Covid-19 stokes interest in health and fitness, and sportswear chains such as Lululemon, Decathlon, and Sweaty Betty reap the benefits



a woman holding a football ball: A fitness event sponsored by Decathlon in Hong Kong. The French sportswear chain avoided opening in Hong Kong for years because rents were too high, and only now is expanding as rents fall further amid an exodus of luxury stores from the city.


A fitness event sponsored by Decathlon in Hong Kong. The French sportswear chain avoided opening in Hong Kong for years because rents were too high, and only now is expanding as rents fall further amid an exodus of luxury stores from the city.

When British activewear brand Sweaty Betty opened its first store in Hong Kong in October 2019 – a small boutique in the upscale IFC Mall – the city’s retail industry was in the early stages of what would become one of its worst slumps in history.

Following months of anti-government protests that caused frequent temporary store closures, especially on weekends, and a plunge in arrivals of high-spending visitors from China, Hong Kong’s retail scene had by then been severely impacted.

The start of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020 and the ensuing global economic downturn that shows no signs of abating have dealt yet another blow to the city’s formerly thriving retail sector.

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Since then, luxury labels such as Prada, Valentino and Chloe, and high-street brands such as Victoria’s Secret and Gap have shut stores in the city or left Hong Kong altogether.



a store inside of a building: The exterior of the new Decathlon store in Hong Kong's Central district, which opened this month.


© Provided by South China Morning Post
The exterior of the new Decathlon store in Hong Kong’s Central district, which opened this month.

You would have been forgiven for thinking that the launch of a new brand in Hong Kong at such a difficult time would be doomed to fail.

Barely a year after its first foray into the Hong Kong market, however, Sweaty Betty has expanded its retail footprint with two more shops: one in Fashion Walk, in the prime shopping district of Causeway Bay, and the other in the K11 Musea mall on the Kowloon waterfront.

Sweaty Betty’s founder on inspiring women to change their lifestyles

Sweaty Betty is not the only international brand that has increased its presence in Hong Kong in recent months. Decathlon, the French sporting goods retailer that already operates a store in Causeway Bay, has just unveiled two new stores in Hong Kong: one in Central district, in a space that formerly housed the flagship of leather-goods brand MCM, and the other in Kowloon Bay.

Lululemon, the Canadian performance wear brand known for selling upmarket workout gear, opened a store in Hong Kong’s largest mall, Harbour City, at the height of the pandemic, celebrating with a collection of very decadent Swarovski-embellished leggings that cost HK$6,588 (US$850) a pair.

It’s hard not to notice that all three companies are in the fitness industry, and their growth reflects a global trend: amid one of the worst health and economic crises in recent history, fitness and wellness are booming.



a man sitting in a room: Clothing from Lululemon's On the Move collection.


© Provided by South China Morning Post
Clothing from Lululemon’s On the Move collection.

Sportswear giants like Nike have been weathering the pandemic better than most international apparel and footwear brands. “We’re getting stronger in the places that matter most,” said Nike CEO