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Zen and the Art of Activewear Marketing – Will the continued popularity of male yoga further transform the activewear market?

Men accounted for 11%–27% of class attendees in 2015. By last year, that figure was 25%–50%

Bohemian mash-ups, Gym rags, and Patanjali. Drayton’s Wayne Mabbott meditates on the yoga-inspired activewear market.

In the seminal yogic text Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the discipline is defined as “The suppression of the activities of the mind.” Suppressing the activities of the market, however, has proved much more challenging. In the activewear sector, female yoga apparel is, of course, already big business. And, now, marketing towards men is moving to the next level.

A recent Guardian article quoted Jonathan Sattin, the founder of hip London yoga Pilates centres Triyoga, as saying “Men accounted for 11%–27% of class attendees in 2015. By last year, that figure was 25%–50%.”

It is Ryan Giggs, as much as Patanjali, Sattin has to thank for his successful customer acquisition strategy. Many credit Giggs enthusiastic advocacy for yoga and his belief that it helped expand the length of his career as a major catalyst in male adoption. Alongside tennis’s Andy Murray, Giggs helped break the dated UK stereotype that yoga was a female-only activity.

Nike’s yoga-specific collection already includes a successful menswear range and Lululemon, again according to The Guardian, “Plans to grow its men’s category to a $1bn business by 2020, and last year revealed men made up 30% of new customers during the first quarter.”

Alongside these established players, niche start-up brands like So We Flow are thriving. Their founder, Jake Wood, based his growing business on this simple insight: “Men who did any yoga were wearing ultra-technical branded sportswear, old gym rags, cut-offs, and bohemian mash-ups - or any combination of all 4. And still never feeling quite right.” If recent sales figures are anything to go by, So We Flow’s range of “fit-for-purpose men’s movement clothing,” has filled a clear gap in the market.

The same goes for Sports Philosophy. In a recent survey, The Independent ranked male yoga apparel from the recent start-up, founded in 2014, ahead of Nike and Lululemon – citing its “Impressive unifying of materials and function,” as being particularly persuasive. Like many new businesses set up by millennials, Sports Philosophy is cause focussed. They pledge 10% of their profits to fight child labour and say: “Through our charity, the Freedom for Children Foundation, we support society's most vulnerable members. As part of the garment industry, we believe it is our duty to address this issue.” A generous act, yes. But, also, a shrewd piece of marketing.

So, the dharma wheel may, in time, come full circle. The global yoga clothing market is expected to reach USD 47.8 billion by 2025, according to a report by Grand View Research, Inc. Without Patanjali’s sutras, it would not exist. If all the companies involved did as Sports Philosophy do – and contributed 10% of profits to charity – that, I’d like to believe, is a karmic moment the great Indian sage would really appreciate.

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