A number of niche and mid-sized players have entered the activewear market offering differentiating benefits ranging from high-fashion to environmentally responsible design. Marketing tactics for these brands frequently include leveraging social media channels, influencers, and content marketing, with a high level of importance placed on product visuals to support clear communication of the product messaging and benefits. Below we have profiled 5 activewear brands, including their messaging and sample marketing efforts.
- Outdoor Voices is a direct-to-consumer (DTC) activewear brand founded in 2014 by Parsons School of Design graduate, Tyler Haney.
- The company considers its products “technical apparel for recreation.” Their brand values emphasize product quality and sustainability, with the company highlighting people at the “center of everything we do.”
- Their stated mission is to “get the world moving” for a “happy and healthy life.”
- In addition to apparel (e.g., tops, leggings, sweatshirts, dresses, pants), the company offers a limited selection of shoes and accessories and provides a curated list of “approved wellness products” that complement their brand offerings.
- Women’s apparel comprises 80% of its estimated $40 million annual revenue. While primarily female-focused, the brand was named one of”The 5 Best Athletic Brands for Athleisure Style,” by Men’s Health magazine in 2018 due to its appealing colors, chic style, and comfort.
- Haney recently departed Outdoor Voices amid difficulties in managing customer acquisition costs, coupled with challenges navigating a competitive environment dominated by industry leaders, Nike and Lululemon.
Brand Benefits and Messaging
- Brand benefits include comfort, design, and product quality. A “color-block” design is a distinguishing, recognizable, feature of the brand’s leggings.
- Messaging focuses on strong product quality, with the brand differentiating itself with communication embracing a relaxed, “laissez-faire approach to activity and recreation.”
- Brand communication links Outdoor Voices product quality with the end consumer benefits of feeling strong and confident: “We believe freeing fitness from performance starts with having fun and generating endorphins. That’s why we create high-quality products for Recreation that make you feel strong, confident, and ready for #DoingThings.”
- The company also has a sustainability focus, with website communication highlighting their efforts to minimize environmental impact in product design: “We design our product and operate our business through a lens of circularity and longevity to minimize environmental impact.”
- In 2019, Outdoor Voices launched “The Recreationlist”, a storytelling, marketing platform that includes curated content focused on “product recommendations, playlists city guides and profiles” Content is aligned with their brand values, with focus areas of community, culture, and recreation. Sample content includes recreation-focused articles on climbing and cycling and a 60-minute “walk in the park” playlist.
- As a brand that has leveraged Instagram marketing as a growth driver, one recent Instagram post is one example of social marketing highlighting the comfort and aesthetic appeal of their latest “All Day, Every Day” product line: “Lightweight, classically fit, and softer than anything you’ve ever felt. Wrap yourself in CloudKnit all season long — now available in Oatmeal”. The post currently has 4,717 likes.
- A separate Instagram post reinforces the “recreational” messaging represented by the brand:
- This article notes the success of the Outdoor Voices brand in leveraging social campaigns (particularly through their #dosomething hashtag) and user-generated content to highlight customers doing “everyday things” in Outdoor Voices apparel.
- Communication (paid advertising or user-generated) focused on “everyday people” has been a key element of the brand’s marketing approach. The below ad encapsulates this approach, highlighting their “Let’s get Recreational” messaging (and contrasted with Nike’s performance-focused messaging).
LIVE THE PROCESS
- Live The Process is a luxury activewear brand founded in 2013 and focused on supporting “physical, emotional, intellectual, and transformational” balance. The brand targets women who seek “chic, comfortable at-home clothes.”
- Their product line is intended to reflect this focus on balance, with the company describing their approach to the construction of each apparel piece as the synchronization of “thoughtful design and construction with an unsurpassed level of detail to create perfect symmetry.”
- Live The Process was named one of 35 “Best Activewear Brands for a Stylish Workout” by Harper’s Bazaar, with the magazine describing the premium brand as stylish and minimalist: “Live the Process is a fashion-forward activewear brand that makes minimal pieces that can be easily styled into your daily wardrobe.”
- The brand has been featured in numerous global publications, including Vogue, Elle, and Forbes. Vogue notes the company has done well during the pandemic, given its focus on DTC sales and premium positioning.
Brand Benefits and Messaging
- Brand benefits include high quality fabrics, aesthetic appeal, the use of high-tech performance innovations (i.e., “four way stretch, breathability, heat reduction, moisture-wicking and wind-repellent fabrications”), and its ethical, “made in America” manufacturing process.
- The Live The Process branding is intended to reflect the “workout within“, with messaging highlighting the “act of exercising consciousness at every stage of your wellness journey.“
- The brand’s focus on holistic living (through its four pillars) and emotion-driven messaging form the foundation of its product messaging across their website and social platforms. Live The Process Instagram messaging reflects the brand’s focus on balance: “The Divine Feminine— the energy that keeps us on our path to inner calm, empowerment and resilience.”
- PR marketing reflected in articles, such as this Vogue review of the 2021 Live The Process product line, helps the brand convey a luxury, premium image and fashion-forward appeal. A sample visual from this review reflects the brand’s aesthetic:
- Content marketing efforts are prominent on the website, including frequent blog posts, interviews, and articles associated with each of the four pillars that underscore the Live The Process brand (physical, emotional, intellectual, and transformational). One sample article is an interview with humanitarian, Todd Grinnell, who discusses his efforts around giving back and “demonstrating how true wellness can be at once personal and global, physical and spiritual.”
- Established in 2017, D+K Active is an Australian activewear brand focused on bringing “an ethical and inclusive energy to the activewear industry.”
- The company was highlighted as one of several niche players working to successfully differentiate itself from dominant players in a growing 2020 activewear market.
- D+K Active offers athletic wear for women and men, as well as a maternity line. The company stays true to their sustainability focus by also offering a recyclable nylon activewear line.
- The brand received a “good” rating from Good On You, an organization looking to bring attention to responsible fashion brands in an effort to drive change in the global fashion industry. The D+K Active review highlights the brand’s positive environmental impact: “[D+K Active] uses renewable energy in its supply chain to reduce its climate impact, and reuses all of its offcuts to minimise textile waste. It is also a PETA approved 100% vegan brand!”
Brand Benefits and Messaging
- The brand’s differentiating benefit is its “environmentally responsible design”, reflected in their sustainable fabrics, the use of solar energy at their headquarter location, and plastic-free packaging.
- Additional benefits include the brand’s high-performance fabrics supported by technical innovation. Some specific material benefits include stretch technology, quick-drying, and muscular support.
- Their messaging reflects a broad target audience: “Empowering you to move freely. D+K Active is for Everybody and Every Body.”
- As expected, their messaging also prominently communicates their ethical focus, integrated with stylish design and comfort communication: “dk active strives to bring you an exceptional range of super-stylish yet eco-friendly clothing….. No matter who you are or how you like to move, our activewear will keep you cool, comfortable and supported.”
- D+K Active is highly engaged across social channels. The brand’s Facebook page reinforces the brand messaging, “Proudly manufactured in Australia, we strive to change the game in environmentally responsible design. Whether you’re working out or hanging out, our functional garments provide the perfect fit.”
- The most recent Facebook post from November 8, 2020, showcases a specific legging: “The perfect summer tight, Meadow is made from lightweight brushed Italian Lycra that is incredibly comfortable and breathable.”
- D+K Active actively seeks collaboration with micro-influencers, guest bloggers, and content creators of all sizes.
- A March 2020 feature by content creator, Alex Cerball, showcases the brand benefits (fit, eco-friendly, fabric, and style) with numerous visuals highlighting the D+K Active product range.
- Founded in 2014, Heroine Sport says it is “transforming the activewear industry through its bold designs and innovation, drawing inspiration from high fashion and using cutting edge performance technology…”
- Heroin Sport is a luxury, high-end, innovation-driven, female-focused brand, offering a full-range of activewear as well as accessory items, such as masks.
- Harper’s Bazaar highlights Heroine Sport as an “under-the-radar” brand in its review of “35 Best Activewear Brands for a Stylish Workout.” With the brand’s “effortlessly cool model-off-duty look”, Heroine Sport is also reported to be a favorite of celebrities, including Irina Shayk and Selena Gomez.
Brand Benefits and Messaging
- Key brand benefits include a high-end, innovative, technology-driven product design.
- Heroine Sport website messaging supports the design and innovation focus, along with the versatility and range of the brand: “Heroine is…..a hybrid activewear collection that embodies high-fashion sensibility with a sporty attitude. This “Made in USA” collection, fashioned in high-tech performance fabrics and rich details, transitions day into night, streets to the gym.”
- This blogger compares Heroine Sport with athletic wear brand, Gymshark, finding Heroine “edgier”, and highlighting its fashion-driven (not influencer-driven) brand strategy.
- A fashion-driven brand, Heroine Sport has a wide distribution network, including e-commerce channels and brick-and-mortar stores. With a focus on high-fashion, the brand’s marketing appears to prioritize the visual appeal of the product.
- This 2019 blog article demonstrates the aesthetic appeal of the Heroine Sport product, reviewing their products as “cuter”, “edgier“, and “differentiated“, compared to other athletic wear brands. A sample visual highlights the high-fashion nature of the product:
- The brand’s Pinterest communication focuses on visual communication with fashion-focused messaging: “Heroine is a hybrid activewear brand that embodies high-fashion sensibility with a sporty attitude.” A sample Pinterest post is below:
- While not part of a typical marketing plan, Heroine Sport also runs a “sample sale” to provide the opportunity for potential buyers to become aware of and interact with merchandise. The “sample sale” format aligns well with the brand’s positioning as a high-fashion athletic wear brand.
- Vanquish Fitness is a UK activewear brand founded in 2013. In 2020, the brand was ranked as a one of the “top 20 most followed athleisure brands.”
- The brand is inspired by “streetwear trends and functional designs” and is known for quality, colors, and comfort.
- Vanquish Fitness offers both men’s and women’s apparel and appears to be more moderately-priced.
Brand Benefits and Messaging
- While the company is appreciated for its quality, aesthetic, and comfort, brand messaging is prominent mostly at the product level (instead of the brand level).
- As an example, a description for the Vanquish Utility Men’s Black Training Pants showcases the appearance, quality, and technology that drives product performance: “When a military aesthetic meets clothing made to perform. This collection exclusively uses lightweight fabrics and technologies that raise these pieces to new heights.”
- The company heavily leverages athlete influencers to drive awareness of the brand.
- Recent Facebook posts introduce new “Vanquish Athletes” (“welcome @dustinpoirior to the VQ Fam!”), while showcasing the stories of other influencers (“Our Road To Olympia series returns, featuring Vanquish Athlete @logan_franklin”).
- As a Vanquish Athlete influencer, Logan Franklin provides YouTube video content focused on his own athletic endeavors (with the video content including Vanquish gear).
- There was limited information about the success of these athlete influencer programs, but this article notes that, collectively, Vanquish Fitness athletes have 40,000 followers.