“Athleisure is over”, according to Lululemon Founder Chip Wilson, and CEO Laurent Potdevin agrees with him that “the bubble will burst”. Not long ago, there was talk of the ubiquitous trend making its way into the workplace, and now it is over, or is it? Athleisure has become an all-encompassing term, used when discussing any and all sportswear items; according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the official definition is “casual clothing designed to be worn both for exercising and general use”. To suggest all sports clothing will no longer be worn outside the gym is unlikely; however, product development and consumer demand is beginning to place a much greater emphasis on functionality and performance over fashion and design.
Foundations of athleisure remain
The demise of athleisure is a dramatic statement and one that fails to acknowledge the evolution of the increasingly important sportswear category. The proliferation of wearing sportswear for everyday activities is directly related to health and wellness lifestyle trends, as well as the continued casualisation of dress codes; fashion trends have only intensified widespread adoption. Fitness participation is not slowing down, the number of health-conscious consumers is rising and many have become accustomed to the comfort and functionality of sports apparel. The only component changing is fashion; trends are moving on, and with it will be a significant consumer base that purchases sportswear purely for sartorial credit.
Athleisure to streetnic
Although athleisure may be losing its fashion edge, it has come to represent an actual shift in the way consumers approach dressing, and the accelerating casualness of people’s everyday wardrobes is not easing up. As athleisure moves on, ‘streetnic’ is expected to form its replacement; described as technical, stretch and street, the focus will be on technically advanced features, with design and aesthetics considered secondary. The development from sports-inspired to technically enhanced is expected to see performance apparel grow by grow by 16 billion dollars and at a CAGR of 4 percent over 2015-2020. This is not to say that sportswear will no longer be stylish; on the contrary, behemoths and niche players are continuing to invest heavily in design, but functionality will take precedence.
Lifestyle trumps fashion
This transition is likely to benefit a few and impact many. The athleisure marketplace has become crowded with both fashion and celebrity brands aiming to capitalise on growing lifestyle trends. Brands such as Topshop x Beyonce, Fabletics, Tory Burch, and H&M and low-priced retailers like Wal-Mart and Target will feel the pinch as their target market dwindles and increasing importance is placed on performance-orientated brands.
Beneficiaries are expected to be those providing high-tech products that also boast a powerful message and strong sense of community, such as Nike’s ‘If you have a body, you are an athlete’. Alongside the likes of Under Armour, Rapha and adidas, Nike appeals to the millennial consumer seeking lifestyle brands and products that portray a value system. For example, Lululemon, although the poster child for athleisure, will continue to find favour in a consumer base that resonates with its health and mindfulness ideals. In comparison, the superficial efforts of fashion brands to provide sportswear that simply looks good will subside.
Moving forward in sportswear
Despite performance products taking the lead, lifestyle habits will continue to see sportswear worn outside the gym, but perhaps not to the extent witnessed over the past year. The flurry of online start-ups offering US$300 yoga pants will give way to innovative, specialised brands that provide more than just product. Fashion-created athleisure, sportswear will produce streetnic, and although it seems fashion’s obsession with sportswear may be easing off, sportswear’s obsession with fashion is just getting started.
Written by: Bernadette Kissane, Senior Analyst - Apparel and Footwear, Euromonitor International
Images: Lululemon Facebook