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Doing the Heavy Lifting

Here’s how you can be the go-to decorator for gyms and fitness centers this year.

By James Andres, Contributing Writer

Stock styles that may appeal to fashion-forward gym rats, as well as non-apparel add-ons like tote bags, towels, etc. Photo provided by S&S Activewear.

March 4, 2021

Americans are resolving to make health-related goals a top priority in 2021, which is great news for fitness centers and gyms that experienced a severe downturn in 2020. In fact, 66% of people will be laser-focused on health-related goals like healthier eating, followed by fitness goals (54%), according to a YouGov survey that was conducted for the productivity-app creator Evernote.

“Fitness centers are among our shop’s top three markets, and it just keeps growing,” says Howard Potter, CEO of Utica, New York-based A&P Master Images. “Online stores are a big revenue generator for them, but you need to be the one leading the charge as to why they need to be working with you.”

What to Pitch
After an unprecedented year of pandemic-induced lockdowns and reduced-capacity requirements as a result of COVID-19, gyms and fitness facilities have been less full in 2021. As vaccinations help to slow the spread and enable people to feel more confident about working out indoors, there are lots of opportunities for you to present apparel programs and more to fitness chains and boutique locations.

Let’s break down a few options:
Front-of-house staff uniforms: Try offering face masks, polos or T-shirts, vests, hoodies and joggers.
Trainer and instructor uniforms: These staff members can benefit from sweatbands; masks; T-shirts and tank tops; leggings and joggers; shorts; and socks.

Member merch: Options include sweatbands; masks; T-shirts and tank tops; sports bras; leggings and joggers; shorts; and socks.

Before you start putting together apparel-program presentations for your gym clients, let’s run down some top trends for 2021.

1. Upscale hoodies: Everyone loves a soft, lightweight hoodie that can be worn year-round and layered with a sports bra and leggings, for example. These are an athleisure staple to stock, with a focus on high-quality fabrications and unique silhouettes or details.

2. Matching sets: Jump in feet first on the matching-tracksuit trend and extend it to in clude sports bras and leggings; crop tops and bike shorts; and so on. This makes it easy for gym goers to grab their coordinated pieces.

3. Performancewear: Pitch gear with moisture-wicking properties and other comfort features to your buyers. While they may be more expensive, they’ll be more effective for working out for the long haul.

4. All about the details: For those forward-fashion gym rats, stock styles with contrasting stripes, unique necklines, shoulders and cutouts. Eye-catching prints — tie-dyes, animal prints, stripes, florals, herringbone and camo — also are trendy.

“You can also think about items that gyms can hand out to members when they walk in the door,” says Kristine Shreve, a decorated-apparel industry expert. “Those items can include branded cloth face masks, hand towels or hand sanitizers.”

Bundles: Your Best Friend
Companies and schools started sending out work-from-home, learn-from-home and teach-from-home morale packs in 2020. Recipients love wearable and useful branded gifts, and when you bundle them in a reusable tote or branded box, opening it is even more exciting.

Try these methods for pitching bundles:
1. New year, new uniforms: Show customers new takes on uniforms for their front-of-house staff and instructors. If they’re on board with unveiling a fresh staff look, you can package uniform bundles for existing and new staffers with a note welcoming the latter to the gym family.

2. New year, new you: Lots of gyms are waiving registration fees or offering three months free for new members. Help sweeten the deal with a “Welcome New Member” pack; the possibilities are endless. Play with the product combinations to find the right mix.

Online Stores
For athletic clubs or gyms, an online store is almost a no-brainer. “Selling branded merch online and at a distance is a great option for gyms, especially in the current climate, where people still aren’t going out as much and staying at home when you can is still encouraged,” Shreve says.

If you’re not already creating custom apparel stores designed specifically for each of your customers, it’s time to start. Take a look at InkSoft, Printavo, OrderMyGear, DecoNetwork and Spirit Sale, for starters. Include tools like a 3-D virtual-mockup plugin so your clients can get a sense of how apparel will look with their logo on it.

Online stores should be zero-risk for your gym clients. “Online stores, coupled with order-fulfillment programs, are ideal for gyms and fitness customers,” says JP Hunt, co-founder of InkSoft. “Typically, these customers maintain a small retail presence to sell branded merchandise. Extend this retail presence online by offering a free, hosted online store to your customers.”

Here’s how it works: You upload eight to 10 in-demand apparel pieces, along with “want-to-wear” designs, into a customer’s branded store. Your client’s staffers, members and fans visit the link. When a buyer places an order, your shop receives it, prints the item and sends the piece to the recipient. Finally, you send the gym its cut of the profits.

A&P Master Images puts together deals to entice visitors to buy from these stores. “Sometimes we include special offers, like instructors or coaches can get one free T-shirt, courtesy of the fitness center,” Potter says. “We also use countdown clocks for specials.”

Gifting a new member with a welcome pack that includes a high-quality, printed tee or tank top — along with a coupon for 20% off their order in the gym’s online store — provides incentive for a new member to at least explore the available styles and designs. To up the ante, explain how you can keep the online store fresh and interesting all year by adding new styles and designs when the seasons change or during holidays.

James Andres is content manager for S&S Activewear. For more information or to comment on this article, email James at

4 Decoration Tips for Fitness-Club Apparel

1. Know the fabrications before printing. Athletic apparel typically is constructed with technical and specialized fabrics that can create printing challenges. “Consider dye
migration and issues related to heat applications to ensure you don’t spoil blanks,” says JP Hunt, co-founder of InkSoft. “Lean on your ink and supply partners for decoration tips and best practices.”

2. Meld the message and decoration. The “wear-your-message” trend will continue in 2021, in more simplistic one- or two-color designs, which Millennials and Gen-Zers love. Start with interesting typography and pair it with the gym’s logo or simple, strong imagery to tap into people’s love for the graphic tee. You also can create a stacked, repeated-text design in different colors or go super minimalist with a simple, but big-and-bold font.

3. Look at what’s trending. When considering artwork and decoration trends for athleisure, Hunt recommends looking at Peloton apparel for inspiration and examples of what’s trending in branded athleisure. “Keep in mind that athletic apparel is all about comfort and performance,” he says. “The print and decoration shouldn’t conflict.”

4. Work out your placement. Since matching tracksuits and coordinated sets are trending, you’ve got plenty of real estate to imprint. If you want to make a big statement with tracksuits, try printing the gym’s name or message down sleeves or legs. If your clients shy away from that design approach, mention that there’s still plenty of space on the hoodie’s front and back for artwork to be added.