Athleisure is a trend in fashion in which clothing designed for workouts and other athletic activities is worn in other settings, such as at the workplace, at school, or at other casual or social occasions. Athleisure outfits are yoga pants, tights and leggings that "look like athletic wear" and are characterized as "fashionable, dressed up sweats and exercise clothing". The idea is that gym clothes are supposedly making their way out of the gym and becoming a larger part of people's everyday wardrobes. Certain articles of clothing and footwear are associated with the trend in fashion, and these include tight-fitting elastic yoga pants, leggings, zip front or hooded sweatshirts, and lace-up or slip-on tennis shoes.
Athleisure can be considered as a fashion industry movement, enabled by improved textile materials, which allow sportswear to be more versatile, comfortable, and fashionable. It has been identified as being sporty and stylish.
By some accounts, the athleisure trend grew out of women wearing yoga pants. Another account suggests that the trend came about because people could wear them for multiple occasions without having to change, which meant greater convenience, since people did not have to carry an extra gym outfit on the way to the office, for example. A decade ago, denim workwear uniforms were more popular, but today athleisure is increasingly popular in places such as public streets and fashion stores and fashion runways. Sportswear which had been worn exclusively in gyms is now being worn elsewhere by young adults and fitness-conscious consumers, and has been accompanied by a relaxation in dress codes. Its popularity may have stemmed from its ability to fill a gap in the market, when sportswear was once merely functional rather than stylish. Due to innovations in textiles and technology, improvements have been made in functionality, such that garments and footwear have become more breathable, lightweight, and waterproof. The new garments are performance enhancing, in the sense that they allow wearers to carry out everyday activities easily.
Athleisure buyers desire the active lifestyle that comes with each purchase. Leading athleisure and sportswear makers have tried to establish an emotional connection with their customers. Focus for these brands have shifted towards a fashion orientation as opposed to just a professional sports orientation. In other words, the exaggerated styles, colors, fabrics and silhouettes of athleisure suggest that a broader emphasis on fashion. As adoption of athleisure-wear develops, luxury and high-end designs are becoming increasingly prevalent. In order to remain fashion forward while justifying higher prices, designers are incorporating better quality materials, and offering additional patterns, prints, textures, and other styling elements. Collaborations between sportswear brands and luxury designers are continuing to appear on the runways of major fashion weeks as well. Capsule sportswear collections featuring athleisure and athletic apparel suited for both performance and casual wear purposes were mostly seen.
While the trend was started by women, men are increasingly turning to athleisure wear as well. For men's fashion, athleisure wear began with luxury sweatpants and then moved to the torso with "dressy/sporty versions of men’s blazers, varsity jackets, pea coats and sweaters". Young women in particular will have a strong interest in their personal health, inspired by fitness-oriented celebrities, and influenced by the rising number of health messages and nutritional information targeting them. The upsurge in women postponing motherhood, in order to better pursue their careers, has led to a growing need in achieving a good work-life balance too. Likewise, as the pressure to conform to the ideals of beauty, women will make changes in their diets, thus boosting the weight management market. Hence, the continuous embracement of the fitness trend by young women, will therefore drive a strong overall market for female activewear and sports nutrition in the long terms.
There is an evident lifestyle shift as more individuals adopt the athleisure trend. Big brands and traditional apparel retailers have adopted the trend. One estimate is that growth in this fashion category in coming years will be moderate. Reports in USA Today and The Wall Street Journal describe the athleisure market as growing, displacing typical workwear styles, and cutting in to sales of jeans, with a market size in 2014 as $35 billion, representing an 8% increase from the previous year. According to one estimate, the athleisure market, including footwear, was $270 billion in 2016, and was estimated to grow by 30% by the year 2020.
In 2016, the global athleisure sector was valued at over $83 billion USD, while the U.S. market reported a 16% increase to $44 billion USD. A 30% growth is also predicted in Asia and the U.S. by 2020. Furthermore, analysts at Morgan Stanley, believe that global sales may therefore rise to over $350 billion USD. On the other hand, the sports clothing and accessories market is predicted to reach $30 billion USD, with athleisurewear ranking in at $24 billion USD for the upcoming year.
In spite of this, there is an arising issue regarding market saturation, due to the continuous entry of traditional luxury, and mass merchant brands, tapping into this trend. The athleisure market for casual athletic clothing, which took off a few years ago, also has become increasingly crowded with big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target, as well as fast-fashion brands joining the fray—often at cheaper prices. An analyst estimated that the athleisure market was not slowing down, with much competition and pressure on various retail outlets including sporting goods stores. Therefore, the best performing brands have proven their ability to withstand the emerging competition, as they sell clothes and a lifestyle as a package.
Athleisure’s dominance in the market led to a 9% increase in members and activities at sports club and gyms from 2011 to 2016, in developed and emerging markets. By wearing fitness apparel and accessories, it also inspired many women to get back into the gym. In the U.S. alone, the fitness industry is valued at $24 billion USD, with a possible 23% growth in the next ten years. An additional 10% has been predicted for next year, with 13% in the following year.
The athleisure trend has been influencing other product categories. For example, the beauty and cosmetics industry saw a spike in sales, after attendance at gyms became a component of the sporty lifestyle, and a place for go-getters to socialize and to be seen. In the first quarter of 2017, luxury makeup sales in the U.S. rose by 11% to $7.6 billion USD. In total, this accounted for more than 80% of total industry earnings. Cosmetic brands such as Aveda, Sweat Cosmetics, Dior, and Chanel have thus shifted assortments towards retailing cosmetics, apparel, and hair care products that cater to the new needs of these fashion-forward gym-goers too. Likewise, spas and beauty parlours benefit from the growing need for women to de-stress from their demanding and fast-paced jobs or lifestyle. For apparel manufacturers; however, this presents an opportunity to capitalise on a dominating market, by offering specialised styles for popular sports categories, or meet the rising needs for plus-sized options.
Global shifts toward a rise in health and fitness trends has led to growing interest and participation in sports among the public. Many have actively joined clubs and competitions in order to fully adopt the characteristics of this lifestyle. Consequently, sportswear brands can utilitze this opportunity to improve and introduce better quality apparel, footwear, and gear. By presenting their devotion towards a lifestyle, it thus allows brands to garner customer loyalty.
With longer average lifespans, the percentage of senior citizens around the world has increased, along with the number of active people. Rising obesity rates has also led to health scares and warnings for many, thus resulting in their participation in activities. Yet, the escalating rates also raises concerns regarding the group who are not interested in the active lifestyle. Although the U.S. has already established sports as part of its culture, with the likes of the NBA and NFL, the number of women athletes joining the industry has increased significantly as well.
Celebrity influences are also key in the evolution of sportswear and athleisurewear into a fashion movement. Some notable names include Beyoncé, who released her line of activewear titled IVY PARK with TopShop, and Rihanna with Fenty x Puma. After Rihanna’s debut line with Puma, the company’s net worth rose by 4% in 2016. Adidas’s collaboration with Kanye West’s Yeezy resulted in an impressive 12% increase in total sales. Beyoncé’s collection with TopShop, topped the brand’s Instagram engagement rate by 50% per post. Designer and celebrity endorsed athleisure collections have also caused many consumers to admit to this fashionably active lifestyle. However, in order for brands to succeed in this saturated market, continuous innovations, increased focus in social media promotion, and brand differentiation is necessary.
Materials and technology
Research has led to new fibers developed specifically for odor reduction, sweat-wicking, stretchability to conform to the body's shape, breathability to allow air in and out, and protection from dirt. Some clothing designs permit selected parts of the clothing to allow more breathability while other parts can have greater tension, perhaps as a way to aid posture. A type of athleisure is sometimes called "technical wear" which describes clothes that are more suitable for wearing to the office while being comfortable.
The increase in tech-savvy individuals has led to a rising use of e-commerce platforms and mobile payment systems. Aside from the traditional brick-and-mortar stores, brands often need to maintain an online store for both web and mobile systems. Technology has also allowed other companies to utilise other specialised services such as, Target’s ability to rearrange physical stores by analysing search data from Google, in order to better utilise displays to match the satisfaction of online customers.
Social media platforms are also becoming more important for brands to market products and brand awareness to consumers. These platforms such as YouTube and Instagram have also heavily influenced this trend. Escalating rise in yoga influencers on social media can be seen as a reflection of the fast growing fitness trend and interest in health and wellness. Many sportswear and athleisure brands have begun collaborating with these influencers for sponsored posts in order to promote the awareness of their name, garment, or collection. The popularity of these platforms are also beneficial for yoga instructors to connect and share their passion and expertise, with the community.
Expanding interest in wearable technological devices and fitness application has also paved its way into the athleisure and sports market. This includes brands such as, FitBit, and Omsignal which integrates sensors into the fabric of garments, in order to track heart rate and breathing. Sport teams can also now benefit from organisational applications including TeamSnap and Teamer, which allows for better communication as well. SplendidCity is a scheduling application that allows users to easily schedule workouts with friends and others. Although these technologies are costly, the introduction of new and improved versions in the market allowing companies to become more energy efficient, will ultimately lower the cost of manufacturing. Furthermore, the development of data mining software that allow brands to better track and analyse consumers have helped in optimising targeting and production, while maximising profits and revenue.
With increasing competition from brands in the athleisure market, many have begun engaging with consumers through different omnichannels such as, in-store workouts, app-based fitness regime for tracking, and several fitness communities. This method of engagement not only further improves sales, it cultivates brand uniqueness and consumer loyalty. Lululemon, for one, already offers in-store yoga classes and fitness camps in other countries. Nike on the other hand, retains a popular online presence with its fitness platforms that allow users to track progress, challenge with their buddies, gain encouragement from others through sharing capabilities, while also improving their overall heath knowledge. The emergence of customisation tools for many retailers is also growing, with Nike and Adidas offering in-store personalisation for footwear. Conversely, the employment of software in order to track consumers in-stores, may be another method for retailers to remain prevalent, after the significant shift in retail towards e-commerce.
The very fine synthetic fibers in the cloth from which athleisure garments are made shed gradually during the laundering cycle. New research has found these fibers in samples of sea water that have been collected by a large number of researchers and volunteers. A project, led by the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, intends to look even more closely at the amount of microfibers in the sea water of the Caribbean. Other recent studies have shown that microfibers can end up in the stomachs of marine animals, including seafood, like oysters.
Various public health activists of chemical safety, such as Greenpeace, raised concerns regarding a possible linkage between sports apparel and health issues such as cancer, obesity and other developmental disabilities. Although there has already been a withstanding problem surrounding the use of toxic chemicals in various types of apparel, sportswear presents a larger problem. Due to the higher production of friction and sweat resulting from high-energy activities, it triggers faster absorption of toxins into the skin, which worsens in the long term.
In accordance to previous findings by Greenpeace about Adidas, the company promised to be 99% PFC-free by 2017, and eliminate all hazardous chemicals by 2020. Nike, who was also investigated, has already removed all evidence of long-chain PFCs, while requiring all materials to meet the standards laid out in the company’s restricted substances list.
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