Sportswear retailers have begun turning their attention to China, and with good reason. China has the largest population in the world, and between government initiatives and evolving fashion trends, it is becoming an excellent market for athletic clothing. The US remains the largest market for sportswear, with an estimated market size of $45 billion, but the industry’s growth rate is only 2.5%. In contrast, the Chinese sportswear market is growing at a rate of 11%.
China’s demographics are positioning it as an excellent market for athletic goods. It has a population of 415 million millennials, as well as the world’s largest middle class. People with higher incomes tend to participate in more leisure activities, including sports, so this growing demographic of young workers with disposable income is providing a large market for activewear. Gym memberships in the country have doubled since 2008, and the number of marathons has risen from 51 in 2014 to over 100 just two years later.
The Chinese government is also encouraging its population to participate in athletic activities. It aims to increase the country’s sport economy to $850 billion by 2025, which would make it the largest in the world. The government is also looking to become a global player in the world of soccer, with plans to increase the number of soccer pitches in the country from 50,000 to 70,000 by 2020.
The country is also taking action to tackle the rising number of health problems such as obesity and diabetes, and has launched a five-year fitness plan that will make investments in sports and fitness facilities. The plan involves $225 billion in national spending by 2020 and focuses on teenagers in order to encourage healthy habits throughout their lives. Additionally, Nike is partnering with the Ministry of Education to improve physical education for the country’s youth.
The athleisure trend
Like many other parts of the world, athleisure is a growing trend in the country. Activewear is increasingly becoming accepted as everyday clothing, including in the office and sometimes even at weddings. Foreign brands such as Nike and Adidas, which lead the Chinese sportswear market in terms of market share and together make up a third of the market, are seen as luxury fashion products. Their brand reputation and perceived quality make them desirable and give them an edge over native companies, and they are making an impact on China’s fashion trends, particularly in women’s clothing.
Sportswear is finding success where other types of apparel are beginning to struggle. While the athletic apparel market in China rose by 11% in 2016, overall apparel grew at less than half that rate, with an increase of 5%. For example, Belle International Holdings, the second-largest footwear company in the country, saw a decrease of 9% in its overall shoe sales for 2016. In contrast, sales of trainers rose by 16%.
With so many initiatives and trends supporting the growth of China’s activewear market, the future of the industry looks strong. The government is laying the foundations for a long-lasting increase in sports and fitness activities, and the current demographics are a strong fit for activewear products. All in all, this is a very promising market to enter.
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