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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

Is Subway Healthy? Court Ruling About Chain’s Bread Contains Surprise Findings

If you have been eating Subway thinking it’s a healthier fast-food option, then you may need to change your thinking, as the sandwich chain has come under fire in an Irish court ruling which says the bread their famous footlongs are made on cannot be defined as such thanks to the amounts of sugar in it.

According to The Guardian, the Irish Supreme Court rules that under Ireland’s Value-Added Tax Act of 1972, the amount of sugar in the chain’s bread us also unable to be defined as a Staple food due to the amount of sugar, which is five times the amount that qualifies it as a staple food under the act, which gives staple foods VAT exemption.

The Value-Added Tax states that the sugar allowed in a bread product cannot be more than 2% of the total weight of flour in the dough, but all of the bread options in Subway’s chain contain about 10% sugar content, ABC Affiliate WFTS reports.

The ruling came from an appeal by franchisee Bookfinders Ltd.

“The argument depends on the acceptance of the prior contention that the Subway heated sandwich contains ‘bread’ as defined, and therefore can be said to be food for the purposes of the Second Schedule rather than confectionary. Since that argument has been rejected, this subsidiary argument must fail,” the ruling stated.

The ruling does not affect how the bread or sandwiches are classified anywhere else, including the United States, but it could be a small setback since the company has made their name on claims of making sandwiches that were healthier alternatives to traditional fast food, and even used former spokesman Jared Fogle in tons of commercials and advertisements, where he claimed to have lost 245 pounds by combining a diet of the sandwiches and exercise. He remained as the spokesperson until 2015 when the company parted ways with him after he was convicted of possession of child pornography and traveling to pay for sex with minors.

According to information that can be downloaded from the company’s website, bread including the Italian White, 9-Grain Wheat, Italian Herb and Cheese and Sourdough all contain 3g of sugar in a 6” serving. When a sandwich increases to Footlong size, those numbers are doubled to 6g of sugar per sandwich. The 9-grain Honey Oat and Roasted Garlic Bread also contain 5g and 4 g respectively in a 6” sandwich.

As for the sandwiches themselves, the company still prides itself on having “Fresh Fit” options, which include the Black Forest Ham, Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki, Turkey Breast and Veggie Delite Sandwiches. Still, when prepared standard and served on 9-grain wheat bread with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, green peppers and cucumbers, the Black Forest Ham, for example, still contains 260 calories, 4g fat and 8g sugar.

Subway Sandwich A Subway sandwich is seen in a restaurant.  Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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