Merriam-Webster (2015) defines ‘Athleisure’ as “casual clothing designed to be worn both for exercising and for general use.” A somewhat vague definition, but appropriate considering the trend has never been able to be defined by a single look.
Despite a majority of the fashion industry questioning the official term, preferring expressions such as ‘Sports Luxe and ‘SportsCore’ amongst others, the ‘Athleisure’ term and trend is inflexible and will continue into 2016 and beyond. According to some experts this lifestyle-based trend is well on its way to establish itself as one of the fastest-growing fashion segments by 2020.
As with each fashion, lifestyle, or pop cultural trend, ‘Athleisure’ is more than a garment or a pair of high-end sneakers. This trend occupies a cultural and lifestyle shift that reflects the changing attitudes and desires for a healthier lifestyle and all-round wellbeing. Part of the rise of this trend is inextricably connected to the rise of fitness-conscious consumers who view athletics not only as a pastime but also as an all-encompassing way of living.
Another aspect to the rise of ‘Athleisure’ is the desire for clothing to be comfortable. This need has increased as a result of the recession as well as the change in how people work, with an increase in working from home. With the correct accessories, the look translates seamlessly from comfortable high-end leisure wear to meeting attire.
‘Athleisure’ sales are driven by increased consumer-spending on active wear, designer athletic performance footwear, and bags.
Bold, colour-blocked products demand attention. Design inspiration is gleaned from architecture, graphic design, and visual arts as well as the obvious sports connotations. From performance footwear to the latest backpacks which come with their own rechargeable batteries, these ‘Active-ists’ have the edge on their contemporaries. Lifestyle needs have impacted on the patterns, garments, constructions, fabric developments and finishes of ‘Athleisure’ clothes.
Texture-fabrications and pioneering technologies, the blending of classic materials such as polyester and spandex, and innovative manufacturing techniques materials woven to create striking shirts, sweatshirts and vests give ‘Athleisure’ the edge; offering both form and function.
With a global awareness of climate change, environmentalists who form part of the movement have established ‘Athleisure’ as a way of life and not merely a fleeting fashion trend. To Climate Group and charities like Surfers Against Sewage, who actively protect the UK’s oceans, ‘Athleisure’ makes perfect sense. All-weather protection means durable clothing and accessories worn alongside weathered surf boards and vintage VWs.
In conjunction with Mark Simpson, known for coining the phrase ‘Metrosexual’ in 1996 and identifying social groups such as the ‘Spornosexual’, this group is known for regular gym attendance and posting the obligatory ‘ab image’ or ‘healthy selfie’ on social networks. The group is described as “Eagerly self-objectifying. Their own bodies and associative products have become the ultimate accessories”
Although 84% of general South African’s claim that jeans are their most popular item for day-to-day wear, 13% wear ‘Athleisure’ clothes daily and 11% say ‘Athleisure’ clothes have become their ‘normal’ clothes. Most interesting of all are the 57% of South Africans who state they feel they have more energy when they wear active-inspired clothes and the 77% who state they are more likely to work out if they’re already dressed in active wear.
As a sports and outdoor orientated country, South African consumers are primed for the ‘Athleisure’ trend and, although the rise of ‘Athleisure’ has been underestimated by some industries who believe it’s just a passing fad, the numbers so far seem to indicate otherwise.
In terms of marketing, international sportswear giant, Nike has maximised the ‘Athleisure’ trend targeting the rise of the trend with its ‘#BetterForIt’ digital marketing campaign featuring everyday women, rather than the supermodels and professional athletes seen in most advertising for athletic wear. The 70 million women connected to Nike’s online community gives the company a sizeable audience of buyers primed to purchase Nike’s new gear.
According to Seeking Alpha, Nike has stated that it can grow women’s sales by 40% – up to $7 billion – by 2017. Investors who are not heeding the ‘Athleisure’ trend could be missing out on one of the most lucrative opportunities the retail and fashion industry has to offer.
Highly-acclaimed for innovation and pushing the boundaries of pattern, colour, fabric direction and the sustainable wearability of everyday fashion items, world-renowned designer and P&G Fabric Care Global Fashion Consultant, Giles Deacon, explored the ‘Athleisure’ trend and the fabrics associated with it. This resulted in a limited edition washable capsule collection, revealed exclusively at the P&G Future Fabrics event in Barcelona, December 2015 with an audience which ranged from Scientists, Fashion Editors, Trends Analysts and bloggers such as Suzie Bubble (pictured above). “I’m inspired by women that dress with confidence, that exude self-assurance and poise in their style,” says Deacon. “Here, I wanted to create designs that take this spirit and meet it with an athletic, energetic attitude. This collection is about being unique and individual, about women feeling comfortable in themselves and their clothes, never restricted and always ready to perform at their best”
Understanding the relationship between the wearer and their clothes is crucial to redefining clothing care. At the aforementioned Future Fabrics event, P&G announced their Fabric Care brands have embarked on a series of studies with leading Cognitive Psychologist, Dr Lawrence Rosenblum of the University of California Riverside, to delve deeper into the phenomenon of “Enclothed Cognition”. This term describes the subconscious effects of our clothes on the way we perceive ourselves, the way we think, our moods and behaviour. Indicating that it is not only form, but function which influences the newer construction of ‘Athleisure’ wear, clothing is made using performance fabrics, workout apparel is constructed from performance fabric, so it’s quick drying, is odour resistant, antimicrobial and is moisture wicking, resulting in the wearer staying cooler and dryer for longer.
Comfort is paramount with ‘Athleisure’ clothing. New developments such as the “AeroReact” material, for example, can detect when the wearer is about to start sweating and loosen itself up just before that happens.
Research shows that people perform better when they are wearing clothes that are associated with the important aspects of the task they are performing. A massive 70% of people claim wearing fresh, active-inspired clothing can make them feel more energetic, and 62% say it increases confidence.
There is a societal shift with attention to, and emphasis on, experiencing a fuller, healthier life. Sales, coupled with the adoption of the ‘Athleisure’ trend along with the inclusion of multi-sensorial product design and technology, cognitive science and the development of futuristic and sustainable fabric care for new fabrics are indicating great strides for the trend as it sprints into the future.