Competition Heats Up as Apparel Companies Fight for Women's Market Share

By Motley Fool Staff Markets Fool.com

In this video fromIndustry Focus: Consumer Goods, Motley Fool analysts Vincent Shen and Sarah Priestley drill down to the specific contributions that women have made to the top line at major sports apparel companies. But with this success and rapid growth, they also discuss how the industry faces more competition than ever, including efforts from some of the biggest retailers in the world.

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A full transcript follows the video.

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This podcast was recorded on Jan. 17, 2016.

Vincent Shen: Getting into some of the numbers for the publicly traded companies that are dabbling in this market, can yougive us some examples of how certain players have benefited from the surge that we've seen with women's activewear in this segment?

Sarah Priestley:Sure. Nike's (NYSE: NKE)global sales of its women's business has grown 26% between 2013 and 2015. It's up from $4.5 billion to $5.7 billion. They don't actually break out women's contributions, so that's the last time we can see that. But what we do know is that they currently earn around $5 billion annually, but they expect it to contribute 40% of their revenue over the next five years.

Shen:And that's just from what they see as the women's segment.

Priestley:Absolutely. It's a hugecontributing factor anddefinitely an audience they're going to want to court going forward. Kevin Plank, theCEO of Under Armour(NYSE: UA)(NYSE: UAA), said in the company's last earnings call that women's wear is approaching a $1 billion business for the company. Toput that into some context for you, the total apparel sales in 2015 -- that's the clothing and sportswear -- was $2.8 billion for men, women and children. So, you're looking at a huge contribution, again. Andif you look to some of the more pure play, like,Lululemonis much more of a lifestyle brand,that's how we would describe it, they've had 20% growth in sales over the last five years. Reallyphenomenalsales performance from thesecompanies that are concentratedmostly on the female market.

Shen:But, at the same time, I think the growthnumbers are incredible,there's no doubt about that overall. Thecontribution you described that this segment has had,in the growth of leisure wear,especially with women, youcan't deny that. But it has definitely drawn outa lot of competition, too. Wementioned some of thelifestyle brands or more traditional apparelretailers who weren't really in activeweargetting into it, launching their own lines, orexperimenting. A lot of smaller start up style names. You even have something like aCrossFit or aSoulCycle getting into their own lines of apparel. It is a ton of competition. So, ithas not necessarily been all good news, I guess, forsome of these companies, at least.

Priestley:Absolutely not. Whenever you get a situation like this, it's always going to have the effect of the dreaded commoditization term being applied to it. In this case, I will use some statistics for yoga pants or leggings or tights, which are kind of a barometer for the female market. They're by far the biggest segment within that market. Growth is slowing. They had 6% decline in unit sales last year. The average selling price is down. This is the key issue, that margins are down for these companies as well. If you look, theaverage selling price for tights was down 9% year-over-year in 2016. That trend isset to continue into this first quarter of 2017. So,investors will want to watch that figure quite closely. If you lookmore specifically, margins were down at Nike. They're gross margin was down 1.4% year-over-year for their last quarter.I will caveat that, again, by saying that they claimed in their earnings call that they have higher selling prices, but they wereoffset by unfavorable foreign exchange rates and higher product costs, which could well be the case.

Under Armour, very similarly, was down 1.3% year-over-year in their last quarter. They're suggesting that this reflects the timing of theliquidation ofSports Authority. I think, if youlook at the overall market performance ofUnder Armour, Under Armour A shares are down 40% in 2016. A lot of this was around concerns of, can they compete with Nike? But a big impact of that is that liquidation issues. So, they had to, obviously, put a lot of promotions on to get rid of a lot of the stuff that they had that was going to go through Sports Authority. So,undoubtedly, that had an effect, and we should bear that in mind. But, definitely, you've touched on a couple already, it really is every man and his dog is now in the athletic wear industry. [laughs] That's my dad's favorite saying, by the way.

Wal-Martis actually the leading sports goods and footwear apparel retailer in the U.S. if you look at it on a value scale. Online, you have Kate Hudson'sFabletics,Net-a-Porter has launched Net-a-Sporter. As you touched on, you have gyms launching their own lines.Amazonhas an announced that they want to enter the market. So,it's a completely saturated market at the moment. AndI think the way we're going to see that shake out is, there will be some leveling off of the more fashion-focusedH&M,Wal-Marts,Target, there will be some leveling off, decreasing, of that market. It's down to the pure play, the true athletic retailers, to carve a segment out for themselves.

Sarah Priestley owns shares of Under Armour (C Shares). Vincent Shen has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon.com, Lululemon Athletica, Nike, Under Armour (A Shares), and Under Armour (C Shares). The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.