Influencer retail

Creating new platforms for growth for sports fast fashion brands

Sports fast fashion brands are disrupting how fashion is traditionally sourced, marketed and sold. Agile, digital-first, Instagram-driven, they represent a direct-to-consumer model that’s proving a massive hit with a new ‘gen-z’ consumer. With considerable growth already under their belts, this new breed of street-style, sportswear outfitters are now seeking expansion and scale via existing and new platforms.

Physical retail, as an integrated part of a content-rich, influencer-led strategy, can play a valuable role in bringing these brands’ offers to both existing and new customers. We’ve helped The Couture Club take its first, crucial steps into physical retail by creating its very own pop-up store. Two routes present themselves to emerging brands; own-retail and wholesale. As many of the big sports brands shift emphasis to a selling environment they can directly control and curate, which route will serve sports fast fashion brands the best?

Driving growth.

Growth in the sports fast fashion market has been remarkable. Many didn’t even exist more than five years ago but have grown rapidly from start-up to flourishing business. They have fast amassed an enviable following on social media and together established a distinctive and valuable niche in fashion-led apparel. Ranked by number of Instagram followers, the top 20 sports fast fashion brands have a total of 2.54 million followers. With shopping-enabled Instagram platforms a mainstay of these brand’s early go-to-market strategies, these followers have translated into a powerful market. There’s been a proliferation entrants: Sik Silk, 11 Degrees, Gym King, Good For Nothing, The Couture Club, Bee Inspired, Illusive, Nicce and Sinners Attire, to name just a few, with each newcomer inspiring and feeding the success of the sector as a whole.

Inevitably, a handful of specialist, multi-brand etailers has sprung up around sports fast fashion – Reem Clothing, Urban Celebrity, Fallen Hero, Lost Rock Star, Demand Attire and Curated Kings – giving shoppers curated access to urban streetwear brands in one place. Reem has its own streetwear brand to complement what’s on offer by the other brands it sells. Traditional sportswear retailers are in on the act too. JD Sports owns Supply & Demand and FootAsylum positions itself as a one-stop shop for the latest drops and newest streetwear brands. Many sports fast fashion brands are now listed by major ecommerce platforms, ASOS, Amazon and Zalando. As a group, they’ve defined their own unique place in the market, helped to drive sales in athleisure and sportswear and as a result are considering how they can best build on this growth.


Three things are fanning success: Instagram, Influencers and gen-z’s addiction to both. Sports fast fashion brands rely on Instagram to market and sell clothes to a new cohort of young, connected and mobile-obsessed consumers who, critically, are wedded to their social media feeds. Gen-z and younger millennials – sports fast fashion’s target shoppers – turn to platforms like Instagram for fashion and lifestyle inspiration, seeking out their favourite celeb, rather than the catwalk, for sartorial guidance. Business of Fashion’s State of the Industry report states that social media influences 74% of fashion purchase decisions whilst online reviews influence 58%. Globally, 800 million of us are active Instagram users, (an 700% increase on 2015) and 500 million use it daily. The introduction of shoppable Instagram posts and Instagram Stories has led to a surge in brands using the platform (data shows that 59% of Instagram stories lead to a brand’s shopping page).

Riding the wave.

With 32.3 million brand-sponsored influencer posts predicted for 2019, more than double that in 2017, Instagram’s role as a platform for forming companies, direct selling and influencer marketing will continue to be critical. Sports Fast Fashion brands are certainly riding this wave. Some of the main players are owned by influencer-celebrities – footballers, reality-tv stars, social media celebs – such as Ross Worswick with The Couture Club, Steve Robb and Mark Corcoran with Bee Inspired, Gaz Beadle with 11 Degrees or one of the newest entries, Fresh Ego Kid, from Marvin Morgan. These celebrity entrepreneurs have unique insight into the power of Instagram – they’ve used it to build their own personal brands, after all – and get how to use their heightened profile as Influencers. All have gone on to use influencer programs strategically, to drive awareness and co-create content for their own fashion brands.

As we’ve seen the future of influencer marketing looks sharp, but its increasingly important that any influencer activity works alongside a brand’s other platforms and wider marketing effort. Controversy around the growth of ‘fake followers’, blatant paid-for posts by big name celebs, and the overall commercialisation of platforms like Instagram, could try the patience of even the most ardent celebrity-following, digitally native gen-z – ultimately undermining their trust in these brands. Influencers can have a powerful impact on a brand, as Snapchat now knows only too well. Research by Musefind found that 92% of consumers trust an influencer more than traditional advertising or celebrity endorsement. That’s a big market for any brand to lose if an influencer program turns sour.

Physical stores can help here by bringing to life the spirit and lifestyle a brand represents, beyond an influencer’s social feed or YouTube channel. Right now, gen-z and younger millennials see the lifestyles of celebrities and influencers they follow to be more authentic than what’s on offer from established brands. Together, sports fast fashion brands present a strong front; an aspirational way of living and dressing that mirrors how the celebrities that endorse or founded them live their lives. The right store experience will support this preference for influencer guidance, endorsing a brand’s authenticity and instilling trust.

Rapid fashion experiences.

The latest generation of challenger, ‘rapid-fashion’ brands are certainly realising the value of physical retail alongside constant investment in their online platforms and influencer-led marketing. Menswear brand, Menace, has space in Selfridges in Birmingham as well as a store at Box Park, whilst its big sister, Missguided, has a growing number of stores in locations like Westfield Stratford and Bluewater with concessions in Selfridges. These brands, along with rivals Boohoo and PrettyLittleThing, are shaping a more agile, superfast, fast-fashion world, significantly reducing the average time from design to shelf from 6 weeks for ASOS to just 1 week for Missguided and landing new styles on their websites everyday not just once a week. Sports Fast fashion brands are emulating this pace, it’s how many of them have developed and grown, from bedroom start-ups – where t-shirts were designed, made and on Instagram within a week – to thriving business.

Winning new customers through stores.

Operating online-only facilitates this speed to market for brands and a constant stream of social media content, bringing fashion trends to more people at a faster pace, drives demand ever onwards. But when it comes to meeting the needs and expectations of their target consumers, selling online only just won’t cut it. The ease of shopping online means it’s the first port of call for gen-z and young millennial fashion shoppers to browse products, compare prices and check out who is wearing what and what their peers are saying.

As a second port of call, physical stores offer an equally vital experience that engages, connects and converts. Young millennial and gen-z consumers still love going shopping to socialise and have fun. Give them a good time in-store and these customers will visit again, share their experience and next time bring their friends. In this way, physical retail is a cost-effective way of acquiring new customers when compared with investment in other customer acquisition methods.

Their expectations are high, though. They want brands they shop with to deliver it all: price, value, service and content. They also increasingly expect a personalised experience and unique finds. Creating, curating and sharing content is part and parcel of how they spend their free time. A physical store must deliver exciting content that reflects the lifestyles of the celebrities they look to for curating their own personal style.  Customisation is potentially a growth area for gen-zeds and being able to create their own versions of products in an engaging store environment, and get the result instantly, is the kind of added value a store can bring. Relevant add-on services within the store – such as a barber shop, café, nail bar or beauty salon – helps to create a destination. Our pop-up store for The Couture Club includes a barber shop and DJ set (with resident DJ providing the soundtrack) to make sure the experience provides everything guys need as they prep for a night out with their mates. A store experience needs to bring additional services that they can’t get online and plenty of instagrammable moments they can share with their friends.

Strategic retail experiences.

Recent store openings by digital-only brands like Menace should provide plenty of food for thought for sports fast fashion players considering their next move. Which route is right – wholesale store environment or owned store – is a key consideration. Any brand wants to have as much control of the selling environment as possible. Some global brands with long histories in wholesale environments are reportedly rethinking distribution strategies. Nike, Coach, Michael Kors and Canada Goose have all set goals of shifting emphasis to direct-to-consumer channels, including their own stores and rationalising number of retail partners.

Partnering with wholesale, multi-brand retailers can be a smart move for emerging brands. They have an existing network of stores and a wealth of experience on the nuts and bolts of selling through the physical channel. Brands new to the high street need to be prepared for a steep learning curve and sizable investment; wholesalers can offer a hand to hold. It’s a two-way process, though. Wholesalers can also learn from the agile way Sports Fast Fashion brands do business and will certainly benefit from the new customers they bring in. But they must provide the right platform for them within their stores, an engaging experience that acts as a proper venue for this set of brands and captures their spirit and vibe. In return, wholesale retailers must put sports fast fashion brands under pressure to deliver exclusive content and products to keep their consumers coming back and enliven the experience.

The answer, of course, could be to exploit both as part of a well-considered customer experience strategy. Owned spaces employing flexible formats and temporary spaces can deal well with the dynamic nature of these rapid fashion businesses. Having space within a store concept that’s adaptable and can change easily to promote rapidly changing products, seasonal installations, collaborations or influencer-led content is vital. Spaces can also be designed to be multifunctional so they can easily transform for an event, exhibition or a venue for a club meet-up.

The world at their feet.

Sports fast fashion brands have the retail world at their feet with opportunities for growth that are no doubt the envy of their bigger, established competitors. Market conditions are ripe for their development; if ever there was a time to reinvent physical retail to meet the needs of a new generation of consumers it’s now. And sports fast fashion brands are in a perfect position to do it, with an army of experience-hungry, social media-obsessed, gen-zeds eager to spend their time going shopping for kicks. Store-based experiences can engage and influence, delivering a multitude of opportunities to convert shoppers, attract new ones and support transactions across all channels.

Start has been actively involved in the evolution of sports fashion retailing for over 25 years, working with brands such as JD Sport, Pentland, Foot Asylum, Foot Locker and Sportmaster. We work with emerging and existing brands, optimising physical retail to take advantage of these opportunities.


Find out how Start has helped digital-first brands such as The Couture Club and Huda Beauty create memorable physical retail experiences. If you would like to talk to us about opportunities for your brand please get in touch.

If you would like to talk to us about how we can help you, get in touch.
Or email or call Kate Barker directly on +44 (0)7888 681869

Kevin Gill Retail Director, Start