How copycat brands are damaging the fitness clothing industry

At the age of just 18 years old, Michael Hughes created premium fitness clothing brand Pursue Fitness. In the following two years Michael has built the business into one of the UK’s leading fitness clothing brands with a rapidly growing customer base and huge social media community.

We met with Michael to find out:

– Where the rise of gym fashion has come from
– How the plague of copycat brands could threaten the industry
– How ambassadors can help brands reach their audience
– Where the gym fashion market is heading over the next five years

The Fitness Network:

Why has clothing become such an important part of the fitness industry?


I believe that one of the key drivers was JJB going bust. Other than massive brands like Nike and Adidas, and the JD Sports chain, there weren’t many other players in that space. Retail stores like Footasylum were starting to come up, but really there was a huge gap for smaller brands.

Today’s customer wants to buy clothes that they can wear outside of the gym. In that sense we’re providing for two different markets, not solely avid gym goers. The other change we’ve seen is that people don’t want a Stringer with huge text graphics printed all over it anymore. People want simplistic, minimal designs using the best fabrics, with the best fits.

Someone has to take the place of Nike and Adidas one day. First we saw the streetwear market explode, and then it happened in the gymwear market. Consumer trends have had an influence but the high street has had a bigger impact than most people think. And with so many people shopping online, brands are helping each other without even knowing. Competition is healthy. All of the brands are playing their role in growing the market.

“Someone has to take the place of Nike and Adidas one day.”


The Fitness Network:

Is copying particularly prevalent in the fitness clothing space?

Some of our competitors are quite lazy with their products, and it’s frustrating to see competitors blatantly copy products. For us, the main effort has gone into creating high-quality, unique products. When I look at Nike products now, I realise how hard it is for Nike to make such good products, and how difficult it must be to get to that level. But it’s far from impossible.

There are a cluster of brands that are doing well in the market, and a larger number of companies that are copying them. I don’t know if I want Pursue to be in that cluster of brands anymore. Competitors with smaller ambitions can sell at lower margins, and that is bad for the entire industry because it means there is less creativity and brings everyone into a price battle. For that reason I really like the premium clothing brands that operate in this space or the ones that bother to create a product from scratch.

“There are a cluster of brands that are doing well in the market, and a larger number of companies that are copying them.”


The Fitness Network:

Do you see brands like Pursue ever taking significant market share from the likes of Nike?


I think brands like Nike will start showing interest in buying brands like Pursue soon. Whether or not we entertain their interest will depend on where we are as a brand at that moment in time. We’re already taking market share from these brands; after all, customers have only got so much disposable income so if they’re buying our leggings, they’re probably not buying someone else’s.

The Fitness Network:

How important have influencers and celebrities been in developing the business?


To be honest I think people overestimate what a celebrity can do for their brand. They think that if someone with millions of followers tags you, you’ve made it! This activity does drive traffic and generate a few extra sales, but not as many as people think.

Sometimes it’s better to work with fitness models rather than celebrities, because their target market is more relevant. From the start I’ve tried to get as many athletes on board as possible. Instagram was far less saturated when we started.

It’s becoming more difficult to promote through Facebook too. Their algorithms are pushing ‘promotions’ right down the news feed. Athletes are promoting too many products and brands now, and many are doing it for the money rather than passion, and it doesn’t come across as authentic. Most people are shocked to hear about the cost of working with athletes. They don’t just get free clothing, you can pay thousands for someone to tag you a few times.

When it comes to Pursue, athletes have definitely helped get the brand on its feet, but I think the products have been the most important part. Our name makes sense and resonates with our target markets so fluently.

“People overestimate what a celebrity can do for their brand”

The Fitness Network:

What do you think the gym clothing market will look like in 5 years’ time?


The two trends will be high-end performance wear and extreme style, and brands will have to choose one of these paths to remain unique. We’ll definitely see more futuristic clothing. I also think that lots of the new brands will drop off pretty soon, they don’t have the same mindset as we do, or the same ambitions.


Posted in Fitness Fashion, Interviews, Most Popular Interviews, The Fitness Network.