Combining functionality and sleek minimalist design, athleisure wear has played a major role in Running Wear’s resurgence on the fashion scene. This trend, supporting “transition” moments with leggings and other yoga pants which can be worn anytime, anywhere, went viral and finally reached premium and luxury brands. Now, indie brands, like Alo Yoga, Vuori Clothing, and Epoque Evolution are disrupting the distribution model and carving out a niche in this segment.
With its links to the health and wellness movement, as well as a growing focus on inclusivity, the evolution of athleisure is clearly far from reaching the finish line.
Sports Wear: The street combination of fashion and a healthy lifestyle
According to the Global Athleisure Market Report from Allied Market Research, athleisure is indeed still on the rise.
In 2018, the athleisure market size was valued at $155.2 billion, and by 2026, it is expected to reach $257.1 billion.
Everyone from Nike to Primark to Eres has launched athleisure lines to cash in on this $44 billion market (in the US alone), according to NPD Group. By many accounts, athleisure is the signature fashion trend of the 21st century so far. The expression comes from the contraction of “athletic” and “leisure”.
During confinement this year, Gymshark found major success:
Gymshark was not the only athleisure brand to boom, however: according to SimilarWeb, LA-based brand Alo Yoga was ranked the fastest-growing Activewear brand in the US by web traffic.
Athleisure refers to athletic apparel which people can wear in non-athletic settings. It was seen, for a long time, as “casual clothing designed to be worn both for exercising and for general use” as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
It symbolizes a decompartmentalization of sportswear, which, thanks to its elevated design, becomes an everyday outfit able to instantly enhance a look.
Fashion is giving Fitness Wear an uplift in credibility while sportswear is giving functionality to fashion, like sweating-wicking capabilities, odor resistance or stretch texturing.
Athleisure wear: From female empowerment to an Instagrammable holistic success
Deirdre Clemente, professor of history at the University of Nevada, told Business Insider that athleisure mania relies on three long-term trends:
Technological innovations in synthetic fibers have made products like spandex more flexible, durable, and washable than natural materials.
The rise of a fitness-conscious appearance has made yoga pants an effective vector for “conspicuous consumption,” upon their wearers.
Athletic-casual Cycling Wear has become increasingly acceptable for use in a wide variety of social situations. Many of the clothes that people now consider work-appropriate, incorporate sports-inspired materials like spandex, Lycra, and other synthetic fibers.
In the 80s, the health-conscious glamazon archetype, embodied by sporty beauties like Christie Brinkley, rose to fame thanks to the public craze surrounding dancing and aerobics. Olivia Newton John’s “Physical” music video and Jane Fonda’s fitness sessions, alongside movies such as Fame and Flashdance, fueled neon leotard and leg warmer trends everywhere but outside the gym. As a result, Cycling Wear brands started making clothes for athletic performance. The quality significantly improved with synthetic fiber clothing to boost athletes’ performances and allow greater freedom of movement.
Athleisure became widespread in 2016 when key influencers Beyoncé and Rihanna introduced athleisure to the mainstream, with the help, respectively, of Puma and Topshop, using Instagram as a runway to commercial success. Today, in 2020, Beyonce’s athleisure brand Ivy Park is one of the most-followed brands of its category on Instagram, accompanied by other influencer and celebrity-backed brands such as Fabletics and Doyoueven.
Indie activewear brands: Authenticity and inclusivity at their core
While traditional athletic brands used to tap into the product performance-only seeker, new entrants have filled the gap left by the Swimwear industry with client-centric designs, merchandising reworking and expanded offerings. These Digitally Native Vertical Brands (DNVBs) do little to no advertising and do not rely on celebrity endorsement, helping them build their brands in a more authentic way.
By embracing real women’s bodies, these brands have secured their place in clients’ hearts as a brand they can relate to. Their ability to market themselves as a lifestyle brand and to have found a niche that consumers can connect to has helped them thrive in a competitive market.