Athleisure market gets active

The Straits Times by MELISSA HENG

The athleisure trend is not going away any time soon and fashion entrepreneurs in Singapore are hopping on the bandwagon with their own labels and collections.

The Straits Times found at least four home-grown brands focused on sportswear that have launched in the last two years. They are Yumi Active, known for its Asian-inspired prints; Project Sora, which sells sports bras with interchangeable straps; and Kydra and Outfyt, which aim to design clothes that can be worn in and out of the gym.

The brand founders say they aim to fill gaps they spotted in the market and have designed functional yet stylish sportswear suited for the local weather and lifestyle.

Outfyt founder Stephanie Colhag Yeo, 27, created the label in April last year because she wanted clothes that did not look like they could be worn only for exercise.

"I had a drawerful of activewear that I could wear only when I work out. I felt it was a huge waste and an over-consumption of clothes in general. I didn't want my activewear to be used only in the gym."

She was helping out at her father's restaurant before starting her business, which she says carries pieces that "can effortlessly transition from the gym to everyday life".

For example, the label has a fully lined and padded halter-cut sports bra with a cross-strap back that she says can be matched with high-waisted pants for a night out. Outfyt's sports bras cost $40 to $50, while leggings are $65.

The brand's pieces, produced in China, are made from a polyester-spandex blend fabric. This ensures they hold their shape well and are wrinkle-resistant, lightweight and breathable.

The self-funded label launched with an initial start-up cost of less than $50,000. It started online and now has a 500 sq ft store in Haji Lane that opened in October. Since the store opened, turnover has doubled, says Ms Colhag Yeo, who declines to give specific figures.

Unisex label Kydra, which was founded in July last year by friends Jimmy Poh, 27, and Wong Dingyao, 27, has less flashy options with a casual, laid-back vibe. It carries basic sports bras and anti-wrinkle T-shirts in solid, neutral shades.

The business started with a pair of shorts, say its founders. They came up with the idea for the shorts in 2015, when the then university students realised they could not find shorts in the market that had actual working pockets.

Mr Poh recalls: "I'd be wearing regular sports shorts and have my phone in my pocket. I'd do some squats in the gym and my phone would fall out. Dingyao even lost his house keys once because they fell out of his pants pocket while he was exercising."

He says they went through seven prototypes and it took about a year to get the design right. They travelled to textile conventions in London and factories in Guangzhou to search for fabrics that had breathability, toughness and moisture-wicking capabilities.

Through a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, the pair raised more than $10,000 to fund the first production of 500 pairs of shorts. They launched the product online in December 2016 and sold out in about five months.

After they graduated from the University of Reading in England last year, they went into the business full-time and launched Kydra.

This month, the brand, which retails online and at a few boutique gyms, added tank tops and joggers for women to its catalogue. Men's T-shirts cost $32 to $38, shorts are $68 and sports bras are $46.

Sales have grown by about seven times in the first year. The founders decline to give specific figures.

Ms Stephanie Ong, 29, founder of women's label Project Sora, says she started the brand in November last year because she wanted versatile sportswear.

"Project Sora is the first sports bra brand to introduce interchangeable straps, allowing customers to personalise their look."

Besides the colourful straps, the bra also looks more like a sleeveless crop top and offers more coverage around the chest area and torso. Ms Ong says this means women can wear it without a T-shirt and not feel too exposed, making the piece suitable for warm weather.

The label, which is available online and at fitness studio Boom Singapore, has seen a 120 per cent growth in demand in the second half of this year, compared with the first. A bra set, which includes a bra, a pair of straps and a tote bag, costs $65.

Ms Ong, who has a full-time job as a project management consultant in a technology firm, says she will include leggings next year. She declines to give specific sales figures.

Older players in the local sportswear market are also doing well.

Vivre Activewear, which launched in 2014 and is known for yoga clothes that better fit the Asian body frame, has seen its revenue jump eight times since 2015. It has three outlets in Singapore, with its most recent one opening at VivoCity in September.

Luxury label K.Blu, founded in 2014 and better known as a swimwear brand, added active wear pieces to its range in 2016. They include leggings ($149), jogger pants ($169) and bomber jackets ($350).

"Customers were asking for more designs and more activewear options, so we met that demand," says founder Lyn Sia Rosmarin, 39.

She adds that about 10 per cent of its range is activewear, but that figure is set to double next year.

"A lot more Singaporeans and expatriates living in Singapore are buying activewear. I reckon the pieces are suitable for the tropical weather as they are appropriately comfortable for casual meet-ups or if you need to run errands," says Ms Sia Rosmarin, who declines to give specific sales figures.

The growth in the local activewear market is a reflection of the continuing global athleisure trend.

According to research agency Euromonitor, the value of the global sportswear market increased from US$276.7 billion in 2013 to US$322.9 billion (S$442.7 billion) last year. In Singapore, the sportswear market is worth an estimated $532.4 million this year, up from $514.3 million in 2013.

Founders of home-grown activewear brands say the trend is set to continue.

Ms Ong says Singaporeans' busy schedules mean they want versatile sportswear. "People might squeeze in a gym session during lunch at work or on weekends. They might head to the gym first and then go for brunch. They want stylish activewear that can be worn at the gym and work as stylish casual wear too."

Ms Elvira Limpid, co-founder of local fitness wear label Theia Active, says there is a growing focus on personal well-being among individuals here. "More fitness trends are hitting Singapore and more studios are opening. Correspondingly, activewear demand is also growing as individuals seek gear to enhance their performance and complement their lifestyles."

Fans of activewear are happy to have more home-grown options.

Digital marketing executive Ruby Chen, 24, who owns pieces from Project Sora and Kydra, says she loves how comfortable and functional they are. She goes to the gym almost daily and occasionally wears activewear on weekend dates.

"I love how the brands are pushing out more comfortable, functional and pretty activewear pieces, especially those with helpful features such as working pockets in tights and bras."

Ms Caroline Teo, 42, a fan of K.Blu's designs, appreciates that there are more local labels with styles that cater to the local climate and body types here. The managing director at a fitness studio says: "Previously, we could choose only from a few big brands. There is now more variety and brands."


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