[SERI COLUMN] To beat the bust, take a page from Nike

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[SERI COLUMN] To beat the bust, take a page from Nike

With cosmetic surgery becoming more and more common and extreme makeup and hairstyles reaching their limits, “natural-looking” beauty has been gaining increasing attention. Hollywood celebrities are often caught on camera with no makeup and unkempt hair obviously untouched by a stylist, seemingly indifferent to getting their picture taken. And their clothes and shoes show the same nonchalant attitude, as if they don’t feel the need to impress anyone. Yet somehow they still look chic.

The key fashion items behind this natural look are the “sweatpants and sneakers” combo. As world-renowned stars are seen in striped sweatpants and hoodies, walking around shopping centers or jogging around the neighborhood, this relaxed form of attire is fast becoming a fashion trend not only for Hollywood stylists but also for the general public.

The trend has been a great opportunity for Nike, a sportswear company that previously focused on menswear after repeated failures in appealing to a female clientele. In the past few years, Nike has reaped tremendous revenue in shoes and clothes by linking famous athletes to its brand, but its strategy was mostly embraced by men. Efforts to promote its women’s sporting line with celebrities such as soccer star Mia Hamm and tennis celebrity Serena Williams seemed to boost sales, but most women continued to remain uninterested.

Nike then recognized the need to develop women’s clothing based on the lifestyle of women. The company closely watched the consumption behavior of its female customers and concluded that their interest in working out was increasingly growing, and that they valued functionality while at the same time wanting clothes to look good when worn. Nike also found that women wanted something fashionable that would take them from the gym to the office, or even out on the town.

Nike immediately added sensuous colors to its line of clothing and selected trendy designs. For example, it lowered the waistline of its sweatpants, mirroring that of popular jeans; this design allowed for slight exposure of the lower abdomen, gaining huge popularity with teenagers and twentysomething clubgoers. It also released Swarovski crystal-decorated T-shirts, generating a lot of attention with female customers. Adidas and Reebok have also partnered with world-class designers, contributing to the recent sportswear boom.

The trend has also rapidly spread in Korea. Despite consumer sentiment dulled by the global financial crisis, women’s interest in health and beauty remains high. Fashion experts say that the sportswear industry has been growing despite a weakened global fashion industry as people opt for daily leisure activities that don’t require special sports equipment or lessons.

In particular, women’s sportswear with simple designs and functionality are in vogue, especially those that can be worn in the office when casual clothing is permitted. According to Korean department stores, sportswear sales have recently increased more than 30 percent.

In Korea, it is especially hard to deny the effects that hit reality TV shows such as “Infinite Challenge,” “Family on the Go” and “Two Days, One Night” have had on strengthening trends. Teenagers’ fashion interests have deepened with the help of young TV celebrities such as Lee Hyo-Ri and Lee Seung-Ki. Also, as more consumers try to deal with high oil prices and become more health-conscious, bike commuting has been on the rise. Against this background, sales have boomed as many replace street wear with sporting wear. Furthermore, the relatively new five-day work week has increased leisure time, allowing for more family outdoor leisure activities.

Amid an ongoing economic downturn, there is widespread speculation regarding restructuring plans, and various methods to address the contraction have been proposed. Yet corporate executives are not confident that their attempts to weather the storm will end in success.

Under these circumstances, it may be safe to pay attention to what customers need. Given the characteristics of sportswear, clearly different from business attire, companies can safely admit that the recent boom in sportswear is a reflection of customer needs. This “need for slowness” reduces the fears of economic uncertainty and stress from school and work and allows people to cope with a fast-changing, digitalized world.

Taking into account such needs, what product will be the next big star? Just as the sportswear market boomed in the face of a fashion industry in crisis mode, leaders should pay attention to the hidden needs of customers so they can find new opportunities that others have yet to consider.

*The writer is a research associate at Samsung Economic Research Institute.

by Lee Min-hoon

A model poses to hit a tennis ball at the Adidas by Stella McCartney spring/ summer 2008 show at Fradia, Hangang Park, Seoul. [JES]
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