I’ve been mulling over this Sports bra story for several months now. This niche is expanding in the marketplace as companies introduce multiple options every season. But, I believe that unlike the shapewear craze that saturated the lingerie landscape several years ago and then slowly dissipated, this business will continue to evolve in brand inventories. Here’s why. The market explosion in this category speaks volumes about the American lifestyle. The evolution of the wardrobe from buttoned up to laissez-faire won’t go away. Our culture pivots on blue jeans, t-shirts and sneakers. The focus on function, comfort and ease of wear has always dominated our bra wardrobes (the t-shirt bra phenomenon speaks volumes), but now, women are finding out that exercise is critical to their well-being.
Not too many years ago, the sports bra was relegated to sporting goods venues, a bandage like commodity that was not available in bra sizes and accommodated women of average bust shapes. Today, there are options spanning 28-46 bands and A-JJ cups. But like shapewear, success in this channel requires technological research, development and manufacturing expertise. I am not suggesting that every company needs to have a sports offer on their line, but I will say this: once a consumer finds a brand she loves, it’s a natural segue to try that company’s sports bra. For many of us, large or small, sports bras have become an integrated part of our wardrobes, traveling with us through an entire day.
I started Lingerie Briefs in 2009 with an article about Wacoal’s iconic underwire sports bra (855170). If not the first of its kind, it was (still is) an early pioneer. Available to an H cup, it changed my life and began my journey into this space. Today, it remains, along with several other Wacoal choices, a mainstay of bra inventories.
I spoke with several retailers about the sports bra surge and most of the comments were consistent. Stores ensconced in this classification report that it is a critical part of their business ranging from 5 to 20% of their volume.
The stores I consulted that carry sports bras, all carry the Anita brand. The combination of German engineering, longevity in the space and a firm focus on the classification has established Anita as the sports bra maven. With over 10 styles in their collection, they satisfy every niche in the business. I for one, am a fan, owning both 5519 (momentum underwire) and 5544 (air non-wire). Quoting Lida Lisney from Inside Story in Ontario about 5544: “I’m beyond thrilled with the new Anita sports bra – the spacer and mesh is SO attractive and it dried SO quickly!”
Two other established players Panache and Chantelle often compete for OTB. But, according to Sherry Gummow, owner of Busted Ladies Lingerie in Alberta, they are constructed differently. She carries both in full size ranges to accommodate different fit needs. The Panache sports bra phenomenon upped the ante when they entered the market with their award winning design that fits to a J cup. They continue their climb with their new wireless version and their stunning fashion statements. But it’s no secret that Chantelle stole my heart a long time ago. This season they have added two more styles to their collection now covering low and medium as well as hi-impact activities.
Then there is the Natori, a brand that came to the party early and now boasts 8 styles in their active assortment. The new Zen Yogi bra is perfect solution for average yogis. Me, I wear the molded tank bra that fits B-G cups.
The Eveden group has its fans too: Freya for smaller bands and larger cups, Elomi for larger bands and larger cups. They are accommodating their customer profile and insuring she can satisfy all her needs within their brand position.
The larger size sports bras available on the market today have surely impacted the viability of this business, but also, as Danny Koch from Town Shop in NYC stated ““It is a very important category, especially in the larger sizes. While we have been carrying sports bras for over 25 years we have never had the variety in both soft cup and under wire that we have today.”
For me personally, I was just introduced to Curvy Couture’s Ultimate Fit design. This bra, which scored some of the highest marks on Invista’s Sports bra wear test, has an award winning design that removes pressure from the neckline, underarm and bottom band. Confession; I have recently betrayed some of my tried and true favorites to wear it horseback riding. I am wearing it now, as I write this blog. This style is available 34-44, C-H cups. It is a great complement to their wirefree and zip front offers.
And coming soon, Prima Donna will introduce their new Sweater Mesh sports collection. It is being tested widely in stores this spring. Stores are anticipating the arrival of this group based on the unique fit that defines the Prima Donna line. (Sorry, no images available yet)
Anyone who has researched this business understands that all breast tissue is at risk when women are not supported and this issue is amplified during exercise. This makes the necessity for sports bras essential for all cup sizes. Brands like Le Mystere, On Gossamer and b.tempt’d have maximized this opportunity by insuring several options in their collections. And, in each case, the DNA of the brand is never compromised.
Patti Platt of A la Mode in Annapolis, MD told me: “Sports bras are very important for us. We do a number of sports bra events in our shop. In fact, this has helped our slower bra sales months, i.e. January and October when emphasizing exercise post and pre-holiday speaks to many women.
Patti also mentioned, as did several other stores, that she sells sports bras as an alternative to non-wire bras. In particular, she sites nurses who need 12 hour support with non-stop comfort. This classification has gone from a simple add-on opportunity to a destination in its own right. Yes, their are a great many choices and for sure, one must limit their inventory to the best performers for their customer. But, when a category becomes part of the lingerie infrastructure, as I believe sports bras are, then fit choice matters. No one carries just one brand of bra, not yet, at least not in America
As Danny Koch said, awareness of the importance of wearing a sports bra is still a missing element for the potential growth of this business. Brands and stores that are investing in the message are reaping the rewards.