FEATURE: Sporting Chance

 Lingerie Insight asks how sports underwear sales are likely to be affected by the 2012 London Olympics and takes a look at the products that will be hitting stores, from July.

The Olympics are set to cost the UK £11 billion, according to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. Yet, Prime Minister David Cameron claims UK businesses are likely to see just a £1 billion return from the event.

As for who is likely to receive the lion’s share of these profits, will the prize be reserved solely for the Games’ sponsors or do intimate apparel companies have a sporting chance of winning gold?

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According to the Berlei managing director, opportunities do exist. “There is a great energy around the Olympics which will inspire women to start exercising again,” Tony Jarvis says. “Media will really focus on the Games over the coming months and this will be matched with articles on how important it is to exercise regularly to get and stay fit, feel more energized and cope with stress.

“All the female magazines are already running features on how to have a great body for the summer so, combined with the Olympics effect, the drive to exercise is very strong. All of this will help to boost sportswear and will also result in a growing demand for the correct sports underwear. “

Like many companies, Berlei is banned from using the Olympic name to publicise its products by an extremely strict and well enforced set of rules, designed to protect the rights of the event sponsors.

Many brands have been forced to be extremely creative in their ideas to maximise profits from the Games. Many might resent such restrictions, but Jarvis is more prosaic.

“This is not a great surprise,” he says, “as there has been some highly effective guerrilla marketing at past Olympics. At the end of the day, the Olympics is also a commercial entity and there needs to be tough controls to protect the brands that pay for their sponsorship rights.”

Despite his respect for the rules, Jarvis still has plans utilise the excitement around the Olympics to help push demand for his sports underwear products.

“By being very focused and working on tailored activities,” he says, “we are convinced that our sales will continue to grow… We are now working on specific colours to give women the appetite to buy a performance product in which they can still look good and feel empowered.

“We are also working on a special event in July, which we are sure will create a stir…. all will be revealed soon.”

The event has inspired Berlei’s AW12 photoshoot, which sees the British flag being used as a hero shot on the running style. And, the brand is also putting together a product fact book for its retailers, which highlights features and benefits to make sure that the consumer chooses what is best for her activity.

“Since we have built our sports collection by sports activity,” says Jarvis, “the advice and information level is very important.”
In terms of product, Berlei will introducing specific colours, such as electric blue, on its bestseller in the sports range, the Running bra. It will also be offering a brand new range called Aqua Trek for the season. Aqua Trek is a real swim-gym bra that is designed for women to wear when running or when taking part in aqua-gym or aqua biking.

It has taken over a year for the brand to develop this sports bra, working hand in hand with tri-athletes who have tested and given Berlei advice on how to improve its products.

Berlei is not the only business that is looking take hold of this chance for extra profit with both hands. Freya Active marketing manager Ann Marie Manley also believes that the Olympic Games could provide a major opportunity for intimate apparel businesses and the company has some significant plans to make the most of the upcoming occasion.

“We’re so excited for the Olympic Games to take place and to be the host,” Manley says. “It really feels like people are paying attention to sport more than ever before. We’re hoping the games will encourage those that play sport to do so even more and those that don’t play, but are curious, to be encouraged to take part. Both consumer groups will need the right kit, giving us the chance to raise the importance of having correct breast support during exercise and why a sports bra is so necessary.”

Like Jarvis, Manley believes that LOCOG’s rules on advertising are completely justified and has managed to find a way to get on board with the proceedings without using the ‘Olympic’ name. One of the ways in which it has done this is by teaming up with sports organisation England Netball.

“Understandably the Olympic Authority are trying to stop the threat of ‘ambush marketing’,” she says. “If they didn’t regulate the Olympic name, every brand out there would create Olympic labelled merchandise and it would lose all of its credibility. However, we saw the importance of partnering with a sporting organisation as hugely relevant. We recently announced the partnership of Freya Active and England Netball. Freya Active is now an official sponsor to England Netball and the official sports bra supplier. For us, this was hugely significant as the sport is very well matched to the Freya Active brand. We’d love to see netball represented in the next Olympics and not just the Commonwealth Games.”

As part of the England Netball partnership, Freya Active will be present at all international matches shown on Sky Sports. It will also be present at a number of the netball Super League games, where it will be able promote its collections. What’s more, the England Netball branding will feature on the brand’s sports bra swings, which the company hopes will encourage consumers to purchase.

In addition to its other roles, England Netball runs Back To Netball, a scheme which provides a gentle introduction to netball for female players over sixteen years of age. Through the national project, which costs as little as £2 for a session, Freya Active is hoping to show women that getting fit doesn’t necessarily have to be about going to an expensive gym.

Finally, the brand wants to educate and raise sports bra awareness with the younger generation. In pursuit of this, it will be taking part in the netball National Schools tournaments, offering sports bra fittings, information and helpful advice.

For AW12, Freya Active is introducing a sports performance top with its best-selling Freya underwired sports bra built in for maximum support, plus a matching capri pant. Initially offered in two colourways, black and red, the garments carry the Polygiene® finish. This means they will be odour-free for the life of the garment, no matter how much the wearer sweats. The built-in bra features Coolmax® and is combined with the microfibre technology of Meryl® Actisystem™, and breathable mesh panels in the tank, to keep the wearer feeling fresh.

Also for AW12, Freya Active is offering some high performance and supportive sports swimwear. It is introducing the Freya Active swim supportive soft suit, as well as a tankini and choice of brief styles, in an eye catching Ultramarine colour. Key features of Active Swim include soft handle materials, with quick drying and chlorine resistant properties. Both the suit and tankini also incorporate the same high performance benefits as the Active Sports bra, such as a soft – yet supportive – inner cup made from rigid simplex for optimum support with built in comfort.

“The Olympics will be a fantastic catalyst and we believe consumer interest will continue to grow,” says Manley. “We’re confident our sportswear will perform well due to its innovative design and the diversity our collections offer.”

Not everyone is as thrilled about the opportunities presented by the event. In fact, Shock Absorber senior brand manager Kirsty Kothakota claims that the event has done little, so far, to push demand for the brand’s products.

“I think that, at the moment, we have not seen the significant increase in sports participation that was envisaged,” says Kothakota, “which may come as we get closer the games – bringing with it more potential consumers. I think that the sports bra market has become a more exciting and dynamic category with many new entrants, this year, which all helps in driving wider awareness of sports bras and increasing category size. I am sure that the flurry of activity is related in some part to London 2012.”

This activity is something that Shock Absorber is keen to capitalise on with its new AW12 product, the Ultimate Dry Advantage, which is designed with a specialist two dry fabric treatment for ‘ultimate moisture control’.

The bra allows sweat to quickly wick from the body so wearers stay cool and dry in the heat, and warm and dry in the cold. Seam free moulded cups, a wide ultra-flat underband and easily adjustable front fasteners are designed to offer maximum comfort and support during exercise. Like all Shock Absorber sports bras, the support of the bra has been ‘bounce’ tested at the University of Portsmouth and it is cup, and back sized, for a superior fit.

For the Olympic season, Shock Absorber will also be launching a media campaign with a significant level of investment across sports and glossy titles, as well as online, to drive brand awareness. The campaign highlights the brand’s patriotic red, white and blue RUN bra.

This will be supported by a PR and social media campaign which launches in May, called #get out there. The campaign, which is designed to capitalise on the hype around the Games and this year’s ‘Rule Britannia’ focus, will encourage girls to get the right kit, get inspired and ‘get out there’ in their favourite outdoors locations.

The ‘patriotic’ colours of red, white and blue are a big feature of many sports underwear offerings, this year. While the Olympics may be out of bounds in terms of promotional activities, the national fervour surrounding the Games is not.

Many brands have produced their own take on this patriotic theme. In terms of men’s products, Jockey Europe has the bases pretty well covered. Not only have all its retailers been offered the Jockey Sport Microfiber in new 2pack fashion colours, but it will also be introducing a specially developed product to coincide with the Olympics and Euro 2012, featuring flags from around the world.

Anita Active is another brand that will be getting in on the action. For 2012, it is offering new sports bra colourway London, which has been inspired by the Olympics taking place in the city.

In addition to this seasonal colourway, Anita Active is launching a Riding pant, a ‘unique’ product worn by some Olympic riders which offers ‘great comfort and an improved riding seat,’ and a new underwired Sports Bra, featuring an ergo wire in a soft padded casing.

Anita UK general manager Jemma Barnes says: “Underwired sports bras are becoming more popular and I am sure the choice will widen in this category.”

Royce Lingerie is a specialist in wire free bras but, while the method may differ, it is also keen to ensure that exercise enthusiasts remain fully supported – no matter their size.

Royce Lingerie marketing executive Charlotte Gregory says: “The trend for bigger sizes seems to be increasing. The average cup size is now D+ and younger girls are also needing bigger cup sizes when exercising to ensure they stay ‘firm’. We now offer J, JJ and K cups to accommodate this.”

In the coming months, Royce Lingerie is set to announce some ‘exciting’ new developments for its Impact Free Sports range. It will also be supporting its stockists with promotions that they can run at a local level in the lead up to the Olympics.

Despite the willingness of most brands to come up with ‘creative’ solutions to profit from the big event, such as patriotic colours, additional consumer marketing or retail promotions, some are less accepting with LOCOG’s strict guidelines. Puma spokesperson Jack Gordon is one such individual.

He says: “We feel that it is too strict, because it reduces our ability to describe the games in our written communications.”

Despite these qualms, the brand still plans to take advantage of what Gordon call the ‘Olympic bounce’ through strong point of sale material and graphic window displays.

In terms of product, it has produced a range of advanced specification technical running socks, which it will be promoting, this year. It has also developed and expanded its technical range by introducing brighter, more vibrant, colour options, such as pinks and greens, as well as the staple black and white. Finally, Puma has introduced two new silhouettes in fashion colours to its range of semi-technical and technical running socks, which have reportedly been very successful to date.

Not everyone is seeking to take advantage of the Olympic fever. In fact, Pure Lime’s Martin Hudson says the sports underwear brand has no specific scheme to profit from the event.

He says: “We do not have any specific plans in place. The hoped for increased interest levels in sport and ensuing upturn in sports participation should result in increased sales. If so, we aim to be part of that increase.

Hudson claims that retailers would do best to stock products from events that Britain is successful in. For example, should Team GB do well in its ‘top’ sports, such as swimming and cycling, it could be expected that interest in related garments would boom.

For 2012, Pure Lime is introducing an ‘HRM’ (Heart Rate Monitor) sports bra that gives SL3 protection with the added benefit of a bra design that allows any leading brand of HRM transmitter to be attached to the outside of the product. This means it can then wirelessly send data to a monitor watch, gym training system or mobile phone, thus ending the need for unwieldy and uncomfortable chest straps.

Over the coming year, Hudson expects to see continued growth in Pure Lime’s seamless underwear (the so called ‘baselayer’), which is now available in a variety of ‘feminine, pretty colours’. The soft, stretchy and comfortable Tactel fabric reportedly allows for genuine regulation of body temperature – keeping the wearer warm in cold conditions, but cool when the going heats up.

While many brands are looking to capitalise on the Olympics and Pure Lime is planning to carry on regardless, luxury lingerie brand Nichole de Carle is actually looking to give back.

On May 25, it will be taking part in the Monaco Grand Prix’s Amber Lounge Fashion, part of the VIP nightlife experience that runs in conjunction with the F1 circuit, providing entertainment and parties for the drivers, hollywood celebrities, musicians, models and many more over the racing weekend.

The event, which was founded in 2006 under the High Patronage of H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco, has to date raised three million Euros for The Special Olympics, the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the Tereza Maxova Foundation.

Nichole de Carle will be using this platform to launch the debut Nichole de Carle London swimwear collection. It has teamed up with a synchronised swim team, called Aquabatix, who will be performing a routine at the event whilst wearing the new swim line. Nichole de Carle will also be doing its own lingerie catwalk, which will take place during a performance by Labyrinth.

Founder Nichole de Carle says: “I am delighted to be supporting such a good cause. The Special Olympics provides everyone with an equal chance to succeed and acts as a superlative example of overcoming the odds to achieve something that is truly worthy of celebration, which is what the UK – and our industry – is all about.”

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