A promising bet on athleisure


  • Business
  • Monday, 22 Apr 2019

Expanding range: Shoppers browse merchandise at a Nike store. Athletics clothing brands are growing their range of products to cater to a wider group. — Bloomberg

WHEN ViQ Apparel first came onto the scene, there weren’t many other local players offering athleisure products. The company can be considered one of the pioneers in the industry.

But having no role model as a reference point, founders Kevin Kong and Vivian Ng have had to tweak their business model numerous times over the years before it settled comfortably with its current offline-cum-online hybrid form.

Unlike most other suppliers who mainly sell online, ViQ Apparel grows through multiple channels including online, retail outlets, road shows and studio boutiques.

“For maximum reach, you need both online and offline,” says Kong.

“For sportswear, people like to try and make sure that it is comfortable and fitting. Sometimes, our customers go to our physical store to try for fit before placing an order online.”

Previously, ViQ had tried to sell its products through an online marketplace. While the popularity of marketplaces has grown in recent years, that route did not quite work out for the company.

“In the beginning, the sales were ok but things changed when the site got flooded with China sellers. In fact, some customers thought we were from China. After two to three years, we felt it was more worthwhile to concentrate on our own online store,” he shares.

Kong opines that one of ViQ’s biggest competitive advantages is its strong design aesthetic. Its products are designed in-house and every piece is infused with strong design elements whether it is in the unique prints, cutouts or colour combinations, which helps the brand stand out from the more classic options in the market.

All this without sacrificing performance, he emphasises.

“From the start, we did not want to be merely resellers of overseas products. We try to do something that other people do not do, something that is 100% made in Malaysia,” he says.

While there are only a handful of athleisure players in Malaysia, worldwide, the industry is big business.

According to The NPD Group, athleisure was almost a US$46bil market in the US in 2016. Globally, by 2020, athleisure is expected to hit US$350bil in value, driven by wellness, health trends and the casualisation of the working dress code.

Reports note the biggest growth is yet to come in athleisure.

Just last month, Vancouver-based Lululemon Athletica Inc reported a 37% jump in direct-to-consumer net revenue for the three months ended Feb 3, reaping the benefits from heavy investments in boosting its online presence, opening more stores and refreshing its clothing line. It also forecast a strong 2019.

Big players like adidas, Under Armour and Nike are also growing their range and a plethora of smaller companies have also benefited from the rise of athleisure.

And with the growing trend in health and wellness, there is an upside to the demand for products that cater to this growing crowd.

That can only spell good news for ViQ.

“Consumers are looking for clothes that do more for them, that aren’t just single-purpose products and which they can wear across multiple activities as we lead busier lives in the 21st century.

“Moreover, the wellness lifestyle shows no signs of abating and this will support continued growth in athleisure,” notes Kong.

Going by current trends, their biggest customer demographic at the moment is 30-40 years old. Larger sizes are also in demand.

“One lady is such a fan, she would buy up all the XL skorts in different colours” shares Ng.

Gender-wise, their range comprises 95% women’s products compared to 5% for men, but that ratio has gradually shifted to 80:20 as men, too, become more fashion conscious.

Looking ahead, ViQ plans to expand to overseas markets, which would require a different strategy and product line.

“Our currency in Malaysia is lower than other countries. In the next few years, we want to take advantage of that and target overseas customers through online sales, but it will take some time.

“At the moment, our promotion activities target locals. And our products are Asian-sized. These are the challenges we need to overcome before penetrating the overseas market,” says Kong.

But for sure, there is potential to tap newer markets like China where market observers note that consumers’ definitions of the circumstances in which they can wear fitness, athletics and sports clothing are shifting quickly, creating opportunities for producers.

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