FEATURE: Sports Illustrated

With the Olympics coming to London for 2012, sport is all at once on the forefront of everybody’s mind. But how could the event impact on the underwear industry and what developments does the sector already have in store for this year?

The deadline for the tickets has now gone. And, as the majority of the public twiddles its collective thumbs – counting down the minutes until it can discover whether it has won Olympic ticket gold – businesspeople are playing a different game. They are counting potential profits.

As the Olympic Games near, brands and retailers are busy plotting how they can best make a fortune from themed products. And, while they may not be allowed to use the logo, anything sports related is fair game.

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DB Apparel’s Shock Absorber will be adding a new style to its range in SS12, which it hopes will help bring new users into the category. It will also be incorporating the seasonal colours (red, white and blue) in two of its bestselling styles, the Shock Absorber RUN bra and the Max sports bra top. DB Apparel senior brand manager Kirsty Kathakota says: “The regulations around the games are very strict, so they will not directly tie into the Olympics in any way. However, one of the biggest opportunities for the growth of the sports bra category is education (68 percent of exercising women still don’t wear a sports bra when they work out).”

The Shock Absorber RUN bra was the brand’s first sports bra designed specifically for runners and was the result of 18 months of research and design. The ‘infinity 8 support’ targets the figure of eight pattern of bounce, achieving up to 78 percent bounce reduction.

Through its own investigations, Nike later confirmed these findings, also discovering that low impact activities like yoga applied 1.0 times body weight in impact forces to the body, but more rigorous activities like agility drills, jumping and landing could apply anywhere from 3.0 to 10.0.

“There are no muscles in the breasts,” Kothakota says. “They are supported by the skin and the delicate Coopers’ Ligaments which, once stretched through repeated bounce when exercising, will not return to their former shape. A good sports bra not only helps prevent the bounce that leads to strain on the breasts’ support structures, but it also gives you the comfort and confidence to perform to the best of your ability, whatever your level.’”

As we head into 2012, we could see sports bras significantly gain in popularity. According to Mintel (2010), the Beijing Olympics contributed to an increase in sports bra sales. “We have to hope that the legacy that the Olympic committee are also focused on will encourage increased sports interest and participation over the long term,” Kothakota says.

Anita UK is another company hoping that the event will boost demand. It will be launching a new Olympics relevant colour for 2012 in its best selling sports style, 5527, in addition to some new innovations for the equestrian market. Equestrian sports is one sector in which Anita UK general manager Jemma Barnes still feels there is room for expansion.

And, as UK athletes begin to gain the spotlight, demand for sports specific products is likely only to grow, a phenomenon that will only be heightened by clever marketing through key personalities.

Barnes says: “We all have different favourites from the world of sport or TV. However, I would have to admit any British sports star who had a strong chance of performing well in the Olympics in 2012 would be a great choice.”

Other sports underwear brands are also savvy to the opportunities present in such marketing ploys. Lingerie company Gossard has just launched the new Berlei sports range, for which it is currently building distribution.

Managing director Tony Jarvis says: “I suppose you could say ‘Berlei is back in Sports.’ This is really our first major season back.

Under Jarvis’ direction, Berlei has founded the Berlei Academy, where it goes to real sports people, gets them to test the product and gains their feedback.

Current members of the Academy include the French rugby team, GB dressage rider Natalie Allen, the ladies football team and GB cyclist Emma Davis. But Jarvis claims that the group will continue to build up as more and more people start to come to the brand.

“The date was a bit of a coincidence, but it couldn’t be better timed could it?” Jarvis says. “During the Olympic period, there is definitely a surge in people’s participation and that is linked to sports bra.”

This interest, as well as pushing sales, is also likely to increase investment in both technology and awareness, with health and fitness becoming increasingly high profile. Berlei is attacking the four areas of Running, Fresh (no-sweat), Move X (posture) and Fit (gym bra).

“They have all just gone to market last week,” Jarvis says, “and the reaction has been great. We will keep building the range appropriate to demand.”

Technology plays a huge part in today’s underwear and its efficacy. Like in shapewear, different properties are required in sports products from standard lingerie, with fabrics and shape fundamental to its success.

Trinny & Susannah Shapewear acts as a prime example of where the two sectors can cross over. The two founders often promote their products to the gym market, despite their products not having being designed with exercise specifically in mind.

Indeed, the pair even have plans to potentially develop a sportswear line, which would feature a development of the newly launched tummy tuck vest and a shapewear legging, to be introduced this June.

Donna Karan International EVP of Global Licensing Cathy Volker agrees the crossover exists, saying: “Most activewear compresses. Shapewear compresses. Combined, they would enhance muscle training, support and lessen impact. In addition, we have stripped a lot of the heaviness and armour that historical sports undergarments have had, so women can use these every day under normal clothing.

This dual purpose, however, does rely on modern fabrics and design techniques. For the product to truly compete in the sports arena, the science must be cutting edge.

“Donna Karan Sports underwear must have either cooling or moisture wicking properties, as well as offer a more specialized support, whether it is low impact or high,” Volker says. “It is a marriage of function and form. Compression improves circulation and blood flow and most importantly eliminates unwanted movement when exercising on top and bottom.”

According to Volker, moisture wicking, temperature and odour control are becoming more common in the industry, with copper, silver and coffee the next areas of exploration.

For 2011/12, DKNY Intimates will continue to build upon the DKNY Play bralette story and will be adding tanks with built in support. Heading into 2012, Volker considers placed resin prints will become more mass acceptable and more feminine, light padding will start to become incorporated in the category and the silhouettes will start to include delicate trims and details without minimizing the performance and function that can be worn at any time.

Eveden is also looking to expand further in the sports underwear market with its Freya Active brand. According to Eveden head of marketing Anne-Marie Manley, the main difference between a regular bra and a sports bra is construction and function. Sports bras are meant to control bounce while exercising while regular bras are meant to shape, separate, and uplift.

In contrast to DKNY, Freya Active sports bras work with non compression in an attempt to optimize shape.

“Not only are the functional and constructed to offer optimum support whilst exercising,” Manley says, “they also separate the bust, giving excellent shape and uplift, unlike many sports bras in the market that compresses the bust giving an unflattering squashed effect.”

Manley also believes that fibres and finishes are vital, with focus needing to be placed on maximising sporting performance.

“We set out to revolutionise the fuller bust sports bra market with Freya Active,” she says, “and have had success from our first three seasons, and will continue to make some key innovative additions with our next collection. We rely on gaining and learning from feedback from all who have tested our sportswear; this way we can go from strength to strength and meet with demand.”

For 2011/12, Freya Active will be looking at how it can evolve its fabrics, addressing elements such as durability and weight. It also predicts changes in colour, with the boundaries being pushed, to become more daring and vibrant. Functionality will also continue to change.

Manley feels the sector has room for a lot of growth, with the need for a balance between functionality and the aesthetic. According to the marketing manager, there is room for sports underwear to become quite specific to suit every individual’s needs, with underwear being developed for every type of sport.

Made By Niki founder Niki McMorrough agrees. She says: “Everything in this world needs to be designed for its purpose. All lingerie, and within that all kinds of sport lingerie, have specific design requirements. Our Knockout range is designed with stretch, movement and ‘sweaty moments’ in mind, but is still practical and stylish enough to wear day to night.”

Made by Niki’s Knockout range uses a combination of ‘super-lightweight’ fabrics and antibacterial treatments in attempt to ensure products dry quickly, remain comfortable and stay fresh.

But not everyone brand is looking to pursue the latest in fabric technology. Royce Lingerie avoids the use of artificial materials in its products.

“We pride ourselves on using natural fabrics,” Royce Lingerie senior designer Nicki Hall says. “We mainly use Cotton Jersey’s – natural wicking and comfortable to the skin.”

In reflection of this, Royce sees development as coming less from technological advancements and more in design innovation. The brand perceives an opportunity for expansion through offering a greater breadth of sizes to the marketplace.

“We can see a focus continuing around bigger cup sizes,” Hall says. “The Royce Sports bras were specifically designed for the larger cup market place and this year we increased our size range to a true K cup due to customer demand.”

As the Olympics beckon, people of all shapes and sizes are likely to want to leap onto the track, but exactly how far reaching the impact of the Olympics could be is almost impossible to accurately judge.

Only one thing is certain and that is with the increasingly impressive level of players in the field, brands will have to compete at their very best to be in with a chance of winning gold.



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