Outdoor Voices sportswear brand

The impact of millennial and Gen Z sports habits on sportswear brands

Key takeaways

  • Sportswear is changing to adapt to millennials who favor traditional, competitive sports, and Gen Zers who prefer sports to be a social, self-care activity.
  • Skateboarding increasingly influences sportswear with brands like Supreme, Vans, and Palace among Gen Zers in particular.
  • Millennials and Gen Zers are wearing sportswear that is inspired primarily by climbing, skating, surfing, and breakdancing.

In recent years, athleisure sportswear has gained traction in fashion, thanks to experience-loving millennials and Gen Zers, thirty-something and under, who value multi-purpose design and pleasure over performance. Sports practices have followed their same versatile demand. Not all are top athletes but working out remains a priority for them. Paying on average a staggering $112,000 throughout their entire lifetime, American millennials spend more money on fitness than college tuition.

Unlike their parent’s generation, they want “quick and easy” training sessions with a solid tribe mentality.

While millennials and gen zers exhibit differences in how they consume sports, they do share a blurred notion of “sports”, including non-traditional ones, like fitness, biking or skating and odd skilled activities like e-sports.

As “surpassing oneself” becomes an old-fashioned concept, sportswear brands need to learn how to engage with young audiences and spread inclusive messages which speak to both the zero and the hero.

A millennial and Gen Z change in the sportswear game: When wellness and versatility fuel sports practices

Millennials and gen zers appear to be real sports fans and active players, but their consumption differs from their elders.

According to NPD, 95% of millennial cohorts are active and nearly 30% identify themselves as core athletes (3 times that of the overall US population).

In recent years, brands have increased their profits by delivering youth-focused sportswear with an emphasis on design and comfort. As a result, performance shoe sales have dropped in favor of trendy athleisure footwear.

Puma put a focus on running and gained major notoriety among women thanks to celebrity endorsements from Rihanna and Selena Gomez, while Adidas and Reebok carved out a niche in the fitness industry.

For the previous generation X, sports used to rhyme with championships, TV broadcasts and exercising within an official federation. Contrary to the new generation, they played less sports and hardly ever changed activities. The search for performance and a competitive spirit were their core motivations and elliptical machines and treadmills a necessary burden.

The 2016 IHRSA Health Club Consumer Report found that millennials in particular prefer specialized classes like cross-training, pilates and yoga.

Tim Elmore, Gen Z expert and bestselling author on new generation leadership, stated that “While millennials used to like sports and adventure, Gen Zers see sports as a wellness tool and whose games are played indoors.”

According to Tom Corve, director of the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, “They say I run but I’m not a runner”. What is most striking to the older generation, is that young people tend to bundle multiple sports experiences together and crave more personalized training.

To meet the flexibility that kids want, fitness clubs are now increasingly offering on demand sports sessions with a tailored offer based on the individual’s objectives.

As a consequence, sportswear brands are nurturing their own athletic clubs to deliver an unexpected experience to the sports community where team-spirit is king.

The Just Do It Sunday Run enables Nike to connect runners virtually, while Outdoor Voices organizes the OV Jogger’s Club, a weekly jog departing from 9 US local stores, where “all paces are welcome” for a 2,6 mile jog around a trail. By doing so, the brand echoes its instagram signature, where #doingthings is what matters.

This action enables brands to meet their audience and help clients to test the products in real conditions, which in turn helps their R&D departments.

Millennials value outdoor sports, like running, cycling or bootcamp, where discovery and challenges prevail. Gen zers, on the contrary, see sports as a holistic wellness routine and a meritocracy symbol often played in-doors and in groups.

These digital-natives are keen on using sports apps to add more fun to their efforts and sharing data with their sports community, like heart rate, burnt calories, distance traveled or speed. One young person out of 3 shares content from a fitness app at least once a week.

Want to find out if consumers are vying for a sustainable future?

A skater-inspired gear dominance in sportswear

With the athleisure trend being fueled by aspirational brand coolness from the likes of Supreme, Vans or Palace, skateboarding has become, in recent years, the leader of the pack among appealing streetwear designs for gen zers. Currently, the skater and lifestyle brand, Vans, and its iconic old-skool low-tops are benefiting from a 90’s retromania and are literally flooding the high streets on kid’s feet, even those who have never set foot on a skateboard.

This skater-mania has directly impacted sneaker sales. According to the NPD Group, six years ago, basketball sneakers accounted for 13% of US sales. Today, they are down to about 4%.

Skateboarding’s roots lie in the 1960’s surf culture, with a focus on adventure, creativity and determination. The do-it-yourself (DIY) mentality flourished as skaters began customizing their own boards, adding wheels to wooden planks and modifying their sneakers with markers, scissors and dutch tape.

In the late 70’s, Vans finally acknowledged skaters with offerings such as the “sk8-hi” and “old skool” models.

With the rise of punk, gangsta rap, and grunge music in the 1980’s and 1990’s, skateboarding started to embody the anti-corporate and anti-establishment values of the times. Now brands see it as an urban anarchy culture which has found an audience in rebellious youth.

Vans brand - skaters

The sport epitomizes the streetwear genesis and began manifesting itself in some basketball crossovers, with Nike and Adidas releasing skater-friendly sneakers.    

Supreme, founded in 1994 by James Jebbia, is generation Z’s favorite skater brand and is in high demand, with some shoppers willing to pay premium prices for the most coveted products. The brand, ranked 7th among upper-income teens’ favorite brands in a spring 2018 survey by Piper Jaffray.

It started as a skater-centric brand before becoming a mainstream streetwear brand with its own cult following and is now a mainstay among gen zers favorite hip-hop idols.

In 2002, Supreme launched a limited-edition drop of new, padded Nike Dunks, labeled SB at the New York store with colorways referring to famous skateboarders such as Gino Ianucci, or Danny Supa. With the 1980’s retro sneaker trend beating once again, Nike decided to go back to what had made it popular to begin with to get back on the skateboarding map: basketball sneakers in bold color combinations.

The Air Jordan 1, a female-inclusive sneaker model, was worn by skaters all over the world thanks to its exposure in the 1987 movie The search for Animal Chin, starring Tony Hawk, Lance Mountain, Mike McGill and Steve Caballero. It was a suitable, affordable option for skater kids and the colors were just right.

A rising interest among millennials and Gen Zers for non-traditional sports

Among millennials and gen zers, sports preferences on the field and on the screen have evolved from more traditional, outdoor, organized team sports, like football, soccer, baseball and hockey, to fitness, skating, cycling, water sports and volleyball.

That’s why the Adidas Originals Season 5 athleisure capsule collection with Alexander Wang encompasses products mixing both fitness and cycling gear.

The Olympic Games could help sportswear brands find inspiration for upcoming teen-led product releases. Four new sports have been suggested in order to rejuvenate the audience by incorporating more urban disciplines: climbing, skating, surfing and even breakdancing.

Hip-hop-inspired battle dancing, which was one of the choreography inspirations for the Gucci Pre-Fall 2017 campaign, gained awareness thanks to the backspins in the 1984 movie, Beat Street, and Netflix’s Soultrain-inspired series, “The Get Down”.

Netflix - The Get Down
Netflix – The Get Down

Japanese B-dancer and Red Bull BC One World Final winner, Ami Yuasa, is a testament to this generation’s interest in Break.

While skateboarding seduced millennials-coming-of-age, their little brothers prefer alternative sports inspired by the same riding challenge but much closer to BMX: the scooter. So much so that there are now more scooter riders than skateboarders in America. According to a study on statista.com by the Outdoor Foundation, the number of skateboarders in the US decreased from 10,1 million to 6,4 million between 2006 and 2016, with an even more dramatic drop among skaters aged 6 to 17.

Moreover, US high school girls are increasingly preferring volleyball to basketball. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, an additional 4133 girls started playing volleyball in 2016, while basketball lost 276 participants.

Statistics compiled by the NFHS show an increase of 4000 volleyball players in that span and a decrease of 23 000 basketball players.

Nike - League of Legends Pro
Nike – League of Legends Pro League

In February, Nike surprised the industry by entering the e-sports tournament arena, behind  Adidas and Puma. The American sportswear brand decided to sponsor the Chinese “League of Legends” Pro league in a four-year deal. The league consists of 16 teams and has one of the largest followings in the world.

Considering that the NALCS finals brought in a total of 600,000 viewers, and the “League of Legends” tallied 100 million unique viewers, E-sports now drive more viewers than the American Super Bowl. It shares skills with other common sports like tactic definition and game mechanics.

Like other sports, athletes can get hurt and suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome but also wrist and finger ligament inflammation. In these competitions, expertise makes it possible to reduce the amount of uncertainty.

Our artificial intelligence solution enables fashion brands and especially sportswear brands to expand their consumer insight through visual recognition and deliver the right products to the right target.

About the writer: Victor Gosselin, content writer at Heuritech

Victor writes about luxury fashion brands and products under the scope of sociology and pop culture to analyze new consumer behaviors.

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