Apparel Sales Stall at 3 Percent, Athleisure Remains Influential, NPD Says

U.S. apparel industry sales increased 3 percent to $218.7 billion in 2016, according to market researchers The NPD Group in a March 6 statement.

But the year-over-year increase was not entirely a “win.” Since 2013, the apparel market has struggled to go beyond a 3 percent sales growth. Gains in some segments of the business—online and offprice markets, for example—were offset by declines in others, such as department stores. Marshal Cohen, NPD’s chief industry analyst, seemed to say that the business is stuck.

“The apparel industry is being pushed and pulled in different directions by consumers who are demanding something different and looking to less-traditional buying channels to find it,” Cohen said. “Amidst all the change there is one constant in apparel sales performance—the apparel industry isn’t delivering a product experience that will compel consumers to increase their spend.”

Bright spots in the fashion industry continued to run in the athleisure segment. It has been popular for more than a few seasons. It was a $45.9 billion market in 2016, which was an 11 percent increase over the previous year.

The NPD study also found that athletic styles highly influenced the women’s lingerie market. There was an uptick in sports-influenced bralette styles. 2016 also was a good business year for some tried-and-true categories. Dresses remained a popular category. Sales increased 5 percent to $15.6 billion. Jeans sales increased 3 percent to $15.3 billion.

While remaining a profitable market, the athletic footwear business stumbled in the fourth quarter of 2016, according to an NPD Group survey released Jan. 30.

“For more than a decade, U.S. sales of athletic footwear have averaged about a 4 percent annual increase, but 2016 will go down as a slightly below-average year; however, given the sports retail landscape in 2016, it is understandable why this happened,” Matt Powell said. He is NPD’s vice president and sports industry analyst. 2016 was the year when major footwear retailers The Sports Authority and Sport Chalet declared bankruptcy. After the first quarter of 2017, the strong athletic footwear market should regain its footing, Powell said.