Women now dominate the buying power in athletic running apparel, inspiring the styles of evolving collections like Pearl Izumi’s Escape and Pursuit
By Jahla Seppanen
In 1990, the populous of “running event finishers” was made up of 75 percent males and 25 percent females, based off data from Running USA. In what hints to a reversal of those figures, Running USA polled 2014 finishers as 43 percent males and 57 percent females. This overturn has ambushed apparel brands and forced a new look at run’s dominant consumer.
Pearl Izumi, the CO-based performance apparel and footwear brand more commonly known among core cyclists, has taken its Run division and amplified apparel focus to respond to the powerful female consumer. Pearl Izumi’s run offerings currently account for less than 10 percent of overall business – including footwear and apparel – however plans for Spring 2016 and 2017 run collections suggest big shifts in company mindset regarding both the fashion and function of run-wear for women.
“The Women’s industry in general is booming right now,” said Pearl Izumi Product Line Manager for Run Apparel Kelly Davidson, who sat down with SGB to contextualize how exactly the overturn happened, in both Pearl Izumi Run and throughout the industry as a whole.
Davidson, an apparel trends guru, mentioned one of the first signs of the change showed up in denim. “Jeans this last year are down while black tights are up double digits. Women want to be comfortable and are shifting the market to include more activewear.”
Design teams at performance brands have taken note of the change, but so have fashion labels like J.Crew, Abercrombie and Gap, launching their own athletic lines as a response. The result: a new status quo. “It’s very odd for a lifestyle company to not have athletic apparel now,” said Davidson. Now, no matter where a woman shops, she’s likely to find athletic apparel.
Ana Trujillo, runner and author of the blog RunReadRace.com, said, “There’s a ton of research out there showing that women hold the buying power in this country. A few years ago companies finally wised up, stopped shrinking and pinking, and started offering products specific to our bodies.” Trujillo saw the change as one of the smartest moves apparel companies could make. “All companies should be wooing women,” she said. “When it comes to the purse strings, women are in charge.”
Tech Goes Trendy
Davidson noted Pearl Izumi’s past run apparel lines were geared toward core performance athletes who wanted tons of technology and high-performing products. All that has changed. The brand’s newest Escape line, plotted to receive stylistic changes in design and color for 2017, will “encompass the new emerging female consumer,” Davidson said. Escape’s sister-line, Pursuit, is set to release 2016 performance-focused changes responding to some of the first shifts in female consumer behavior.
“Women are demanding that the market change to adapt to their needs,” said Davidson.
What Women Want
Athleisure is a trend where activewear is designed to be worn both during activity and pre/post-sweat, in the world outside the sport. Some say athleisure apparel is built around the dueling principles of performance and style.
Whether in Elle Magazine, CNBC or The Wall Street Journal, the trend has been noted by everyone from stock market analysts, high-fashion designers like Alexander Wang, Outdoor Retailer Summer Market attendees, sporting chain retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods and pop culture celebrities like Beyoncé.
With athleisure in mind, Pearl Izumi Run designers built its Escape line around athleisure fashion trends in conjunction with shifts in women’s shopping habits – most dominant being an allure to versatile athletic apparel that is comfy, cross-genre and cool. “We’ll be pushing to the next level with silhouettes, which is somewhat nontraditional for run,” Davidson said. “And we’ll make the clothes more workable, bring textured materials and have a little more fun. It doesn’t have to be a super-techy flat-faced material any more.”
For 2016, Escape brings two new pieces, the Women’s Escape Shrug and Women’s Escape Skort. Until 2017, the rest of the line will be carryovers from Pearl Izumi’s Flash apparel, keeping the name Flash until updates are made to transition the collection to its Escape title. Expect big changes, as the purpose of Escape is to reach woman seeking style and adventure, not just performance.
In terms of design, the Escape Shrug was made to be a feminine yet functional layer in a new chic silhouette pallet made, I’m sure you guessed it, to compliment a woman’s body contours. Shrug’s Transfer Dry fabric pulls sweat away from your skin during activity and has UPF 50+ fabric in the main body. The Shrug integrates with almost any sports tank and includes strategically placed mesh for ventilation. Plus, it’s easy to imagine turning to this arm warmer during bike rides, yoga, out to a coffee shop, or all of the above.
The Escape Skort, a name that might send you on a #TBT back to elementary school days when the skirt/short design was popular, is a classic and flattering run alternative to shorts or tights. Like the Shrug, the Skort uses Transfer Dry fabric for moisture management, with built-in shorts also made from the wicking material. The wide waistband both flatters aesthetically and is comfortable, while the internal waist key pocket is a hidden gem. Nobody likes running with a set of jingling keys in-hand.
The Pursuit line, engineered for Women to “chase their goals,” is more performance and less fashion-driven than the Escape. New Pursuit pieces for Spring 2016 include everything from a short sleeve shirt, 3” short, singlet, 4.5’ short, endurance short sleeve shirt, 6′ short and a long sleeve shirt. After all, Pearl Izumi is a performance brand. It will incorporate lifestyle design cues into its repertoire but never depart completely from core athletes. And we wouldn’t want it any other way.
However, the decision to incorporate fashion into performance apparel is a big deal. In the end, Pearl Izumi’s new Escape products like the Skort and Shrug came about as a response to new consumer demands.
And it appears the new booming voice made up of women consumers has finally expressed what active lifestylers have been trying to convey for some time: Versatility. Today, most athletes, recreation runners and gym-goers aren’t buying specific wardrobes exclusive to each sport. And with the rise of cross-training and kooky hobby sports like pickle-ball or Nia, people are partaking in a wider array of activities than ever before. That being said, a pair of yoga shorts should be functional on a run; and a running bra should have a groovy pattern for the studio as well.
For Pearl Izumi Women’s Run, the core concept driving versatility adaptations within Escape and Pursuit comes down to minute details. “It’s making little tweaks in our products,” said Davison, “like moving a zipper from center back to the side of the hip.”
Box Versus Boutique
Versatile activewear is not only a want but a demand, and everyone’s adapting for survival. Even Big Box stores like Target and Walmart now offer apparel for female runners, creating fierce competition for the customer dollar.
Contending for the purchase means specialty run stores need to “reinvent the selling experience,” Davidson said. “Over 65 percent of sales at a specialty retail store are Women’s products,” she added. Although there are shopper-experience techniques weaved into Big Box selling approaches, the main allure for their run apparel boils down to convenience and cost.
Pearl Izumi works in collaboration with specialty retailers, giving its apparel a more boutique and unique feel. Davidson and the rest of the Run design team are constantly thinking of how its brand messaging can play to in-store selling. However, a great brand slogan can’t always make up for the “experience,” of buying.
With the hope that specialty run retailers can maintain an edge with the new female consumer, Davidson suggests two minor shifts that can bolster apparel sales at smaller shops. The first is educating staff with apparel knowledge. “Specialty run normally focuses on footwear, so they’re not as knowledgeable on the apparel.” Knowing what distinguishes a piece of apparel as high-tech, high-performance, with current style trends, can communicate the quality of a pricier piece, versus its cheaper Box option. A nine dollar run tank is a great last minute option, but it won’t wick, smell or ultimately perform as great.
Davidson’s second piece of advice for specialty run retailers is to renovate dressing rooms. “You walk into most specialty run stores and it’s a closet or even a bathroom. The lighting’s not great, and it doesn’t make a woman want to spend time trying on more products.”
Future of Female Buying
The rise of the “Sheconomy,” as a 2010 Time article phrased it, may be here to stay. Looking to younger generations and their sports activity levels may provide the most reliable insight into the future of female buying, and whether their influence will remain on top.
The High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) over the past year showed that boy’s participation dipped 8,682 from the previous year, while girl’s participation increased for the 26th consecutive year, with an additional 20,071 participants. These numbers set an all-time high for high school-aged female sports participants, at a broad 3,287,735. Furthermore, the number one sport for girls came in as track and field, with crosscountry charting third most popular.
These findings show that it’s not just adult females who are becoming increasingly more involved with Run, but all women, across all ages. So, from the style, the numbers and the trends, it’s safe to say the jungle of running has a new king…or better yet, queen.