The Evolution of The Athleisure Trend

The Evolution of The Athleisure Trend

Written by VickyDecember 19, 2019

The Evolution of The Athleisure Trend

In a previous article, “How Athleisure Became The New Casual”, we mentioned how athleisure became a norm in 2014 when Beyonce released an athleisure collection with Topshop called Ivy Park.

The cool, effortless yet comfortable style was popularised by millennials who became more interested in the urban street style, as well as having an affinity for fitness and wellness. This is suggested by the increased participation of boutique fitness clubs from 21% in 2013 to 42% in 2014.

Take leggings — a popular symbol of athleisure wear, for instance,  when the denim market experienced an influx of popularity and sales in 2017, the $92.9 billion market grew about 4%. Knowing how nimble fashion trends are, many wondered if this meant athleisure had finally reached its demise. Was it finally time to trade in leggings for denim?

Although growth in the activewear market has slowed down slightly, the market is still growing at a quicker pace compared to the global apparel industry. Projections show growth will increase at a CAGR of 1.9% over the next five years to USD 1.5 trillion. 

“I think the idea here now is that this apparel is comfortable, it’s versatile, I can wear it for many different occasions and if I do want to do physical activities I can wear it to that as well,” said Matt Powell, a sports industry analyst at NPD Group. “I don’t know that we’ll return to a time where we’re wearing more formal clothing.”

Previously, athleisure was always seen as “casual clothing designed to be worn both for exercising and for general use” as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary. In just over a year, athleisure has evolved. It’s no longer seen as casual wear anymore as we’re noticing A-listers and the most fashionable stylists and influencers strutting their athleisure style on Instagram. Athleisure was commonly worn to exude a sporty, casual and streetwear style, but it seems the trend and market have shifted towards fitness-inspired fashion — closing the gap between sportswear and fashion.

Omnilytics Retail Data Athleisure Trend

The distinct difference between the current athleisure trend and past styles is that activewear pieces are incorporated into an already fashionable outfit instead of exuding a more casual approach.

So what exactly defines this trend? And how can you plan your assortments to meet consumer demands? This article will uncover the forces driving this trend to help you strategise your business.   

Let’s take a look at some of the top athleisure trends this summer.

Trend: Sport and Bike Shorts Omnilytics Retail Data Athleisure Trend

Brands & Retailers: Sport and Bike Shorts Omnilytics Retail Data Athleisure Trend

The bike and sport shorts trend has been embraced by everyone, from celebrities to mass consumers. Inspired by one of Princess Diana’s key looks of pairing bike shorts with an oversized sweater, the look has evolved from a casual errand-running outfit to a fashion forward look. Consumer preferences vary with this trend, thus brands and retailers should continue producing classic key designs while increasing more fashionable and less minimalistic designs as well.

Trend: Sports Bra Crop TopsOmnilytics Retail Data Athleisure Trend

Brands & Retailers: Sports Bra Crop TopsOmnilytics Retail Data Athleisure Trend

The sports bra crop top trend is essentially wearing a sports bra as a crop top. Brands and retailers have been producing eclectic and quirky designs that are extremely popular among millennials. According to NPD Group, 41% of millennials said they wore a sports bra in the past seven days as compared to 21% of non-millennials. Many sports bras are now designed to be worn cohesively with any outfit, which means they look more like a top than an actual rendition of lingerie. As such, activewear brands such as Lululemon have even created an entire line of “sports bras for streetwear”.

The Indie Activewear Shake-up

The activewear industry is increasingly competitive with more brands and retailers, including fast fashion hopping on the bandwagon and producing their own athletic lines. However, one market has been gaining lots of attention and publicity among Millennials and Gen Z consumers. Brands such as Outdoor Voices, Athleta, Aerie, coined as “indie brands” are now taking over traditional activewear brands. Indie activewear brands differ from sports retailers in such that they market themselves as a lifestyle rather than a sports brand.

Outdoor Voices is an activewear brand like no other. By focusing on bridging the gap between performance and lifestyle wear, they produce recreational apparel for active people who don’t necessarily see themselves as athletes. In March, they secured $34 million in funding, an impressive feat considering how competitive the market is now. 

Omnilytics Retail Data Outdoor VoicesImage Source: Outdoor Voices

With that said, activewear titans, namely Nike and Adidas are maintaining a strong foothold in the womenswear market. Omnilytics’ Adidas vs. Nike for Women report (2019) shows that Nike launched over 12,000 SKUs under womenswear at a median price of USD 70 while Adidas launched nearly 16,000 at a median price of USD 65. 

Despite Adidas’ wide assortment and lower median price, the brand failed to match Nike’s new-in rate at 63% and sell-out rate at 88% with gaps of 7 percentage points on new-in rate and 5 percentage points on sell-out rate respectively.

evolution of athleisure: Nike vs Adidas

Chart of Nike and Adidas’ global brand performance from January to December 2019.

Interestingly, Nike’s sell-out was also driven by very minimal discounting. Adidas had 15% more SKUs on markdown, indicating a massive chunk of Nike’s assortment was sold at full price. 

Athleisure for 2020

Just as the fashion industry as a whole is affected by societal changes, specific trends within athleisure will also expand and emerge based on what’s happening in the zeitgeist. As we approach 2020, some trends we expect to gain momentum next year are female empowerment, size inclusivity and environmental/ethical consciousness. 

Nike had tremendous success with it’s ‘Dream Crazier’ campaign starring tennis champion, Serena Williams. The ad that centred around female empowerment went viral as its debut coincided with the #Metoo and #TimesUp movements, striking a chord amongst its female audience. Nike’s involvement with the US women’s soccer team in the World Cup further solidified the brand’s values and dedication to women – proving the “shrink it and pink it” concept within this segment should be no longer. 

Brands that fail to be inclusive of the full spectrum of female consumers, whether it be diversity or sizing, will surely miss out on a huge market potential. Very few activewear brands accommodate sizes 14 and above. The notion that plus-sized women are less inclined to exercise is merely fiction. Good American Chief Operating Officer, Emma Grede says “a majority of activewear on the market is made with one body type in mind” leaving the plus-size market critically underserved. Brands like Good American and Superfit hero are here to change that by offering products up to 5XL. 

Another key trend we’ve been seeing on premium activewear brands is the shift towards sustainability. The heavy use of Lycra, spandex, elastane and other synthetic fibres in activewear materials are known to be linked to water pollution due to the plastic microfibers being released into the ocean. Various independent brands like Girlfriend Collective, Rumi and Patagonia are providing alternatives or creating products exclusively made of recycled materials.  

Adidas x Parley for the Oceans Ultra Boost 2019. Image source: Footwear News

By the end of 2019, Adidas has committed to producing 11 million pairs of shoes using recycled plastic bottles as a replacement to virgin polyester. Today, more than 40% of Adidas’ apparel is created using recycled materials and it hopes to fully replace the use of virgin polyester by 2024.

The Key Takeaway

Brands and retailers that are looking to succeed in the activewear market should invest effort and money beyond just product innovation but also social consciousness. Activewear products that combine aspects of style, functionality and inclusivity will win Millennial and Gen Z consumers as those markets have veered to brands that are able offer the best of these three worlds. 

Young activewear brands have displayed the ability to market themselves as a lifestyle brand and finding a niche that consumers can connect to has helped them thrive in such a competitive market. Focus on marketing as a lifestyle brand and not just an activewear brand as the lines start to blur between the two. It’s all about looking for ways to stand out in a saturated market.

Our data demonstrated the importance of implementing an effective newness strategy in activewear. The example between Nike’s and Adidas’ performance shows that having a wide assortment, deep discounts and low prices may not result in a high sell-out. As functionality and practicality are the key considerations for activewear products, low prices and discounts may not influence customers’ buying decisions as highly compared to fashion or apparel. 

Lastly, one thing that most indie activewear brands have in common is the diversification and inclusivity of shapes and sizes. By embracing real women’s bodies, these brands have solidified a place in consumers’ hearts as a brand they can relate to. This also opens up a wider target audience for brands and retailers. Paired with a deeper consciousness of social values and the environment, brands that actively participate will undoubtedly capture these underserved product niches. 

Of course, these aren’t guidelines to guarantee success for your brand, what works for one brand may not work for yours but it’s a good place to start exploring new ideas that can generate newness to peak consumers’ interest.

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