From celebrity-endorsed lines to the catwalk seal of approval, the activewear market is honouring its namesake with an ascent from gym floor necessity to high fashion must-have in record time.
The word ‘Athleisure’ is firmly established in the fashion lexicon, but now its sartorial legacy and journalistic legitimacy are also cemented, courtesy of the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, which made its definition official in April of this year. Its formal description? “Casual clothing designed to be worn for both exercising and for general use.” It’s the latter half of this definition that is most pertinent. Much as the bulk of the word itself is dominated by the word ‘leisure’, so too is its day-to-day raison d’etre. Yoga pants, sports bras and running trainers were once the unglamorous articles that you would never have been caught dead in off the gym floor. Now, being perceived to lead a healthy, active lifestyle is aspirational and sportswear is a new-age status symbol, elevated to high fashion status (with price points for ‘premium’ brands escalating accordingly).
It’s safe to say that in 2016, Carrie Bradshaw would have traded in her Jimmy Choos for a pair of Common Projects, as one of the main casualties of the athleisure trend is the stiletto. Previously holding the title as the fashion world’s prerequisite footwear, according to data provided by research company NPD Group, sales of pumps have fallen over 12 per cent in the past two years. Meanwhile, sales of high fashion sneakers have grown. Whether Bradshaw and co. would also swap their Saturday night catch ups over a swanky dinner for a Sunday brunch of avo on rye is irrelevant. If you buy Lucas Hugh leggings to wear while pounding it out in a spin class, or to window shop in the mall, you’re perceived as someone who’s conscious about wellness – the “health is wealth” mantra has now fully infiltrated every area of our worlds, even our wardrobes.
“Athleisure is a lifestyle trend, not a fashion trend,” affirms Clare Varga, WGSN’s Active Director. “It has become a global phenomenon over the last year, dominating the global apparel market and stealing market share from non-athletic apparel, with more and more people globally choosing activewear, whether they are working out or not. And, it’s not a trend that’s going anywhere soon – for one thing, it’s just too damn comfy for people to give up!” Its comfort stems from a greater emphasis on cut and construction to traditional functional spandex. Lululemon, one of the key purveyors of sought-after spandex, have focused their product strategy on new pant categories such as “hugged, naked, relaxed, tight and held in”. Each one serves a specific purpose in their customer’s life, whether it’s fitness fans opting for the stylish, supportive fits of the tighter offerings, or those looking for the attractive, comfortable, looser fits for more casual settings. And, their approach is paying off: According to a recent Financial Times article, the brand posted a 16 per cent growth in overall sales this year, jumping from $391 million a year ago to $453 million this year. Established sportswear labels like Nike are successfully incorporating more trend-led pieces into their offerings, too.
The global sportswear market as a whole is anticipated to grow around 24 percent by 2020, hitting an estimated value of $350 billion dollars. Within this, sales of active apparel alone are forecast to reach an astonishing $178 billion. This is very much due to the burgeoning number of people who are eager to push the boundaries of sportswear. From prestigious restaurants to high powered business meetings, there are few occasions for which atheleisure is now deemed inappropriate. “ ‘Athleisure’ conveniently sums up the lifestyle trend for sportswear as everyday wear, but for me, it is no longer satisfactory as it simply does not reflect the individual consumers – the #AllDayActives, the #Ath-Fakers and the #ProteinPrincesses – that have emerged within it,” says Varga.“Simply put, all practitioners of ‘athleisure’ are not the same.”
Athleisure is not a trend that’s going anywhere soon – for one thing, it’s just too damn comfy for people to give up!
Clare Varga, Active Director, WGSN
Varga identifies the ‘#AllDayActive’ groups as the gym junkies, who want to balance their five-days-a-week workouts with a demanding 9-5 career. By mixing functional sports pieces with more formal day wear, they’ve give athleisure the corporate seal of approval. “Brands like ADAY do quite tailored pieces that utilise performance fabrics – they have stretch, and are anti- bacterial, anti-odour, etc. These pieces take you from your cycle commute to the office and beyond,” says Varga. “I still don’t think it’s totally acceptable to turn up to work in full gym kit, but sneakers with tailoring or a pair of statement leggings with heels its totally do-able. It’s all about the hi-low mix.” Perhaps working in clothes that we are used to speeding around in make us more functional in the workplace, too. Nike’s novel “AeroReact” material can detect when the wearer is about to start sweating and loosen itself up just before that happens. How helpful would that be for your next big presentation. Feeling uncomfortable, constricted or in any way inhibited (a snug pencil skirt or wobbly high heels) can affect our confidence, but if you feel at ease in what you’re wearing, you’re guaranteed to feel emotionally equipped to deal with whatever the working days has to offer, too. One athleisure enthusiast, who agrees that comfort-dressing is a psychological pursuit, is Laurel Pantin, editorial director of The Coveteur. Having ditched stilettos, comfort now equates to confidence for Pantin: “I feel more comfortable with myself, so I don’t feel like I have to try as hard. Part of that is wearing what I want to wear and feel good in, versus what I think I should be wearing.”
Another important athleisure style tribe that Varga identified are the #Ath-Fakers and the #Fash-Leisures. If you wear activewear for every activity because it’s incredibly comfortable, welcome to the #Ath-Faker crew. Meanwhile the #Fash-Leisure tribe are all about styling, look and labels, but are unlikely to see the inside of a gym as often as the inside of a changing room – fitness and an active lifestyle are not important in their choices and they see function and comfort as bonuses. Both are considered to be style conscious and brand savvy, and are more likely than their sports nut peers to buy into the booming athleisure celebrity collaboration offering. Varga calls it ‘The New Celebrity Perfume’ as its appeal has been so broad, with everyone from Behati Prinsloo to Beyonce launching their own line of activewear. “It’s another reflection of just how important fitness and well-being is right now and it’s really important for celebs to be ‘seen working out’ and living this aspirational lifestyle,” says Varga.The benefit to the sports brands is a dramatic sales uplift by associating with a celebrity or supermodel, who has a huge social media following, over an athlete with a more niche following.
Aside from celebrity endorsed lines, the catwalk has been even more integral to the dissemination of casual dressing. Alexander Wang and buzzy French streetwear label Vetements established themselves as icons of elevated sportswear, and now, plenty more luxury labels want in on the athleisure explosion. Mara Hoffman, Rebecca Minkoff, Tory Burch and Derek Lam (in partnership with Athleta) are the latest designers to launch specialised sports lines, satisfying our need for a gym kit that we may decide not to work out in after all. Seasonal athleisure trends have emerged from this high fashion foray into activewear. Until about a year ago, fitness didn’t really do trends, but recently, we’ve identified a range of specific trends, from the rise and fall of mesh panels to the recent popularity of bigger placement patterns and color- blocking for spring/summer 2016. A host of new luxury labels focusing solely on sportswear and ecommerce sites catering solely to activewear have also launched in recent months.
The future of activewear looks even brighter, following reports that a number of venture capitalists are investing in premium sports brands. Montage Ventures and Winklevoss Capital Management have both invested in new e-tailer Carbon 38, and General Catalyst, the original backers of Snapchat and Airbnb, have backed US fitness brand Outdoor Voices. Varga’s trend-predicting crystal ball tells us that the youth market is also set to explode in line with the rise of the ‘Fitness Millennial’.“I’d also keep an eye on the beauty industry as we’re seeing a lot of intersections between sports and beauty,” she adds. “It’s a natural extension from the health and well- being trend and we are already seeing both gyms and beauty departments – such as the FaceGym in Selfridges London – offering a facial workout, which is just like a normal workout and includes a warm-up, cardio, strength work and cool downs.” Does this mean our makeup and skincare are set to get a sporty makeover in the near future? For now, watch this space.