Gymshark: A Pioneer in Influencer Marketing
November 3, 2022
By: Frank Liu
As we enter the demanding, studious stretch between Halloweekend and Thanksgiving, midterms and assignments make it harder to do the things that keep us healthy and happy which, for many of us, means working out. Though far from empty, Palladium and 404 now look completely different from the cramped, restless conditions they were in during orientation week. Regardless of the number of people, one thing that you’ll consistently find in any gym is someone wearing a t-shirt from Gymshark, a UK-based training apparel company.
Courtesy of Gymshark
To lifters, Gymshark is a household name; there’s a good chance someone who’s bought gym equipment like a belt or straps also has at least one piece of Gymshark clothing. The company, valued at over $1B, has reigned as an athleisure apparel industry leader for nearly a decade. Gymshark has expanded beyond the limits of clothing, having achieved the end goal of every brand: integrating itself with a lifestyle.
Origins of a Fitness Apparel Giant
Ben Francis, Gymshark’s CEO, built the company from humble beginnings. In 2011, a then-19-year-old Francis founded the brand as an unprofitable supplement dropshipping company before pivoting to fitness apparel after noticing gaps in the market. After spending all his savings on a screen printer and sewing machine, Francis began handmaking stringer vests and selling them through an online website; additionally, Francis decided to use emerging social media platforms to gradually build a consumer base.
To further promote Gymshark, Francis sent samples of Gymshark apparel to popular fitness influencers like Lex Griffin and Jeff Seid, asking them to wear the clothing as a means of advertising. This novel form of advertising turned out to be a highly effective and low-cost medium, boosting sales revenue to around $350 a day. The pivotal moment in Gymshark’s rise to popularity was Francis’ decision to garner various Gymshark-sponsored athletes at a UK fitness expo — named BodyPower — for a meet and greet.
Gymshark’s first appearance at the BodyPower expo in 2013
The athletes solidified themselves as an elite group of leaders in the fitness space, all connected by their relationship with Gymshark. The brand’s newfound prestige and the influencers’ collective audience vitalized the company. Gymshark grew from generating daily revenue of $350 to $50,000 in sales in just 30 minutes from one product. Since then, the brand has continued to skyrocket in growth and success, expanding to 900+ staff, dozens upon dozens of sponsored athletes, and 200% year-on-year growth.
Analyzing Gymshark's Success
Gymshark’s boom and continued expansion are, as with any successful entrepreneurial venture, the product of careful planning, development, and toil. Contrary to popular belief, immensely elaborate marketing schemes or intricate organizational structures are not always necessary for entrepreneurial success; Gymshark’s story is exemplary of using basic innovation and analysis to generate revenue.
Capitalizing on Niche Markets and Growing Trends
In the early 2010s, gym culture was in its early stages; the community was beginning to grow from a small group to more of a nationwide phenomenon. Alongside this, Francis noticed that there was a lack of desirable workout apparel for younger gym-goers. Brands either sold baggy, stretched-out t-shirts or unaffordable, function-based gear — neither of which was fashionable or widely popular. Identifying this gap, Francis conceptualized Gymshark, which aimed at making affordable, fashionable, and comfortable clothing.
By identifying this glaring need and creating a solutional product, Gymshark was able to quickly rise in popularity, providing a unique selling proposition distinct from companies in the broader competitive market. The brand’s product line, consisting of breathable hoodies, tanks and beaters, creative t-shirts, leggings, and the like are both relevant and affordable for the teens and young adults that look to buy them. Taking advantage of a heavily underserved niche and conforming to the characteristics and needs of the target market has allowed Gymshark to establish itself as a singular pioneer, poised for opportunity.
Another contributing piece to Gymshark’s success is the immense growth of the gym athleisure apparel subindustry; now, Tiktok and Instagram pages are flooded with lifting content and videos of Lexx Little screaming “we go jim”. Health and fitness accounts have been a growing trend on social media, generating a following from young audiences; the activewear apparel market in 2020 was poised to grow at a CAGR of 11% up until 2024. Gymshark has managed to take advantage of this immense growth, even reaching unicorn status during the COVID era.
Influencer-Based Marketing Strategy
Undoubtedly, the most important part of Gymshark’s growth has been its marketing strategy. Gymshark was one of the first companies to utilize influencer marketing alongside the emergence of social media — the initial 18 sponsored influencers combined for a following of over 20 million people, pushing sales upwards. This relationship between a brand and influencers is mutually beneficial; influencers gain authority, social proof, and a community while the brand is given an inexpensive (in comparison to other paid media) medium to develop brand equity, popularity, and profit.
Four popular fitness influencers posing with Gymshark stringers
Gymshark later evolved their influencer partners into brand ambassadors, referred to as “Gymshark athletes”. In the fitness space, a Gymshark sponsorship is akin to a seal of approval for lifting influencers — even those that have since left the program are often referred to as “ex-Gymshark”. Because of this, numerous events, photos, or trends are often connected to the company, giving the brand immense influence and iconic status. In many ways, Gymshark is synonymous with the lifting lifestyle and has been an instrumental part of shaping the community.
Frank Liu is part of the Fall 2022 Content Committee. He is a Freshman at NYU Stern looking to pursue Finance and Data Science.