So much has happened in athleisure since we all started wearing Lululemon yoga pants to brunch in 2008. Now there are more places than ever to buy gym clothes, from Forever 21 to Net-A-Sporter, and celebs are wearing $1,000 luxury tracksuits like it's no thing at all.
To find out what exactly is the "new athleisure" in 2017, The Lookbook asked activewear designers and experts about what's changed most in the market in recent years and what the future holds—even though some are banning the word "athleisure" from their vocabulary entirely.
Workout Clothes Move Way Beyond the Gym
Designers know that you’re wearing your workout clothes all day and are adjusting accordingly. “We see our customers wearing Alala to business meetings, dinner dates and everything in between,” notes Alala founder and CEO Denise Lee, who says she’s noticed more acceptance of activewear as daily wear and a lot more brands in the market since launching in 2013. “We've listened a lot to our customers and designed new styles that make sense in their everyday lives, not just for the hour that they're at the gym.”
With Chloe trackpants and Versace couture gym gear at Fashion Week, the lines between activewear and the rest of your wardrobe are blurring. “You see sport and active lifestyle influencing everything on the runway,” says Ashleigh Hults, public relations director of Bandier, an activewear retailer selling over 50 brands from Nike to P.E. Nation to Prabal Garung Sport. “You're seeing every single brand make sneakers and sports bras and crop tops.”
Meanwhile, new direct-to-consumer brand ADAY launched in 2015 as a way to bring technical, stretchy, sweat-resistant fabrics to your everyday closet staples. "We thought there was a huge divide between the classic fashion category and activewear. We thought that was weird because we thought the worlds were really connected for us and we would seamlessly go from one to the other," founders Nina Faulhaber and Meg He say.
The result is a performance-oriented, seasonless line that doesn't necessarily scream "I just went to the gym." Nina and Meg explain: "As we're going into 2017, and people have learned how comfortable their activewear is, I think that they will want options in their normal wardrobes that are comfortable as well. Once you've learned that clothing doesn't need to be restrictive or uncomfortable or annoying, you don't want to go back."
The Word “Athleisure” Is O-V-E-R
With these overlapping boundaries, Bandier’s gone so far as to stop using the term athleisure at all. “Athleisure just kind of makes you think about leisure, just sitting on the couch.” Instead, Bandier uses the term "active fashion," defined as high-performance clothes that can mix and match with ready-to-wear clothing. “There's a new generation of consumer that is active, on the go, mobile, freelancing. It's a whole different way to live right now," Ashleigh says.
Everyone Wants to Dress Like Kendall and Gigi Leaving the Gym
WhoWhatWear dubbed the trend “femleisure,” or the way celebs are mixing athletic wear with girlier pieces. To nail that look, Bandier’s trying to be a one-stop shop, offering vintage leather jackets as part of their assortment. “Gigi, Kendall, they're wearing leggings, a top or a cute sports bra, and then they throw a bomber jacket or a leather jacket over it, and maybe a more to-and-from sneaker or a really cool footwear choice,” Ashleigh says. “It's making sure we have the merchandise for those key active fashion looks that you're seeing on It-Girls that people want to replicate.”
Your Sports Bra Does Double-Duty as a Going-Out Top
Turns out that strappy crop top isn’t only for the gym or the barre studio. “I was helping someone in the store the other day and they wanted to buy their friend a birthday present... a bra top that she could also wear out. We had 10 options for her,” Ashleigh at Bandier says.
Seamless Apparel Is The New Frontier
Alala’s CEO knows her customers love staples like non-basic blacks, great layering pieces, and really comfortable bras. But she was surprised by the response to the launch of Alala’s new Seamless collection. Denise says: “A few of the pieces we had a six-month supply on sold out in less than a month!” The same thing is happening at Bandier, where LNDR’s seamless apparel has been selling briskly.
Sweatpants = The New Leggings?
At Bandier, sales of sweatpants are picking up—and people are actually wearing them to work out, not just lounge. “If you look at Something Navy's Instagram, she's wearing a lot of sweatpants with sports bras,” Ashleigh says.
There’s a New Alternative to the Ubiquitous White Sneaker
Instead of the traditional white, grey, and black, Bandier shoppers are getting into sneakers in earthy tones. “We're seeing a lot of blush tones and even more nude tones. Nike has a sneaker in our store right now that's [in] a sand tone that everyone's obsessing over,” Ashleigh says, calling out Nike's rose-gold sneaker drop too.
It’s Harder Than Ever For New Brands To Stand Out
The activewear market is definitely crowded right now, and some wonder if there’s a “bubble” for athleisure. “I think [activewear] is at every level from luxury down to very mass,” says retail strategist Wendy Liebmann. “It is on every street corner, whether it's a Victoria Secret, or a Nike, or a designer who is getting into it. You can buy it at every price point. Once that happens, the trade-down impact and the watering down of the trend wears the shopper out pretty quickly.”
So if new brands are going to make an impact, they either need to push on performance aspect of the clothing (like tech-y gear from Nike or Under Armour), or show a unique point of view. “The basics of the black leggings and the black yoga pant—all the sort of essentials—those sort of things are a price of entry, they've become very commoditized,” Wendy says. “In terms of the overall design, much as designers have taken on denim, as designers as have taken on sneakers, it does call for a very clear aesthetic.”
Alala's Denise Lee has a similar thought. “Athleisure makes sense as a way of dressing for everyday life, just like denim. I don't think that goes away," she says. "But I do think that you'll see the design and functional elements of athleisure start to elevate as customers tastes change. Customers are not just going to want another pair of cute leggings anymore.”
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