Athleisure: fad or fashion?
Her fashion sneakers squeaked against the linoleum tile flooring as she dashed across the library. She has been up since 5 a.m.. After a five-hour shift at work, an energizing workout, and a chemistry tutoring session, SMU student Maddie McCredie struts to class dressed head to toe in Outdoor Voices apparel.
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“I incorporate athleisure into my personal style because I’m always working out,” McCredie said. “Its concept is that it’s meant to be from the gym to the studio to the office and not like having to change your outfit.”
“Athleisure,” not yet an official dictionary word, refers to casual clothing—yoga pants, hoodies, sneakers—that are designed for exercising and virtually everything else in one’s everyday life. This love of all things stretchy, comfy and sporty has been a powerful force in the fashion industry throughout the past few years.
Athleisure’s popularity among younger generations reflects a significant lifestyle change occurring in society. It’s rapid market expansion forecasts this fad becoming the fashion industry’s future.
“I believe that this trend is here to stay and will continue to get more competitive,” said Terri Palmer, Director of Retail Brand at Hurley.
Hurley’s business is grounded in the culture of surfing and sportswear. It was acquired in 2004 by Nike—an influential athletic company that was one of the first to capitalize on the athleisure market. According to Nike’s Form 10-K, its net income was over $4 billion this year—almost an 11 percent increase from 2016. The initial success of athleisure trailblazers like Nike and Lululemon gave investors confidence in the trend. Today, the expansion of athleisure lines in brands from Gap to Givenchy means their worry is now about having an overcrowded market and overexposed product.
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“It was the yoga brands that took the athletic legging and made it a part of everyone’s wardrobe whether they work out or not,” Palmer said. “It has expanded from there and brands like Adidas and Puma are completely re-inventing themselves by tapping into this trend.”
With the rise of celebrity involvement, even these well-established athletic brands have to work hard to maintain their share of this market.
“Up until celebrities got involved with athleisure the market was limited to a few brands, with the emergence of celebrity labels, consumers can shop from a larger selection,” SMU Fashion Media professor Elif Kavakci said.
Actress Kate Hudson founded the athletic brand Fabletics. Kanye West and Selena Gomez formed partnerships with Adidas, Beyonce with Topshop, Carrie Underwood with Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Alexander Wang with H&M.
“Celebrities have made athleisure lines for a couple of reasons,” Kavakci said. “One, they must have done research or must have been advised that athleisure apparel sells well. Second, it is a line that is much easier to design than other fashion lines.”
The competition in this market is fierce. Innovation is the main way smaller brands and celebrity lines have stayed afloat. Outdoor Voices—McCredie’s favorite athleisure line—is headquartered in Austin and just recently opened shop less than three miles from SMU’s campus.
“From a product perspective I was sick of the shiny black spandex. With neon you kind of look like a superhero and I wanted product that looked more closely like brands I wore in my everyday life,” Outdoor Voices founder and CEO Tyler Haney said in an interview on Girlboss Radio.
Its unique attention to technical materials and community-centered philosophy are the innovative ways this smaller company competes with sportswear powerhouses like Lululemon, Under Armour, and Nike. They have raised over $34 million since their founding in 2013.
“We’ve really built communities both online and offline around this idea of doing things. Just participating. Getting out there and having fun and making friends and having activity be kind of the catalyst for that,” Haney said.
Haney herself has gained significant celebrity in the fashion industry, and her clothes have received a lot of press from celebrity promotion on social media.
Hurley was a well-established athletic brand before the atheisure trend took root. Its emergence ushered them to revolutionize their styles and fabrications to incorporate more everyday looks.
“Utilizing quick dry fabrics, fabrics with SPF, and silhouettes that can be worn for surfing, yoga, training, or just day to day activities we are able to attract the consumer looking for athleisure apparel,” Palmer said. “This allows us to keep our products authentic to our sport but styled so that they are fashionable and comfortable enough to wear all day.”
The general consensus that athleisure is a trend here to stay is based on more than the thriving niche it has developed in the apparel market, but also its complete characterization of the modern, performance-focused lifestyle.
“Athleisure is the definition of today’s American look,” Kavakci said. “American consumers are all about comfort, and this trend has become a part of how we dress culturally as a society. I really think it represents American culture. When we travel to other countries, we really don’t see women walking around in athleisure.”
Kavakci’s course, titled “Fashion, Media and Culture” now features an entire unit on athleisure as to exemplify the impact fashion trends have on culture. In an age where time is of the essence, personal health is of the upmost importance and casual activity is incorporated into a variety of daily tasks, athleisure is the perfect marriage of fashion and functionality.
“There is no real separation between your gym life and your life life,” Haney said.
For SMU students, businesspeople and professional athletes this trend has turned into a wardrobe staple. And like McCredie, this trend is not projected to slow down. A new era has arisen, wherein fashion sneakers and yoga pants will be staples from the catwalk to the city streets to university hallways.
“I don’t think athleisure will be leaving anytime soon. I think its just developing into an even bigger trend and I think with the general health movement going on. They kind of go hand in hand,” McCredie said. “People are becoming more consciences about their health and I think fitness is a big part of that and I think athleisure is a big part of fitness. I think it’s all going to be increasing.”