When you think of building brand recognition for your gym or fitness business, you probably picture ads and online reviews. But one of the best ways to spread the word about your brand might be something slightly more subtle—and stylish.
“Fitness studios have one major reason to sell merchandise,” says Sabrina Zohar, an athleisure entrepreneur, who has partnered with more than 100 fitness studios to bring their custom fitness clothing lines to life. “It features their logo, which helps grow their brand.”
A smartly-designed collection can also be a huge revenue-booster. The boutique indoor cycling studio SoulCycle, for example, launched apparel at the same time they opened in 2006. From a single T-shirt to an entire online shop dedicated to leggings, sports bras, sweatpants and fitness accessories, their fitness clothing business is booming. By the time SoulCycle filed as a publicly-traded business in 2015, $18 million of the company’s $112 million of revenue was linked to branded purchases other than studio fees. In 2016, SoulCycle’s retail sales growth topped their ridership growth, according to Racked. (By the way, you can use Wix Fit to both book classes and sell merchandise.)
So, it’s wise to create an online store. The global market for comfortable-cool clothing boomed during the pandemic, and it’s showing no signs of slowing. Between 2021 and 2026, athleisure sales are predicted to grow about 5 percent, according to one forecast.
Jumping into the process without fully understanding how to start a fitness clothing line can be a dangerous prospect, though. “Cheap merch can do more harm than good for your brand’s reputation and bottom line,” Zohar warns, “because clients trust their studio for choosing the best brands.” Your members think of items in this collection as worthy of your stamp of approval, so low-quality gear can compromise your clients’ trust.
For more on selling merchandise, check out Wix Learn.
How much does it cost to start a fitness clothing line?
The initial investment in starting a fitness clothing line can vary widely based on your fabric choice, where the merchandise is made, how many units you create, how much it costs to ship to your studio(s) and development costs for the styles and designs. You can do it for as little as $10,000 or as much as $120,000, Zohar says. Typically, you need to place an order of at least 300 items, she adds.
Mark-up can also vary by brand. “Some companies operate on smaller margins due to the quality and local craftsmanship in the hopes it will grow as the brand scales,” Zohar says. “Others manufacture overseas and make an 80 percent margin.”
How to start a fitness clothing line: the essential steps
Once you land on your budget for the total project (or how much you can afford to invest in your fitness clothing line), it all starts with the design. First things first: Create your own logo if you don’t already have one. You may also want to work with designers to craft tangential designs like brand taglines and catchphrases.
Once you have your logo, you can hone in on your fitness clothing line’s vibe. Activewear styles generally land in one of three categories:
High impact: Performance gear with maximum support, flexibility and comfort. Think: compression sports bras or bike jerseys.
Medium impact: The vast majority of commercial activewear lines land here, offering an average level of support and performance capabilities for workouts like lifting weights and dancing.
Low impact: While you can be active in this type of apparel, it offers little support and performance-minded qualities. These athleisure styles are ideal for non-jumping workouts like yoga or hiking—or for a post-workout brunch.
Then, it’s time to choose your partner brands. There are thousands of activewear manufacturers on the market and some have much more experience than others. They also have a wide range of value systems. If your brand hosts yoga classes in nature, you may want to seek out a partner who lists sustainability in their mission. If diversity and inclusion is a core tenet of your business, look for a manufacturer with BIPOC and LGBTQ owners. Facebook groups, trade shows and online databases like the SaleHoo Wholesale Directory can help you find leads.
Then, ask about these details to find your perfect manufacturer match:
How much experience they have in activewear
The machinery and processes they use to bring their clothing to life
Lead times, ability to source materials you plan to use, current suppliers and brand partners (assuming this isn’t confidential)
Minimum order quantities
After finding the top three to five potential manufacturers that align with your needs and values, ask for samples so you can perform a quality assurance check. Study the seams and the material itself, then wear and wash the garments to see how they hold up.
The basic considerations to consider as you select your favorite:
Fabric: Do you want moisture-wicking or odor-resistant?
Fit and support: From super-fitted to loose and flowy, these details should reflect the item’s use and your brand’s aesthetic.
Paneling and ventilation: Determine if certain parts of the body could use more airflow or support.
Fabric weight: Consider the season and the activity intensity to determine if you want thicker or thinner fabric.
Reflective details: This is especially important for any activities performed outdoors.
Stitching: This should be comfortable, not irritate the skin and be sturdy enough for frequent wear and washing.
Once you select a production partner that fits your needs, it’s time to create your first collection. Zohar suggests starting with one item as you experiment with your offerings. “The more you add to your line-up, the more complicated it gets,” she says. As you weigh how to make a fitness clothing line that meets all your clients’ needs, remember that it should appeal to your target demographic while being inclusive of all genders and body sizes.
It’s now time to hand off the baton to your manufacturer and await your fitness clothing line’s arrival.
In the meantime, determine your sales plan so you’re ready to take off as soon as your branded apparel is delivered. You'll also need a place to store it, so line up a warehouse or storage space now, if needed.
Use the design renderings and sample units from your manufacturer to build out your online shop page, and make sure you can receive payments. (Read more about Wix Payments.) If you’re planning to sell in your gym as well, carve out space for a display.
Once you receive notifications that your first order is on the way, spread the news with on-premises signage and social media posts. Consider other marketing strategies that fit with your brand and your clients: Would a fashion show with your instructors or trainers draw attendance if you host it after class, serve smoothies and host a giveaway? Should you offer discounts or incentives for your most frequent gym visitors? Can you team up with regional influencers to spread the news?
05. Monitoring sales
Now is not the time to set and forget, Zohar says. It’s essential to keep track of sales, revenue and merchandise levels on a weekly (if not daily) basis. “Adding inventory too quickly is a sure way to go bankrupt. It took us two years to introduce a new style and it’s very slowly gaining speed,” she says of her Softwear line.
What’s selling—and what’s not—can tell you a lot about both your audience and your fitness clothing line. Ask for honest feedback from your members either in person or in a follow-up email survey.
“Your customer is always evolving and you can’t please them in every aspect as a small business," Zohar says. "Start by making one or two things really well."