incredibly excited to launch our crop top sports bra in soft cup. This dynamic new design offers full coverage and maximum support. Launching in the energetic shade of Olympic Blue, the new piece feature contrasting panels of hyper-pixelated blue print. Stay tuned for SS16!
Mary Cameron: Bright colours and prints. The Chantelle sports bra will be launching in a fashionable raspberry colour, which is guaranteed to bring some femininity to sportswear wardrobes.
Where do you see the future of the market heading?
Leila Nightingale: Sportswear itself is a growing market and it has become the norm to wear sportswear as fashion wear, as well as for sport. Because of initiatives like ‘This Girl Can’ [a nationwide campaign to get women and girls moving] we hope to see more women participating in sport, which will drive the demand for sports bras.
Alysha Taylor: As more women understand the importance of a supportive, excellent-fitting bras and brands gain more understanding of women’s wants and needs for a sports bra, I think we can look forward to a new wave of exciting, interesting and innovative sports bras.
Elise Recour: Brands will push sports bras to the next level, incorporating more options of functionality and comfort in fabric and design make-up. There’ll also be a trend for looking at sports bras as an everyday lingerie bra with support – our Running Bra remains one of our best sellers and we regularly hear from consumers that they love the unique shape and fit, which resembles a more traditional bra, but has all the additional support needed from a sports bra.