With the continuation of COVID-19-induced work-from-home life in China, as well as a growing prioritization of wellness and healthy lifestyle choices, athleisure styles are on the rise across the country.
China’s population of workout enthusiasts will grow to 560 million by the end of 2030, predicts a report from the Mob Research Institute from 2021. Another study by fashion agency GMA states that by 2024, the nation’s sportswear market will reach $82.8 billion. China’s government-supported “Healthy China 2030” initiative is also expected to boost sports engagement and active lifestyles across more demographics.
In this fitness boom, athleisure brands including both established international labels like Lululemon and emerging domestic names such as Maia Active have been doing exceptionally well. And based on the wave of body positivity-driven campaigns — from Adidas’ #SupportisEverything sports bra ads to leading lingerie brand Neiwai’s “No Body is Nobody” initiative — it’s clear that athleisure styles in China will only continue to grow in popularity and diversify.
China’s Gen Z and millennials are placing an increasing emphasis on well-rounded, exercise-driven, healthy lifestyles and attitudes. Items like leggings and performance clothes have even more or less become a cultural “indicator of an aspirational lifestyle,” according to insiders like Lexie Morris, VP China at Sweaty Betty.
Here, Jing Daily takes a look at the top-performing native athleisure brands in China, and what to look out for in the year ahead.
By incorporating Asian fit and feminine design elements into its repertoire, Neiwai Active continues to earn bonus points with consumers. The Chinese underwear label is arguably best known for its groundbreaking “No Body Is Nobody” campaign, which features Chinese women speaking about their different lived experiences and body types — from being called “flat boobs” to coping with the aging process.
Prior to diversity-led campaigns, the business first sought to highlight body diversity via the designs of its products around 2020. “Ideally, we want ladies to find their underwear at Neiwai regardless of their age groups, size of breasts, or whether they are skinny or bigger,” Neiwai said at the time.
As of 2021, the brand has raised $100 million to better equip itself for expansion into athleisure, loungewear and lingerie. One of the most popular homegrown lingerie and underwear brands in China, Neiwai only began to move into athleisure and sportswear via its offshoot Neiwai Active in recent years.
Thanks to its tailored and fashionable collections, Particle Fever has quickly gained loyalty and a following among fashion-forward younger Chinese consumers who prioritize health and wellness. Through its upscale sportswear, the company describes its positioning as being at the nexus of technology, art, and fashion.
Particle Fever has benefited from the growing athleisure trend in China and is currently carried by Lane Crawford, with the label’s main shop located in Shanghai. Founded by Zoey Liu, Renata Wang and Lin Hai, the brand calls its approach to sportswear “eccentric” and focuses on incorporating traditional materials such as merino wool with new technological approaches to athleisure, creating a fusion of new aesthetics and technologies.
Over the last few years, Maia Active has grown its offline shops to 10 locations, eight of which are in Tier-1 Chinese cities including Shanghai and Beijing. It also partnered with the Shanghai-based womenswear independent label Yingpei Studio in 2021, resulting in a line of avant-garde looks that had their runway premiere at Shanghai Fashion Week.
Though the brand is primarily known for its yoga apparel, Maia Active’s athleisure offerings are not limited to the yoga lifestyle. It also taps other rising sports trends which draw on Western lifestyle concepts for their advertising campaigns.
For instance, over the past year, flag football and frisbee have grown in popularity among younger city dwellers. According to Xiaohongshu’s official data, the search index for flag football has increased by 4,279 percent since 2022 while posts about #Frisbee surged sixfold on the app over the last year. Recognizing this opportunity, Maia Active has staged frisbee events and aggressively emphasized the sport in its advertising campaigns to great consumer acclaim.
Anta Sports, which owns Anta, Descente, Korea-born Kolon Sports and internationally renowned label Fila among others, is currently the leading sportswear group in China with numerous high performing brands in its stable. Over the past year, the Anta brand has achieved significant global and domestic awareness for its association with Chinese competitors including Eileen Gu and Wu Dajing as the official partner of the Beijing Winter Olympics.
While Anta’s performance wear has raised its profile, the brand’s eponymous athleisure lines are fast gaining popularity, as the retailer expanded to over 6,600 global and overseas stores.
The sportswear giant saw roughly $3.7 billion (RMB 25.97 billion) in sales during the first half of 2022 alone, a 13.8 percent increase compared year-on-year. Industry insiders predict that given Anta’s exponential growth over the last year, it will soon rise above global giants like Nike and Adidas if it continues along its current trajectory.
Despite the recent backlash Li-Ning faced over its controversial army-style outfits, the group has continued to see success among Chinese consumers over the past year. The Chinese sportswear giant has doubled down on core areas like basketball, running, fitness, badminton and athleisure and increased its R&D spending for its designs. A standalone Hong Kong flagship (their second attempt in the market) is also set to open soon.
Perceived as trendy and fashionable among younger Chinese shoppers , Li-Ning saw a 56 percent increase in sales in 2021, reaching $3.55 billion that same year. “Health consciousness has been rising and demand for sporting goods has remained robust,” the brand’s founder and CEO Li-Ning stated at the time. “Against this backdrop, we continued to focus on the value of the Li-Ning experience and have demonstrated stronger brand resilience. We strongly believe the industry has a promising outlook.”