This Week in Retail – ‘Athleisure’ is the new black

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This week, we investigate the surge in popularity of ‘athleisure’ clothing, going hand in hand with consumer preferences towards health, wellbeing & fitness-related products

Welcome back to This Week in Retail! .We start off with a sporty theme this week, with news from the world of sportswear where ‘athleisure’ – clothing designed for workouts but which can be worn everywhere from a Friday night on the town to your 9 to 5 – is having a moment. In the same week that Will Smith launched his fresh athleisure brand, Sweaty Betty posted UK sales figures up 18% on the previous year – which it attributed to its ‘sculpting leggings’, and the boom in popularity of ‘athleisure’ clothing and active lifestyles. Despite, weaker consumer confidence, and the general retail apocalypse, shoppers don’t seem to be holding back on health, wellbeing & fitness-related spending and this is pushing the athleisure sector to be in the forefront  indeed.

The gravitation of consumers towards more ‘woke’ consumption decisions was also reflected in research published this week revealing that more than half (57%) of Londoners are willing to pay higher prices for sustainable fashion, consumers in the capital are placing ethical fair trade/labour practices and sustainable packaging at the top of their shopping list for sustainability. There’s no shortage of retailers acting upon this, with  Shop Direct and Next announcing, this week,   promising results of Phase 1 of their project to improve fabric employment conditions in South India’s fabric mills. Neiman Marcus jumped on the ethical beauty bandwagon too on Tuesday, with the opening of its online shop dedicated solely to clean beauty products, not tested on animals and free from pollutants such as sulphates. Superdrug also celebrated its 25th year as a cruelty-free retailer this week with its mind-boggling array of vegan, organic, paraben-free beauty products.

Our food system and food supply chains create a mind-blowing volume of single-use food wrapping, cups, bottles and more – with the takeaway/convenience food sector being one of the worst offenders. So it was exciting to see Pret A Manger rolling out its nationwide coffee cup recycling scheme over the past week across more than 350 stores – where customers can recycle any paper coffee cup, not just those purchased from Pret. This is part of their Global Plastic Pledge and a good step towards encouraging recycling among coffee lovers – hopefully the start of something big!

A rather less ‘woke’ industry, fast fashion, has had a mixed bag this week. Forever 21 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection late on Sunday. This doesn’t mean they’re going out of business, instead they will cut stores from roughly 800 to 450 globally. Arcadia has also come close to succumbing to the perfect storm on the high street, and on Sunday its Miss Selfridge chain posted a £17.5m loss in 2018 following a 15% drop in revenue to £102m. however – which is a digital native brand with only a handful of physical stores – bucked the trend of retail gloom this week as it posted sales of over $1bn over the past 12 months, boosted by an ‘outstanding’ H2 when sales rose by 43% and pre-tax profits 83%. Boohoo has hit a sweet spot combining digital expertise and collaborations with celebrity influencers, with a clear target of a younger customer base who tend to shop on mobile and engage with brands via social media.

Boohoo and its fast fashion peers will no doubt be further lifted by Instagram’s new product drop notification system which it started testing this week. Currently users have to set alarms for upcoming product releases themselves, but the update will allow brands and influencers to push out automatic notifications for product releases to followers – making Instagram even less a space for selfies and cat photos and more of an on-screen shop-window, which is in line with the CEO’s June pledge to transform it into a retail app.

Grocery is another key battleground in the retail industry’s grapple to adapt to rapidly evolving tastes and values. The Amazon empire expanded its territory this week as it reportedly began signing leases for its mysterious new concept grocery stores, which will offer “multiple customer experiences under one roof”. Meanwhile, on the heels of M&S’ new-format food stores featuring vertical-urban-farming and craft bakeries which TWIR covered a fortnight ago, the retailer opened a pop-up hosting over 40 indie businesses at their Liverpool store on Monday. These moves are part of a growing tendency of grocery and other retail towards the highly curated, artisan, personalised, and ‘experiential’ as it takes ever more ‘special’ and personalised retail experiences to get consumers engaged.

Finally, we end on a bitter note. I’m mad about coffee (and free drinks, food, free pretty much anything) so can empathise when a promise of either isn’t kept. But coffee lovers nationwide took it to another level on Tuesday when ‘fuming’ customers of Costa Coffee ‘nearly rioted’ after the chain was set to offer free drinks all day but supplies ran dry early in the morning, leaving coffee fans unable to claim their freebies. An interesting supply chain challenge to explore!



Lucy Herriot

Associate Consultant


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