Signs say it's not on it's way out. Here's where we think the activewear industry is going.
These days, everyone knows that athleisure is a big deal. (It's even in the dictionary.) Leggings are the popular weekend wardrobe of choice, and many don active pieces not only to get their sweat on, but also to head to the office, go out to brunch, and just hang around the house. Activewear has become so favored in the past few years that its ubiquity isn't really news anymore. Some have said, though, that a certain point the bubble has to burst. It's true, every trend eventually has its downfall, but according to market data and industry experts, there is a convincing case to be made that active fashion is here to stay. (BTW, check out these fashion-meets-fitness Instagrammers who are killing the athleisure game.)
In late 2014, WWD reported the big news that activewear was beginning to overtake the denim market, which is traditionally thought of as a major money-maker in the women's apparel industry. They covered the findings of market research group NPD, who said that during a 12-month period ending in October 2014, activewear sales rose 8 percent while denim sales declined 8 percent. That might not sound like a lot, but when you're talking consumer markets, 8 percent can make a big difference—the total activewear sales for that same period was 35.1 billion dollars. That's a lot of money spent on spandex, right? Just earlier this month, research firm Slice Intelligence found that women order more leggings than jeans when they shop online. In fact, in the past year, online orders of leggings have increased by 41 percent, whereas denim orders have only increased 3 percent. This may sound familiar or not depending on where you live, since the researchers found that people in the northeast and midwest especially prefer leggings, and those on the west coast are more likely to buy jeans. Overall, though, the data paints a pretty clear picture: For now, activewear is here to stay.
Jennifer Bandier, owner of active fashion destination BANDIER, explains that the meaning of athleisure has certainly changed over the past couple of years."When we first started BANDIER in 2014, there were so many new activewear brands launching at the same time," she says. "Consumers were excited to learn about new brands and put together workout outfits that expressed their personal style." It's true: Before the popularization of athleisure, there were a few activewear options, and it was much harder to actually express your personal style with workout clothes. Now, you can find something to sweat in for every style sensibility. "Since then, fashion has become so inspired by sport. Mixing active pieces with ready to wear is the new norm. All designers are catering to the next generation consumer who leads an active lifestyle and wants items that can seamlessly translate from the street to the gym and back again. We call this 'Active Fashion.'" It makes sense that as more and more people make working out an integral part of their lives, they care more about their workout clothes.
In terms of mainstream fashion, designer collaborations have become an expected course of action for active brands, from Givenchy's Ricardo Tisci designing capsule collections for Nike to Stella McCartney's long-standing collaboration with Adidas. It's also undeniable at this point that high-end designers are being influenced by athleisure's popularity. Just look at the runways and you'll see sneakers on models' feet, sweatpants paired with high heels, and bodycon crop tops that can just as easily be worn on a night out as they could to a dance cardio class. Bandier notes that influencers have played a major role in this shifting of gears. "The fashion industry is inspired by today's 'it-girls' and tastemakers who wear leggings all the time, pair Nike sneakers with dresses and incorporate active, bodycon components into their overall look," she says. "Wellness is not a trend, it's a new awareness that we don't believe will go away. We are trying to cater to this new, highly educated consumer by creating a one-stop-shop for the best clothing, accessories, footwear, fitness and beauty that complements an active lifestyle." It sounds like other retailers would be smart to follow suit.
Another activewear giant, Lululemon, is taking a related approach. "More and more people are leading active lives and are looking for gear to support them in all of their sweaty pursuits," says Ebru Ercon, VP of the brand's Sweat category for women. "I am incredibly excited to see the activewear industry evolve. As an originator brand, we want to invent the future for the market we created by focusing on superior craftsmanship, innovating new fabrics and technologies and providing functional solves for our guest." For Lululemon, this has meant trying out concepts like their Lab collection, where customers can buy everything from a suit made out of high-performance material to a high tech rain jacket. The company also believes in the importance of incorporating high fashion into their designs and vice versa. Ercon cites their forthcoming winter collection as evidence. "We have created a collection where we've partnered with haute-couture textile artist, Janaina Milheiro, to create incredibly intricate and beautiful prints on new and guest-favorite silhouettes: combining beauty and function."
This summer, Bloomberg released a report that customers in China (one of the world's most important markets) were choosing active pieces over traditional luxury goods. Of this trend, Ercon says "it comes down to function and versatility. We pride ourselves in creating the most valuable product for our guests, which means investing in functionality." In other words, most people would rather have a pair of versatile black leggings they can wear in a variety of situations instead of a pair of high-end black sequined pants that can only be worn a few times a year. "Our guests are able to look beautiful in products that are reversible, sweat-wicking and offer anti-abrasion: features that aren't traditionally found in premium goods," she explains. Performance is now a key element—one that customers prefer to fancier-looking styles. Bandier agrees, noting that "while leggings from our designer collaborations may be priced higher than average, each designer piece is high quality, thoughtfully constructed, and a lot less expensive than the designer's ready to wear or couture collections." True that.
So when it comes down to it, there are two main reasons that workout clothes aren't going anywhere. Firstly, we know how important exercising is for both physical and mental health, and that's not going to change. Secondly, activewear offers two things that most other clothes do not: performance and comfort. Why wear traditional office trousers if you can get away with treggings? Why wear a regular blazer when you can buy a sweat-proof, water-resistant, and odor-resistant one? (Scope more active-inspired career wear here.) Of course, not every office allows these types of items, but we wouldn't be surprised if they become more commonplace as designs improve and become more available.
And even if not everyone is buying the latest, trendiest designer pieces, we think these larger trends are here to stay:
1. Wearing sneakers with everything
The answer is pretty much always yes, you can wear sneakers with that. With a fancy dress? Yup. A suit? Yup. The sky's the limit. Classic and all-white styles are easiest to pair with fancier outfits, but as long as you like the combo, you really can't go wrong. (Here's some more day-to-night athleisure inspo so you can wear your sneaks all day.)
2. Leggings as pants
When worn with a cozy sweater, silky button down or turtleneck, they feel 100% sophisticated and are an acceptable replacement for pants. Add low-cut ankle boots and a bomber or moto-jacket and you have a complete look. Important note: in order for your leggings to count as pants, they must be completely opaque.
3. Workout crop + skirt for a night out
A workout crop top is just as good as a fashion-y one, plus it's way more comfortable. Pair it with a high-waisted skirt, pants or jean shorts depending on the look you're going for.
4. Moto and bomber jackets
Throw one over any athletic outfit and you're set.
5. A long coat over workout clothes
This is a such a simple but awesome trick. Throw a long coat in a neutral color over colorful workout clothes and no one will know you never changed after the gym.