What does yoga, brunch and work have in common? Athleisure. Regardless if you lean more athletic or more leisure, it’s a trend that has transcended nearly every age group and has woven itself into the fabric of our lives, literally. Athleisure is a triple threat—offering up comfort and function while also being fashionable.
As America fully embraces the Athleisure lifestyle, we’ve taken a vacation from formality, replacing cultural mainstays like high heels, purses and suits with sneakers, backpacks and casual Friday all week long.
How big is Athleisure? It’s reached peak trend and turned into a movement, with $350B+ in global sales (nearly doubling since 2007).
As Athleisure has taken hold, every segment of the industry is throwing their leggings into the ring.
As you can see from the chart below (which doesn’t account for the brands launching after 2016), it all started with the major sports players. Then it was followed by apparel brands like Gap launching sub-brands like Athleta and retailers like Target x Who What Wear launching their Joy Lab collection.
Then there was a proliferation of Athleisure specific brands, from Outdoor Voices to celeb-backed companies like Kate Hudson's Fabletics.
What’s contributed to the rise of Athleisure? A convergence of trends from all different verticals and demographics—across streetwear, high-end fashion, celeb culture, tech culture, on-the-go lifestyles, fitness and wellness—has created a new-found acceptance of casualness in culture.
I chatted with my good friend Philip Edsel to get his thoughts on this topic. He is both a photographer for athletic brands like New Balance and also the co-founder and director of men’s Athleisure brand W—Co., a purveyor of modern and monochromatic essentials made by and for the creator.
"Fashion and fitness (or sportswear) have been linked for decades (Air Jordans have been on trend since the 80s), but as 'Athleisure' has exploded it’s been interesting to see how brands in those spaces have collided and merged."
One of these collisions, Edsel says, is how "Hip hop has given rise to streetwear, which is influencing culture at large, even high-end fashion culture. Virgil Abloh is the perfect example of that. He started as a creative director and designer for Kanye in the late 2000s, launched his own high-end streetwear company in the last 5 years, and is now the Artistic Director for Louis Vuitton’s Menswear. I walked by an LV store last week and their window display was showcasing their sneakers."
Models and rappers like Gigi, Kylie, Kanye and Rihanna have all launched athleisure collabs with big brands, but what's interesting is that tech entrepreneurs like Gary Vaynerchuk are also dipping their toes—collectively influencing our newsfeeds as much as our wallets.
It’s amazing that teenage boys, moms, high-end fashion designers and tech CEOs are all wearing a version of the exact same thing.
We can’t talk about Athleisure without talking about sneakers (and don’t worry, I will do a deep dive on sneakerheads sometime soon). While sales for performance sneakers are decreasing, sales for "lifestyle", "running-inspired" and "casual athletic" sneakers are increasing, according to NPD.
The oxymoron of "sport leisure" shoes is the exact reason why we love them—they make us look and feel fitness-y even if we never step foot in the gym. And psychologically, it’s proven that when we wear fitness gear, we’ll actually be more likely to hit the gym. So go ahead and break out your cute new kicks, my friend.
A comfortable lifestyle is no longer frowned upon but entirely embraced. Because of this, high-heels, purses and business dress codes are finding themselves in the back of the closet. Sales for high-heels decreased by 11 percent, women are swapping out purses for "lady backpacks" and even the most business professional of companies like Goldman Sachs are getting lax on their dress codes.
Where does Athleisure go from here? Perhaps comfort will overtake the fanciest occasions with guests showing up to weddings in sweatpants. Or, maybe there will there be an equal but opposite reaction to comfort, spawning the desire to dress up even more for fancy events.