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Athleisure: the emerging fashion statement that is becoming the new normal


In this piece recurring WhichPLM contributors, ITC Infotech, explore the athleisure trend. Swati Sinha and Srilakshmi Narayanaswamy, both Lead Consultants for ITC, discuss the coinage of the term, its rise in popularity in recent years, and how retailers and brands can capitalize on the opportunity with a focused approach.

Athleisure describes the trend for wearing workout wear all day: taking leggings and yoga pants around town, or even wearing trainers at the workplace. It’s essentially comfortable, high-performance, luxurious workout wear that goes all the way from the workplace to yoga studio to the neighborhood coffee shop. Over the last decade, athletic wear has gained so much popularity that it has carved out a place of its own in the apparel industry, leading to the term “athleisure”(athletics + leisure). The cultural shift towards less formal wear has only helped increase its acceptance.

The advent of athleisure

In the past few years, athleisure has increased its popularity with celebrities endorsing various brands and starting their own brands. Once dismissed as a fad, brands like Lululemon, Under Armour and Sweaty Betty have seen tremendous growth in the athleisure segment and are planning for global expansion. There is a wide range of brands to choose from: basic offering by retailers like Sainsbury’s to celebrity endorsed designer and luxury brands, covering the entire spectrum of price range.

Over the last decade:

The trend is fueled by the new found awareness of wellness and self-improvement that is, today, engrained into the modern culture. Health and fitness is a lifestyle. True blue athleisure brands target the modern consumer, who would like to place health and well-being as primary aspirations versus the available positioning of sports brands, which focus more on performance and endurance. Wearing printed leggings or multihued trainers with wearable devices is seen more as an affirmation of the lifestyle that one embraces.

Millennials now form a large segment of the workforce, with the number expected to rise by 75% over the next decade. With increasing disposable incomes, this segment is willing to indulge in experiences and niche brands while also willing to spend on gym memberships, and track their calories and miles using smart wearable devices; athleisure is but a natural extension of their wellness conscious persona.

For the Gen Z of today, shopping has moved beyond buying apparel and accessories to embracing ideologies and lifestyles. It has now become an aspirational lifestyle, of “how you need to be seen”. Over the years, denims have made way for leggings and yoga pants.

The trend, started by brands like Nike, Lululemon and Sweaty Betty in the early 2000s, has been seeing meteoric growth over the last decade.  Americas, as a market, has seen the sales of athleisure increase by 16% from 2014 to 2015. As reported by Morgan Stanley, the world wise sales of athleisure is currently estimated to be over USD 15 billion and expected to hit USD 18 billion by the year 2020. Athleisure will continue be a factor keeping the otherwise sluggish apparel sales positive.

Will athleisure brands look at Asia next?

Countries like India and China have seen a steady GDP growth of 5% – 8% in the last few years, which is forecasted to continue in coming years. A large section of the society now has increased purchasing power and is well-travelled and informed. They are willing to embrace international trends, from the latest iPhone to the newest Nike trainers. Millennials in this region, and Gen Z today, are more willing to spend on health and wellness related products and experiences compared to a few years back and are catching up with their western counterparts. Athleisure giants, like Lululemon, are conducting large-scale events in Asia by partnering with brand ambassadors and community role models to help bring fitness classes, marathons, and health campaigns to consumers. Initiatives like these will help athleisure brands tap into newer territories that have huge potential.

Key factors for extending into athleisure product lines:

  • Technology and innovation in fabrics

Versatility, comfort and  durability, with an element of luxury will be the key criteria when selecting fabrics for athleisure. The fabrics should support design and functional needs of a social and active lifestyle. Athleisure fabrics have traditionally been polyester and polyester blended fabrics with moisture wicking, high evaporation rate, and anti-microbial finishes. Four way stretch fabrics must make way into the leggings and capris. Innovation in Fabric technology will be required to allow styling and patterns to take cognizance of account demographics demands, culture and local climatic patterns.

  • Enhanced and connected experiences

With the athleisure market expanding and with increasing competition, brands are going the extra mile to engage with customers by in-store workouts, fitness communities and app based fitness regime tracking. These customer engagements drive sales, while also helping in building the brand uniqueness and gaining customer ‘stickiness’. Each time a customer walks into a bricks and mortar store; there is an expectation of a positive experience which is beyond shopping for the products, price tags and mark downs. Fitness corners, demonstrations, and display of the newest wearable gadgets can help keep the consumer engaged. It can also be extended to in-house cafés focusing on healthy food, and smoothie outlets, which work around the same ideology of wellness.

  • Celebrities & social media

Beyoncé, Rihanna, Gigi Hadid and the likes have helped transform the perception of traditional active wear into a full-fledged fashion movement. By way of fitness videos and workout pictures on Instagram and other social media forums, they are reaching out to millions of followers at once. Celebrity and designer athleisure lines are influencing consumers to subscribe to this ‘new’ active yet stylish lifestyle. This trend is also permeating high fashion and Luxury brands in a big way, with the likes of Stella McCartney, Rebecca Minkoff and Alexander Wang also collaborating with established brands to bring out curated athleisure lines.

For retailers and brands attempting to capitalize on this opportunity, a focused approach towards fitness, lifestyle and wellbeing is essential. With a multitude of athleisure brands being launched, continuous innovation and brand differentiation will be a critical driver for success.


Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for eight years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like our PLM Project Pack, or our Annual Publications, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.