Activewear – Healthy, Comfortable & Trendy Technical Textiles
By Mamta Dhanshetty, M. Tech, Gherzi Consulting Engineers
Kudos to P.V. Sindhu and Sakshi Malik for winning medals for India in Rio Olympics 2016. Achievements of young athletes have kindled an interest in sports activities among India’s youth. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi announced the decision to set up a task force for effective participation of Indian players in the next three Olympics which is expected to set the tone for India’s preparation for the global sports events in future. This may become a turning point for various sports in India and result in adoption of a scientific approach, including professional gear to enhance performance.
Besides, increasing interest in fitness and healthy lifestyle is also giving boost to activewear clothing. Borderline between sportswear and casualwear has blurred and the sporty look is favoured for sport related activities including morning – evening walk and at gymnasium too. It is now perfectly acceptable for people to wear their outfit at work and social settings. This has created an all new category of clothing aptly called ‘athleisure’.
The global market for sports and fitness clothing is expected to grow about 4.5% CAGR to reach a value of US $ 200 bn in year 2020. Europe and North America represent 75 percent market share of total world market. India is also witnessing a rapid growth in this industry. The nascent active wear market in India is estimated at US $ 450 million at retail level, growing at 12-15 percent CAGR above the average growth of world market trend. There is a huge potential for the domestic textile industry to supply functional fabrics as bulk of this demand is still met by imports from the Fareast. International brands marketing active wear clothing often lament lack of competitiveness of Indian suppliers to fulfil the requirements in terms of quality and cost. The demand and supply gap is expected to widen in future due to lack of processing capability for man-made fibre based fabrics in India.
What is Active wear?
There are various definitions of active wear and some of them are …” Fashion that functions”;” Sportswear that has evolved and developed to meet modern sporting and fitness needs as well as style needs”,” Garments which are designed to perform during activity”; meaning each promises a high degree of functionality which requires equally innovative textiles and fastenings to aid performance’., etc… In a nutshell three key attributes of active wear are Performance, Versatility and Style. Activewear apparels are a mixture of clothes which fulfil the purpose of an active life and casual social life. These clothes are more flexible in terms of easy and free body movements and lend comfort with stylish looks in harmony with contemporary fashion trends.
The sole purpose of activewear is to enhance the performance of athlete or wearer by providing him / her various supportive functions such as breathability, absorbency, moisture transfer, stretch to fit, odour resistance. Active wear apparels are divided into three distinct categories: first for next to skin garments having the advance moisture transport and antibacterial properties, second is thermal wear or light weight protective garments and third is an outerwear with UV resistance and protective outer layer from extreme climatic conditions like extreme cold, extreme heat and wind.
The definition of comfort in women’s wear is changing day by day and this is replicated by transforming preferences with upscaling activewear such as daywear and weekend wear. On top of it, the clothes for hanging out with friends also act as a multitasking outfit. Increasing sports participation, fitness consciousness and greater adaptability towards casual workwear are the reason of higher share of womenswear in active wear market.
Women’s participation in sports is growing gradually in India. As per Business Standard review (Mar, 2015), rural female participation in sports has increased from 0.245 million in 2008-09 to 1.07 million in 2013-14. In addition, schools are also encouraging students by including sports and yoga in their curriculum and thus enhancing the interest in sports.
Menswear share in active wear market is 85-90% and growing at 10% CAGR whereas womenswear constitutes 10-12% share and growing at 40% CAGR since the base is small which clearly shows the growth potential. It is observed by large sports brands such as Puma, Adidas, and Reebok that Indian women shoppers are spending more on activewear clothing. Nike womenswear business is predicted to grow up to US$11 billion by 2020 which is at the faster rate than menswear (USA Today Nov, 2015).
Consumer Perspective and leading players
Nowadays the main motive of the consumers for using active wear is not limited to sportswear or workout gear. Active wear fulfils the consumer need for comfort in all activities. Along with comfort, body fitting, easy washability, quality and durability are other key properties which consumer demand while selecting active wear-in short, function with fashion.
In the past cotton used to be the preferred fibre, however now engineered synthetic fibres such as polyester and nylon have taken majority share with an extent of more than 90%. Nylon has got an immense importance in this segment due to its excellent moisture transfer properties, however high cost of nylon limits its usage to niche applications such as swimwear.
Nike, Adidas, Puma are the Global brands dominate India market, local brands such as HRX, 2GO (Brandix) are active in categories of sportswear, gym wear, loungewear and swimwear.
Active wear textile is manufactured by any of the major technologies viz. circular knitting, warp knitting, weaving and processing.
Circular knitting: Seamless and tubular form of fabric make circular knitting the most widely accepted method of fabric formation. Fabrics used in the next-to-skin applications are made up on circular knitting machine with a variety of raw materials like cotton, blends and manmade fibres. Mayer & Cie, Karl Mayer, Santoni are among the major circular knitting machine manufacturers. Cost competitiveness and versatility towards the utilisation of raw material are the key benefits of circular knitting. Circular knitting machines are used in making fabrics where minimum stretch are needed.
Warp Knitting: Warp knitted machines provide an extensive range of dimensionally stable, light weight structures, open mesh structures, structure incorporated with elastane etc. which are difficult to produce on circular knitted and woven technologies. Mainly filaments and blends are suitable for manufacturing fabrics on this technology. Karl Mayer and some of the Taiwan machine manufacturers supply warp knitting equipment. ATE represents Karl Mayer in India and has set up an application demonstration centre at Surat.
Woven: Owing to use of 100 percent synthetic filaments (Nylon or Polyester), high speed waterjet weaving is considered the most popular and viable technology. The woven fabrics are mainly used for making outerwear having rugged applications. Tsudakoma and Toyota are renowned water jet weaving machine manufacturers.
Processing: Coating and lamination are two main technologies used for processing woven or knitted fabrics with special finishes. Finishes such as antimicrobial, water repellent etc. are provided in coating machine. For breathable or water proof fabric, membrane (mainly Poly Urethane – PU) is laminated on lamination machine. Monforts, IL-Sung, Coatema, Matex are some of the major coating machine suppliers. Lacom, Santee, Fly from Korea and Reliant are major lamination machine suppliers.
Apart from machinery, the type of fibre also plays an important role in determining the functionality of activewear fabrics. Major fibres such as Nylon and Polyester are used along with elastane for high stretch applications. In some moisture transfer fabrics, engineered yarns are also being used along with finishing treatments.
India market – key growth drivers
Growing demand for sports, yoga activities, fast changing lifestyle, aggressive marketing by multinationals using celebrity brand ambassadors and associating themselves with national sporting activities are some of the key trends in the Indian activewear market.
More number of international sport events such as Common Wealth Games, Davis Cup, International Yoga Day, local fixtures such as Mumbai Marathon and mass popularity of cricket, badminton, and even golf among upper strata of society, in addition to domestic league matches such as IPL and IHL, has resulted in high level of awareness about sportswear in India.
Availability of active wear online and offline is adding to its popularity. Recently, Adidas received an approval to bring in FDI to set up company-owned outlets in large cities. It plans to open 50 stores across India. Reebok is following suit.
Along with Metro cities, there is a growth in Tier II and Tier III cities as well. Smaller towns with small base are showing higher growth of penetration.
Active wear has an extremely bright, though challenging future as customer expects global quality, latest technology at affordable price points in India.
Mamta Dhanshetty, M. Tech(VJTI) is a Research Associate (Technical Textiles) at Gherzi Consulting Engineers Pvt Ltd