The Silver Economy is a production, distribution and consumption system destined to elderly people over 65 years old in order to satisfy their needs and facilitate their lifestyles. Today, earth has never had that many people over 65 years old, that are still active and having physical activities. So let’s see why and how sportswear brands could settle in the silver economy and become a key actor of this industry.
1 – The senior consumer market is skyrocketing, and 2020 sanitarian issues might have boosted the trend
There are no better ways to show the global expansion of the elderly population than numbers !
According to the 2019 United Nations World Population Prospect, in 2050, one sixth (16%) of the world population will be over 65 years old against 11% today. And one fourth of the North American and European population will be over 65. Same dynamic for China where one-third of the population will be over 60 years old in 2060. This growth is principally due to the decreasing fertility in developed and developing countries added to the evolution of medicine.
Therefore, people over 65 are and will be increasingly more active in terms of working, consumption and physical activities. That is why sportswear brands could already think on this particular segment that is no longer a niche of consumers, but a growing category.
But the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic also helped on different aspects, to facilitate the way to understand and reach that consumer market. Indeed, Covid-19 has principally affected the oldest population, but that threat brought massive investments and innovations to help this population to live with the virus, stay healthy and keep on consuming while they where confined.
The pandemic has accelerated the awareness of digital consumption that was one of the greatest obstacle for brands to reach out this particular target. According to a Mintel study over 2000 internet users over 16 years old, 43% of people over 65 increased their e-commerce activity compared with 42% amongst all adults. It will be easier to reach via social networks (particularly Facebook for this group) and mailing strategies that will strengthen consumer engagement and awareness.
Moreover the tech world focused on the health innovation to facilitate elderly lifestyles. In 2020 the connected health sector worth 58 billion dollars and will grow exponentially in the future. It is a way for sportswear brands to work on innovation and textile technologies to target older consumers that are fond of technologies that can facilitate their physical activity and comfort. In a era where the 5G networks will interconnect every smart devices, there would be new innovations in the textile industry, complementing adaptive clothing with technologies that will help senior customers to exercise and track their health indicators, and we will explore this new opportunity later!
2 – Who is the senior sportswear consumer?
Over 60-to-65 sportswear consumers are principally amongst Western and Developed countries middle to the upper class, in the second half of the baby boomer generation (born between 1955 and 1964). They are still having an active lifestyle, practicing a physical activity and consuming frequently. Their consuming power is stronger than younger generations such as Millennials. In the US an Euromonitor report in 2020 revealed that 70% of the available income was kept by people over 55 years old.
As the content strategist at Oracle Mia McPherson who supervised a 2017 report on Millennials vs Baby Boomers said, “Millennials have the power and boomers have the money”. If you thought that oldest consumers spent less money than younger generations, you might think differently now. According to a US nation wide study from Live Area, the highest payer per purchase are baby boomers with 173$ against 101$ for the others. That would mean for sportswear brands that it is possible to target older consumers, grow a strong brand fidelity and communicate new products constantly via digital tools. Because as we’ve seen before those old consumers are no longer unaware of social media, e-mailing advertising and using and e-commerce to purchase new products.
In terms of sports activities, senior categories obviously focus on activities that are adapted to their health condition and lifestyle. The competitive aspects are lower than younger generations and the fun and healthy aspect gains more importance. Favourite senior activities in Western countries vary from aerobic, fitness, yoga, pilate, to swimming activities, bike rinding, walking, nordic walking, hiking and others. And we might believe that senior don’t practice a lot but in 2017, according to a Europa study, in the European Union 44.5% of the population between 65 and 74 trained at least 3 hours per week, against 43.2% for the 50-64 category. Or even in Australia in 2019 the group Fitness Australia released a report where baby boomers spend the most hours doing physical activities with 364 hours per year against 281 hours for adults under 40 years old!
The idea where old people do not exercise, or just need to take a stroll per day is bygone. Today over 65 consumers are clearly more active and are asking for products that are adapted to their needs.
And if we could resume them in two words, the senior category needs comfort and adaptability. A garment has to help the customer to feel free to move his body, or just to feel comfortable while hiking in the mountains for instance. It isn’t a big challenge for sportswear brands that have already worked on those needs for a long time, but maybe didn’t focus enough on building a communication strategy towards that particular target.
3 – The textile world is innovating and helps to imagine which strategies sportswear brands could use to exploit the great market opportunities of the silver economy.
One of the main issue for senior customers is to use sports gear that are easy to wear and most of all, adapted to their bodies and physical issues. Adaptive clothing is a new genre of textiles that are made for customers with strong to light disabilities in order to facilitate their lifestyles. In the mainstream fashion market, Tommy Hilfiger already launched its Tommy Adaptive collections where we can see different garment adapted to be worn easily for people with a disability. Or the American retailer Zappos has created an adaptive category where each adaptive product from great sportswear and fashion brands like Nike or Converse are grouped in that specific category.
The tech industry has bet since a decade on the textile sector to combine fashion and science together. Today the research is mature enough to bring new products that will allow the senior category (with other categories also) to have “Smart Clothes” that are able to help you to perform, get information about your body and recover well. This tech revolution will give new opportunities to adapt sportswear with ageing and health issues that can help seniors to practice more physical activities, always with comfort and feel like in their early twenties !
The Canadian tech group Myant has created a smart underwear line using sensors that can track you heart rate, hydration, temperature, activity or bodyfat and transferring all those datas on connected devices such as your smart phone to track your physical condition. The brand targets young to old consumers to offer them more understanding of their bodies.
The brand called “Nanowear” worked since 2014 on using nanotechnology with millions of sensors inside an activewear garment, tracking heart diseases or lungs issues weeks before reaching critical states.
As we mentioned before, comfort is the principal need for senior sportswear consumers. As hiking, walking or nordic walking are one of the most popular activities for elderly populations, the Heated Jacket made by the brand Ministry of Supply offers a winter vest that uses a portable battery to heat the jacket via carbon pads with different levels of heat that can be controlled from a smartphone. That kind of innovation could also be the future of the silver economy sportswear, where technology would allow more comfort during physical activities.
It is now obvious that the old consumer population shows growth opportunities for clothing brands today. But this fact is still not fully accepted and the idea that old people don’t spend, don’t care about fashion and don’t practice a sport seriously remains strong. However, some brands use disruptive communication strategies where the senior target is represented as well as younger ones.
The French luxury retailer Printemps chose to have an inclusive strategy and uses senior models to wear clothes that aren’t just made for old people. We can see their senior models wearing the last Balenciaga and Off-White vests and also small niche luxury brands. This strategy gives a refreshing image of senior consumers, attracts them more than before and gives a good proof that if luxury brands start using senior models, sportswear brands could try that disruptive strategy to target older consumers as well as the young ones.
The silver economy is a growing system where sportswear could build a strategy destined to target more elderly consumers. The world is ageing, meaning that the old consumer mass is growing fast. The senior category is often stereotyped and not represented enough by brands who prefer to focus on younger targets. Nevertheless, this growing population has everything now to let the sportswear market build a strategy. This target practices a physical activity weekly, consumes and has a high purchasing power that could allow sportswear brands to invest on collections that are adapted to their needs. Technologies are changing the textile industry and might help to focus on older targets who need to track their health condition or who would need more comfort that a smart garment could offer perfectly.
In order to adapt sportswear to the silver economy, the main focus would be the ability for brands to break the clichés about seniors, and use the increasing digitalisation of this consumer market to advertise, with a fresher identity and representation active consumers over 65 years old.