Brands Flex Their Muscles in the Athleisure Game

The jury is still out: do leggings count as pants?

No matter which side you’re on in this polarizing debate, there’s no denying that comfy couture is a trend that’s here to stay. The tendency to forgo slacks and starch blazers in favor of stretchy waist-highs and cozy pullovers has become a fashion phenomenon, and it’s a direct result of (or, some might argue, a catalyst for) a burgeoning category called athleisure.

What started as lazy fashion has now overtaken the denim category and become a $44 billion industry in the US alone, predicted to reach $83 billion by 2020. As people continue to incorporate health and wellness into every facet of their social, personal, and professional lives, they are seeking out products that offer both comfort and versatility. This presents ample opportunity for apparel, fitness, accessory and even beauty brands to create offerings that not only support a transition from day-to-night, but also from home-to-office and from gym-to-grocery store.  

As the category continues to swell, and giants like Amazon accelerate retail offerings at an alarming rate, it remains to be seen which brands will innovate fast enough to stick around. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most interesting athleisure initiatives to shed light on who’s doing what in the fastest-growing fashion trend of the decade.

1.  Though it’s been through its fair share of ups and downs over the past few years, Lululemon still has a stronghold on all things athleisure. Its latest quest to dress fans from head to toe at all hours of the day? The once yoga-only brand has now expanded into sneakers. The brand has also captured fans through lululemon lab, design concept spaces that match shoppers with in-house designers to provide feedback on products and styles in real time.

2.  It’s not just fitness brands riding the wave; even traditional luxury brands are attempting to appeal to the active consumer with “athluxury” lines. Kate Spade, Tory Burch, and Alexander Wang are just a few of the designers to assign a more casual look and feel to premium attire and accessories.

3.  For those disinclined to pay upwards of $100 for comfortable pieces, mass market players like H&M and Target offer more accessible options for the fashionista on-the-go. Target’s Joy Lab will bring trending looks like colorblocking leggings, floral prints, and uneven hems to consumers this fall, and H&M’s Sport FW17 collection serves up chic pieces in modern color schemes.

4.  ADAY is one of the latest category entrants to gain momentum by designing workwear staples out of performance fabric so customers can embrace functionality and comfort without sacrificing fashion at the office.

5.  Stichfix’s slightly more toned and athletic cousin, SweatStyle, is a subscription service that delivers all your athleisure needs to your front door with a swag bag full of leggings, sports bras, tops, and outerwear from premium fitness brands. Subscribers create a profile on the company’s website and receive a customized box of five new pieces to choose from every three months.

6.  Athleisure has even discovered how to disguise itself. Gant, with a former Adidas exec at the helm, recently launched its Tech Prep collection. Their flagship shirts may resemble your everyday button-down, but are composed of a mix of polyester and cotton that stretches, wicks moisture, and doesn’t wrinkle. The company describes the line as “enhancing the timeless GANT look with new technology that supports an active lifestyle.”

7.  The category boom coincided with the rise of boutique fitness, which has its own stake in the athleisure game. Spin studio SoulCycle leads the fitness-studio-turned apparel powerhouse pack; its gear is nothing short of a status symbol (as the founders say, "wear the wheel like a badge of honor"). The brand was one of the first to recognize that adding an athleisure line to accompany its fitness offering was a simple way to drive revenue while boosting brand awareness. SoulCycle draws inspiration from the latest trends and takes its athleisure offerings to new heights with localized messaging and colloquialisms like “Bike is Bae.”

8.  Now that consumers are equipped with gear to take them straight from the gym to post-workout brunch, beauty brands are betting on the success of natural, low-maintenance makeup offerings built to withstand the heat. From Tarte’s aptly-named “athleisure” line and MAC’s Work Out collection to boutique brands like Sweat and Rae Cosmetics, both heritage and new category entrants in the beauty world are riding the athleisure craze’s coattails. [Check out our interview with Sweat Cosmetics CEO!]

9.  When your post-gym ensemble is on point, you can’t ruin it with a ratty old duffle bag. Recognizing the need for accessories that compliment the polished post-gym look, Adidas launched a collaboration with popular Japanese bag label Porter. The bags are available in two key styles, the Helmet bag and ever-the popular waist bag, with a few of nods to the Adidas Originals collection.

10.  Pop-up experiences are also creating opportunities for consumer engagement. Miami-based production company Funkshion (the team behind Art Basel), debuted a four-day athleisure experience called The Retreat. Held at Miami’s Soho Beach House, the event included independent activewear designers, runway shows, pop-up shops, panel discussions, fitness classes, and wellness sessions.