Athleisure was already a buzz in the Indian apparel sector before Covid, and post-Covid, people’s awareness towards well-being and health has increased tremendously. Data also strengthens this common perception. As per Maximize Market Research India’s report, the sports apparel market valued US $ 3,011.91 million in 2019 and is expected to reach US $ 5,494.61 million by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 7.80 per cent during the forecast period.
This has led to the thrust on performancewear segment. Leading global brands already have a strong presence in this domain, while the recent entry of start-ups is maximising its reach. Zymrat, Silvertraq, ENGN, Baller Athletik are few such names which have carved their niche in performancewear through innovative and quality products.
Affordability, quality – the reasons behind good demand of Indian performancewear brands
Till a few years ago, the top global brands dealing in performancewear didn’t focus much on India and their products were available in the domestic market but at high prices! Affordability was missing then but now Indian start-ups ensure that performancewear products are available at reasonable prices.
Ujjawal Asthana, Co-founder, Zymrat (a promising performancewear brand) commented, “No Indian brand was working towards filling this gap, but we sensed this as a massive opportunity. And thus, Zymrat was born.” Being just five years old, Zymrat recently raised US $ 500,000 in the seed round, setting itself up for Series A round later this year.
Ujjawal claims that Zymrat saw 40 per cent repeat purchases in the last three months’ period and nearly 70 per cent repeat purchases in the 12-months’ period. This number is only going higher with the addition of new SKUs. Zymrat has been able to achieve such overwhelming response only on the back of world-class products and meticulous communication with its consumers through various channels.
Jeevika Tyagi, Co-founder and CEO of Aastey brand said, “There is a huge demand for such high-quality products in our country. We even pay a premium to ship global brands.” The brand has a goal to be 100 per cent sustainable by 2024.
Technology and innovations are becoming a norm!
Performancewear is primarily used by athletes and coaches including Olympians. Baller Athletik, a smart clothing tech-first brand, has come up with bioceramic mineral-infused activewear which help trap the wearer’s natural far infrared energy within the body, and refeed it back into the wearer’s body (like extra fuel), thereby improving their performance and cutting down the wearer’s fatigue.
Similarly, Mumbai-based Silvertraq – a home-grown activewear brand providing function and fashion for women and men – offers technical and fashion-forward performancewear, especially with sweat-wicking, anti-odour, stretchability and breathability properties. Dhriti Badani, Director, Silvertraq, stated in a recent conversation with Apparel Resources, “We offer collection that includes stitched garments as well as sew-free ultrasonic welded garments. Consumers today are looking for more performance-based attributes, especially in their yoga clothing. In terms of fabric, we use a mix of polyester, recycled polyester, modal, softer linen. We also use technical fabric which has features like quick dry, sweat wicking, anti-odour and anti-microbial up to 50 washes. There has been an increase in demand for yogawear recently, so we have started focusing more on comfort-driven styles. We use state-of-the-art machinery and processes for these products like laser cutting for doing perforation.”
Since the use of technology-driven performancewear products is steadily rising, Zymrat is investing around 10-15 per cent of its revenues on the development of new products wherein it has worked and collaborated with 300+ coaches/trainers across the country. Its SuperSilva technology is used to solve the common problem of odour in products that are sweat-resistant and its SuperVent feature adds more breathability to the bottoms, thereby solving the problem of fabric sticking to the skin during intense workouts. Similarly, the brand has introduced Centurion, designed to solve the problem of weight in running T-shirts.
Start-ups not threatened by probable deterrents
The performancewear apparels have comparatively more complicated production process as compared to that of athleisure but Indian fashion start-ups don’t see this as a major challenge.
Tanveer Daswani, MD, Baller Athletik strongly believes that there are good manufacturing facilities and quality fabrics too in India. “We’ve got everything that the international brands use,” he said.
Zymrat also has four vendors for raw material requirements, and five for apparel manufacturing spread across geographies that suffice the brand’s needs for highly innovated fabrics and take care of its production process. “Our internal team determines the roadmap for every launch, which also includes the final design, post which, we collaborate with Indian and global partners to help execute the same. For our past launches, we’ve worked with global partners to source the best fabrics. While for our natural collection, we’ve worked with an Indian supplier to execute. Our choice of partners is dictated by quality (and quality alone), which often leads us to spend 3-4x more on raw materials than some of our Indian counterparts. We aim to compete on the innovation arena, and never on price,” mentioned Ujjawal.
Brands specific for women
Rising health consciousness is something Indian consumers can be seen following more aggressively in post-pandemic era, especially women. Kica Active is one of the performancewear brands catering specifically to women.
A brain child of AneeshaLabroo, Kica started off in 2017 to bridge the gap between stylish, high-quality products at an affordable price. Recently Nykaa Fashion, the multi-brand lifestyle e-commerce platform, completed its acquisition.
Growing ‘Fitness First’ mantra is also a reason that start-ups are focused in this direction and have witnessed good demand also. Having started in 2016, Mumbai-based TEGO also claims to have witnessed good growth in the last two years and has sold about 2,50,000 products.
Brakefree, by Sumedha Mahajan, an endurance runner, is also addressing the needs of Indian women through its range of right high impact champion tights, high impact anti-odour tee or high impact non-bouncy bra.
Another name is this list is ENGN started in August 2021 by Megha H Desai and Deepika Das Peirera which is also purely for women. Megha H Desai, COO, ENGN said, “While sports have always been a rich part of India, it’s only in recent years that a spectrum of sports focusing on female sportspersons has emerged. We still, however, have a long journey to traverse. Indian female athletes have finally started shining, yet they are still grossly under-represented.”
Another such brand Aastey is targeting to change damaging stereotypes and address the problem of body inclusivity. Keeping in mind the variations in Indian body types, its products are available in 16 different sizes.
Later this year, Zymrat – which is in men’s segment right now – also aims to launch its exclusive womenswear line, something its founders – Ujjawal and Ankita – have long been planning for.
Start-ups opening stores and expanding products
Most of the performancewear brands are born as digital-first and interestingly many of them are now entering into physical retail also. Kica already has its store in Delhi, while Zymrat recently launched its experience centre in Bengaluru which the company sees as an opportunity rather than a trend alone. Baller Athletik also plans to have its own physical stores.
“The true test of a community-first brand is to make customers reach us whenever they seek. As a performancewear brand, we saw incredible merit in allowing customers to feel and experience our products in person. Early indications have been super promising –we’ve managed to move more than 100 products within the first two weeks at a much higher Average Order Value (AOV). If things continue at the same pace, our offline pilot may well become a definitive strategy,” said Ujjawal.
India’s increasing interest and performance in global sports, the growing opportunity and success of start-ups are motivating big corporates to enter in this segment. Very recently JSW Sports announced its entry into the activewear space with JSW Inspire line.
Parth Jindal, MD, JSW Cement and JSW Paints, believes that venturing into the sports apparel and activewear space is a move that they have long considered, and they are now ready to take the first step in this direction.
Funding in this segment
Some of the start-ups in this segment have witnessed reasonably good funding and are also further geared up for the same. After raising US $ 250,000 in December 2020, Zymrat also raised US $ 500,000 six months back in the seed round. As its focus is on becoming a capital efficient company, it is setting itself for Series A round later this year.
Just four months back, Aastey also raised Rs.10 crore in seed funding. Vani Kola, Managing Director, Kalaari Capital investor in Aastey said that technological innovations in fabrics and the body-positivity movement are spurring demand for such products.