As women look into the mirror, what they see is stars
Sportswear producers hoping for success in China need to tailor their wares to take account of changing values
In China, the perception of beauty has not traditionally included firm abdominal muscles, but that has changed in recent years with celebrities such as Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid, who are highly influential in the Chinese fashion world.
Pictures and stories of how social media stars improve their physical looks through sports have inspired Chinese women to pursue similar lifestyles, and the sportswear market, once dominated by men, has become broader. More women are now taking part in fitness and sports as part of their daily life.
FT Confidential Research, a Financial Times outfit, found that Chinese women are increasingly involved in sports. Last year, about 90 percent of women said they took part in sports, compared with 82 percent in 2015, it said. The average spending on sports gear in China last year was 1,141 yuan ($170; 144 euros; £133) for a Chinese woman, and 1,081 yuan for a man.
Erick Haskell managing director of Under Armour Greater China and Korea The Chinese female consumer is looking for a product that not only performs but has a beautiful aesthetic and can be worn in and outside the gym.”
The desire for a healthier lifestyle has presented big opportunities for international and domestic companies, which once relied mainly on menswear.
“We have discovered that in China, female consumers desire self-improvement, seek a balanced lifestyle with sports and fitness and pay attention to emotional resonance,” says Erick Haskell, managing director of Under Armour Greater China and Korea.
“The Chinese female consumer is looking for a product that not only performs but has a beautiful aesthetic and can be worn in and outside the gym. With that mind, we are very focused on the design, style, fit and color of our women’s collection in addition to the performance benefits.”
The brand has expanded its women’s product offering to include running, training and studio collections. On Aug 1, it launched a global women’s campaign called “Unlike any”, celebrating “women who are beyond compare”.
Adidas opened its first store dedicated to women in South Korea in 2011. In China, it has opened women’s stores in Shanghai, Chengdu and Guangzhou, where it sells running and yoga gear, the most popular products among female shoppers. It has also tailored the running shoes series Ultra Boost X for women.
Nike also has experience stores for women. The brand worked with the Chinese tennis player Li Na for a special women’s series, which includes underwear, training vests, leggings, hoodies and sweatpants, catering to various needs. The brand opened a women’s store in Shanghai in 2014.
For female customers, visual effects are important. Lululemon, which is known for its bright colors and feminine offerings, is highly popular with female customers. Last summer, it held an outdoor group yoga event at the Ancestral Temple in Beijing, which drew extensive attention to the label. It is also a fixture in popular TV dramas. The brand has showrooms in Shanghai and Beijing and sells through online platforms such as Tmall.
Choosing a representative who can be seen as a role model for women is seen as critical to marketing. Under Armour signed the Japanese actress Masami Nagasawa, and Puma works with the model and actress Cara Delevingne and the singer Rihanna. Adidas works with the model Karlie Kloss and the Chinese volleyball player Hui Ruoqi. Its collaboration with the British designer Stella McCartney is generally regarded as highly successful.
Brands such as Zara, H&M, Forever 21 and Gap are also tapping into the sports market with specialized sports collections. After focusing on the menswear market for many years, indigenous brands are now joining in. Li Ning and Xtep have all made plans to launch more womenswear products.
Liu Xuan, China’s first Olympic champion on the balance beam, has opened a multibrand store online, selecting sportswear from various international brands based on her feelings about their functionality and the comfort they offer.
Last year Liu, launched her own sportswear brand, Balanpie, aimed at the womenswear market. It now sells yoga apparel and plans to sell running clothes and swimwear, all tailored to the Asian physique.