From cut-out singlets and crop tops, via mesh leggings and yoga pants, to trendy sneakers, athleisure is seen almost everywhere. You cannot miss this style statement. You see it during a session at the gym, at Sunday brunch in your favourite café, on your Instagram feed, and even in the office on casual Fridays.
Athleisure is, in the simplest sense, gym wear that is fashionable enough to wear outside of the gym, but is also functional and comfortable for a proper sweat session. What started out as a fashion trend has now exploded into a global phenomenon worth about $270B. In Australia alone, activewear sales are expected to grow by more than 20% between 2015 and 2020, with a majority of sales predicted to be online.
According to Professor Clare Hanlon of Victoria University, the activewear industry was sluggish to realise that it needed to evolve to provide for a market that was initially not catered to very well – females. And now, with that realisation, the industry isn’t stopping. “Finally, companies understand the effects physical activity trends have in their industry and are listening to female customers about what they need,” she said.
Specialist brands such as Lululemon, Under Armour and Ivy Park (co-founded by Beyoncé and Topshop) are being joined by major brands such as Nike, Adidas and Puma (the brand ambassadors of which include fashion icons Rihanna and Kylie Jenner), as well as large online retailers such as Asos.
Local designers are also capitalising on the trend. Melbourne-based Jasmine Alexa is the latest Australian contender in the athleisure market. Launched in late 2016 with a sleek activewear line, the brand is gearing up for its second collection to be launched later this year. Founding designer Jasmine Gescheit told Broadsheet in an interview that the growing awareness and demand for athleisure is a result of a lifestyle shift where time-strapped women want to squeeze in a gym class between their other appointments for the day. “People are into it because it’s suiting a shift in lifestyle,” said Gescheit. “We’re all living such fast-paced lives. Going to the gym then straight to work or other social commitments is such a common thing in our lives now.”
Lifestyle shift may be the biggest reason why this phenomenon has caught on. Julie Stevanja, the founder of online retailer Stylerunner, cited “enclothed cognition” – the idea that clothes help determine behaviour – as another reason in an interview with the BBC. “I think if you are in your activewear during the weekend, you’re probably more likely to buy a green juice or a smoothie than you are to have a milkshake,” she said. “People want to make healthier lifestyle choices. Sometimes the first step is wearing something that makes you feel healthier.”
The feel-good philosophy driving this lifestyle shift is also having an impact on the beauty industry. As with their athleisure wardrobe, women are looking for products that can carry them from a gym class to work and then to a night out. Cult brand Tarte Cosmetics launched its line of ‘athleisure cosmetics’, sold separately or together as a ‘gym bag essential’. The collection includes sweatproof tinted moisturiser and mascara. Likewise, Clinique now offers a selection of its ‘Pep Start’ products for on-the-go customers, as part of a ‘gym bag heroes’ kit.
Tarte and Clinique are entering the space occupied by specialists such as Sweat Cosmetics, a line of high-performance, sweat-resistant mineral make-up that was developed by five professional female athletes in 2015. The brand has grown its monthly revenue 560% in the past year alone. Yuni Beauty, a yoga-oriented active beauty brand founded three years ago by Emmanuel Rey, a veteran of Estée Lauder, is expected to double its sales this year. And by the end of April 2017, the brand expects to reach 210 stockists, up from 70 at the end of February last year.
The market for athleisure is ever-growing, and there are no signs of it slowing. But brands will have to continue to adapt and innovate their products – such as using different materials, features or ingredients – to keep up with the demands and stay ahead of the competition.