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Jun 29, 2018

How has the running apparel market changed?

Graham Richards, brand director at Ronhill/Hilly/Altra, examines the changes in the running apparel market

Without doubt the biggest changes in running apparel over recent years have been: innovation, fabrics, women’s apparel, colour and fashion. We will look into each of those in a little more depth.

Technical innovation/ smart technology

We have witnessed a lot of new technical innovations, which in many respects have revolved around fabric, but have also included: LED light, performance measuring and compatible technologies and seamless technology to name a few. Likewise, significant developments in mobile phone technology, for example, has resulted in a lot of runners running with their phones, and as a consequence phone carriers and ear pieces have been developed.

Fabrics

Fabrics used for running apparel have developed considerably (and will continue to develop) in terms of their breathability, weight, waterproof/windproof qualities – all to help the comfort and performance of the runner in different conditions and temperatures.

In addition, more recently, we have certainly witnessed technical performance brands using softer and a wider variety of different fabric options, which offer more comfort too. New technologies such as seamless garments, has resulted in a big step forward from the original synthetic fabrics first used and developed over recent years.

Women’s apparel

Without doubt the massive growth in the percentage of women running these days has had a huge influence on the type and range of apparel that brands have and continue to develop. The days of ‘pink it and shrink it’ are long gone and brands have really embraced this sector, with a big focus on fit, design, style, trend and fabrics used.

Sales of women’s apparel will, for most brands, be at least 50 per cent of their business, which is a massive change from years ago, when the sport was very much focused around the male club runner. In turn, running stores (and the ones that haven’t should!) have had to adapt accordingly in terms of better merchandising, male/female areas, male and female staff, better changing facilities etc.

Colour and Fashion

A big change over recent years has seen fashion and colour play a big part in running apparel. More recently the explosion of ‘athleisure’ products has taken this to a new level, and has become part of everyday wear – the printed tight and hoodie being typical examples, particularly for women. Brands will spend a lot more time these days looking at colour trends and how they co-ordinate and cross merchandise in store. Years ago apparel was very plain – core colours being black, royal, red etc. Likewise with technical running socks which were predominantly white but are now available in a wide variety of different colours and designs.

Trends have changed too, for example, years ago male running shorts were predominantly the sidesplit athletic style, but now square cut and longer length shorts are in the majority, with the elastane liners shorts beneath.

From a Ronhill perspective our founder, Dr Ron Hill MBE, besides being a world class athlete was able to combine his PhD in Textile Chemistry to, in many respects, revolutionise running apparel and innovative designs, starting back in the 70s. It’s fair to say that being innovative was a little easier in the 70s and 80s, especially prior to the first running boom, (which many believe originated with the jogging boom in the USA) as running apparel was still quite basic. Ron was one of the first to develop and use lightweight, synthetic fabrics for running apparel, was the first to use 3M Scotchlite reflective tape on products and ‘invented’ the split-sided running short, (out of frustration with the restriction that non side-split-sided shorts caused!).

He even used a fabric used for parachutes to make shorts, as it was so lightweight and quick-drying. He also designed the iconic ‘Trackster’ legwear which became world famous as the classic lightweight, stretch, legwear for runners, and an updated version is still in our range today and still popular!

Interestingly, back in the 90s ‘prints’ became very fashionable and not only for women. At one stage we had print designs on vests, shorts, tights, socks and even a running shoe!

Going forward, I am certain that we will continue to see more of the same in terms of new technologies, fabrics, fashion, but it will be interesting to see how the current athleisure boom will roll out.

On a positive note, the comfort and ‘look’ continues to become more and more popular, and acceptable as great cross-over apparel, particularly for women. Regardless, all runners really need to wear technical performance apparel

Running, as mentioned above, has changed a lot in recent years from the male dominated club runner. Running has become increasingly popular for a wide range of people, with a significant growth in the percentage of women running today, but also the mass participation events too.

As a result there has been a host of new and smaller groups/clubs being formed and social running groups too. Events such as Race For Life, Park Run, Couch to 5k, Run Mummy Run, Colour Run, Santa Run and Tough Mudder have all been key in making running appealing to the masses and those looking for new and challenging events.

Without doubt running will continue to grow in popularity fuelled by the above and government initiatives to promote healthier lifestyles. Interestingly we are witnessing the same trends around the world – more social running, more women running and more events.

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