From Lululemon’s meteoric rise to the endless wave of Chinese athleisure brands like Particle Fever and Maia Active, women’s activewear has surged in popularity over the past few years. It’s a generational response to the global fitness trend, with experienced and first-time gym-goers alike hitting the exercise floor to participate in various workout routines.
Now, the athleisure boom is hitting China’s young men too.
In October 2022, the Southern California-based activewear label Vuori launched on Tmall, just a month before the platform’s annual Double 11 shopping festival. On Chinese social media, the brand has positioned itself as the male version of “Lululemon,” projecting a California-inspired active lifestyle with its hashtag #ADayInVuori and collaborations with Chinese male workout influencers.
Charlie Chang, a 22-year-old male yogi blogger who goes by @YogaCharlie on social platforms, told Jing Daily that the male activewear market has been long overlooked and demand is strong. “I used to ask friends to buy men’s activewear for me when they travel to the US or Europe, although now I am seeing more brands doing cool workout clothes for men on Taobao and other e-commerce [sites]. But still, my female yogi friends have a lot more choices in terms of yoga clothes, and athleisure wear compared to me,” says Chang.
On the lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu, men’s activewear emerged as one of the fastest-growing searches last year. Based on 2022 data, fitness, home improvement, and travel are the favorite content genres among its male users. The data also showed that male users are 160 percent more likely to post fitness content than female users. Fueled by a renewed interest in health and outdoor activities after a long, frustrating period of lockdowns, hashtags like #Men’sFrisbeeOutfit and #MenWorkoutOOTD are gaining tens of thousands of views each day.
For both international and domestic brands, this younger generation of gym-going men represents a new opportunity.
China’s male fitness market still has “huge untapped potential,” says Cheng Weixiong, general manager of the sports marketing agency Shanghai Liangqi Brand Management Co. “Having an active lifestyle, going to gyms, and being seen as self-disciplined has gained so much social currency now. It shows that you belong to the successful, disciplined middle class. This has sparked a wave of technical, muscle-showing menswear that is popular now,” he explained.
“Having an active lifestyle, going to gyms, and being seen as self-disciplined has gained so much social currency now. It shows that you belong to the successful, disciplined middle class.”
As such, Chinese athleisure brands have cropped up to meet the growing demand. Monster Guardians, a Wuxi-based label founded in 2015, specializes in athleisure staples for China’s millennial men. Comfort is key across the brand’s catalog, in which elements of gym apparel, loungewear, and streetwear fuse together to create a casual aesthetic that can be worn from treadmills to the street. With over 600,000 subscribers in its Tmall store, the brand reportedly made over $15 million in sales revenue in 2020.
OMG, a functional sportswear brand that just received $20 million of venture capital injection last year, is another prominent player. Positioned to be the next Shein of male activewear, the brand has expanded its sales network to over 20 countries since 2020, when the brand was founded. With a vast collection ranging from urban sweats, fitness sets, and outdoor performance wear, OMG aims to occupy the sweet spot between sport and fashion.
This new generation of athleisure-wearing men also presents an exciting market for business-savvy influencers. Celebrity bodybuilder Lu Chenhui founded the men’s activewear label BODYDREAM; Shuai Li (AKA @Shuaisoseriou), a US-based Chinese fitness influencer, launched his own brand DRIOCO offering a full wardrobe of workout-appropriate streetwear.
In addition to the versatility that has become expected of men’s fashion, activewear is helping to break the gender boundary of certain sports. “Today there are some emerging brands developing men’s activewear in sports dominated by women, such as male yoga clothes. In the West, yoga may be a gender-neutral sport, but in China, it is still largely perceived as a feminine thing to do,” says Cheng Weixiong, general manager of Liangqi Brand Management Co.
According to a Tmall consumer report, the number of male users searching for “yoga” items doubled year-on-year in 2021, of which 60 percent of the new searches came from post-1990 millennials.
Simply put, China’s men’s activewear market is still largely untapped. Brands that can help men move easier and look cool while doing it will certainly gain an edge.