THERE seems to be an obsession for compression wear in the world of fitness, with runners, gym junkies and even neighbourhood joggers wearing the usually black attire that looks three times smaller than their regular clothing size.
Compression wear — a type of fitness apparel that resembles the sleek, skintight spandex worn in modern superhero movies — is the hottest range of clothing for people who are serious about their workouts and want to enhance their athletic performance.
In a nutshell, compression clothing applies a balanced surface pressure over specific body parts that accelerates blood flow and increases oxygen delivery to the muscles. This can sometimes improve athletic performance because the increased blood circulation helps reduce the lactic acid build-up and allow for longer work-outs.
Compression wear also improves posture, while the leaner and more taut looks that accompany the apparel are a flattering added feature.
Although research has yet to prove the empirical conclusions, users have testified to its benefits. The US compression apparel industry alone was worth about USD$1bil in 2012 out of the country’s USD$19bil overall fitness apparel market in the same year. Some major international fitness brands that have generic selections of fitness gear have successfully accredited a generous portion of their clothing sales to their alternative compression gear range.
Although they may have not yet attained and leveraged on generous advertising and marketing campaigns as the bigger players, other lower tier brands that solely produce compression wear and accessories are following suit — slowly, but steadily.
Getting it right
In Malaysia, compression wear is also becoming the apparel of choice for runners, triathletes and regular gym-bunnies. Local compression garments company, Kraftfit Malaysia, hopes to capture the fitness apparel market with its products and services that includes manufacturing customised compression wear for both local and international independent brands.
Four sports enthusiasts in their early to mid- 30s — See Ker Shin, Colin Ong, Leong Yin Har and Cheng Wei Tieng — invested almost RM100,000 in start-up capital to set up the company in February this year.
“We all met during Bootcamp training and quite a few of the participants wore compression wear from international brands.
“We tried them and liked the way it helped boost our workout performance, but the only problem was that these products were very pricey,” said Leong.
The average price for a compression garment from an international brand is between RM250 and RM500 and can be more. With this in mind, the foursome decided to research and produce their own range of compression wear in June 2012 and, in February 2013, they launched Kraftfit.
“There’s a market for compression gear at more affordable prices so our goods are about 30% to 50% cheaper than other brands.
“Quality isn’t compromised as we’re continually researching and developing all our products that are also field-tested using high quality standards,” said Leong.
While compression wear is essentially a super-tight piece of clothing that usually makes one look slimmer than usual, its functional features are also as flattering as its aesthetic appearance.
“Kraftfit compression wear is crafted to wrap your muscles in a cocoon to reduce vibration, resulting in significant improvements in muscle stability and enhancing your overall performance.
“The PowerBand Technology has been developed based on research studies in kinesiology. It helps specific muscle groups receive the additional support necessary to optimise performance, improve blood circulation as well as reduce pain and injury,” explained Leong.
Kraftfit’s range of apparel includes black-coloured long and short-sleeved tops, shorts and long tights and calf guards for men and women — the latter also come in red and pink.
The brand has partnered with Metcon Bootcamp to produce another range of designs in red and black to indicate their expansion in colours and designs.
“Compression wear in Malaysia represents an infant sector in the fitness apparel industry but it’s growing as our target market — those participating in running, other sports and physical activities — grows.
“We’ve observed that almost half of the participants in the running events that we participate in wear compression wear,” said Cheng.
The business, in the meantime, seems sustainable as it broke even a few months ago and its owners are able to save expenses by working in-house on their goods.
“We don’t outsource our tailors or materials — the fabric is bought by us and tailoring is done by Ker Shin who is a graduate in medical studies and the main researcher for the products.
“Because of her background, she understands the details and mechanics of muscles, body shapes and muscular and skeletal movements.
“Our clothing is created to suit and accommodate these anatomical features during movement and exertion,” said Leong.
Going beyond compression
However, the young team did face some challenges when they entered the market.
As fitness enthusiasts are very well-versed with their apparel, they had to work extra hard to market their brand uniquely and to back-up their claims with their own research.
Kraftfit also took every opportunity to be showcase their products in running events like marathons as a form of promotions and marketing
The company’s products are available online (http://www.kraftfit.com) or at Running Lab in Tropicana Mall, Petaling Jaya.
“We’re receiving very good feedback and sales from The Running Lab and have recently replenished our stock with a new batch of 1,000 pieces of mixed apparel for the store to sell.
“Now we’re also in the process of clinching a deal with another retail athletics outlet and hopefully things will go according to plan,” said Leong.
The company has made no plans to sell their compression gear in generic sports outlets as they are investing in their own flagship retail store that they hope to open in three to five years.
Their next batch of products will be marketed towards triathletes — the superhumans of the endurance fitness world.
“We want to brand ourselves as not just another compression wear company.
“Kraftfit should follow the steps of Nike, that started as just a show brand and now they are known for their clothes, accessories and bags in the global market,” said Cheng.
The business has already approached some international fitness apparel brands and companies, but the process will be a long and winding road.
“We are currently working on a business deal and sponsorship with the Iran Sports Hockey Team so we hope things go well.
“But we are confident that they will accept our business proposal because all they have to do is try our apparel to feel the benefits when performing their fitness routine or sports practises,” said Leong.