Gearing up for sports

As the shadow of the pandemic slowly subsides, people are coming out in hordes to indulge in outdoor activities. That spells a good omen for the sports gear market which had shrunk in the recent past, Anju Munshi reports
Among the learning from the devastating effect of the pandemic is that fitness builds up immunity and that it is absolutely essential to stay healthy. Now that the worst is over and people are stepping out, ‘revenge buying’ in the festive season is making news. Among the items in this ‘feeling free’ atmosphere are casual dresses fit for outdoor and indoor sports and accessories.
The return of people to the outdoor space, resuming their outdoor activities, be it a long walk, cycling, or playing soccer and cricket needs adequate clothing so far unnecessary under the cooped up Covid restriction days. Hence, there is a big rush for buying sportswear like shoes, T-shirts, etc. so much so that even the number of roadside hawkers and traders is swelling up to meet the demand for sports gear, swimwear, sneakers, tennis and squash racquets, to name a few.
Small shops that survived in the lanes beside the famous New Market, or around the Esplanade area in central Kolkata, are making their outlets look snazzy and attractive, to invite a good footfall.
“Sales are good and the colour is back in the market. They are not only changing the looks of their outlets but also upgrading their stocks, ‘Made in Thailand’, being the highest scorer”, says Chandni Barua, whose two school going sons love playing hockey and cricket. “I have stocked up a couple of pairs lest the stocks finish.”
“As an industry, I feel that the demand is so overwhelming that the supply chain is running behind. Like in the case of tennis balls there’s a waiting time of several months. Some years back a shoe meant a shoe, but today different pairs of shoes are marked for different activities. Running shoes are not used as casual shoes and vice-versa, says Adeep Kapoor, managing partner of GK Sports, Kolkata, happy at the brisk sales after a prolonged lull.
Shoe outlets from the familiar Bata to Decathlon are busy stacking up to meet the ever-growing demand for sports gear.
Iqbal Ahmed of Smart Shoes, a small outlet near New Market couldn’t have had it better. “With the festive season approaching which also means holidays, people are buying shoes suitable for treks. Some even want typical beach slippers for the holidays by the sea.”
There are trekking, hiking shoes, mountaineering gear where shoes become even more important. “These hike or trek trails are challenging, and the feet need a good grip,” says Ajith Sivakumar, a regular hiker and trekker. He informs that there are low cut, mid cut and high cut shoes for casual to high intensity climbs.
Yoga mats, skipping ropes, dumbbells, rackets for tennis and squash, are all flying off the shelves, a good indicator of people’s new consciousness about healthcare benefits.
Home gymnasiums are also a new trend, says Adeep. “Despite being regular gym users, people are going in for an alternate home gym buying up some bare minimum stuff – simple things like dumbbells, resistance bands and tubes, gym balls and other small equipment. This speaks of an unspoken anxiety- ‘What if the lockdown comes back?’”
The cyclists’ community has mushroomed and this time a new crop has emerged , an enthusiastic bunch of middle-aged men and women, who spent most of their lives in the domesticity of homes and kitchens or their respective workplaces, waking up to the merits of exercising.
“We are a big group of men and women peddling in the early morning with great zeal. The cycling gear is hugely expensive. From buying cycles to our head gear along with the gloves and the right kind of shoes especially if you want to buy branded goods. So, we need cheaper substitutes, easy on the pocket but high on durability,” says Shefali Dastidar, a mother of two and herself a bank employee. Her day starts at 4.30 am and then follows a brisk cycling trail of thirty kilometers. She is back by seven and then gets her children and herself ready for the day.
Clubs are now organising outdoor tournaments to ensure adequate usage of the club facilities; schools are encouraging out- field inter school activities too. all this has given a boost to the sports gear market. (TWF)