I can still remember the moment. it was 2012 and I was working in San Francisco’s well heeled Fillmore neighborhood. While waiting in line at Starbucks, I noticed the women in front of me sporting Lululemon yoga pants and a fur jacket. I realized this wasn’t a post workout coffee, nor was she throwing something on to run out for a quick minute; she was dressed with purpose.
Now it’s 2017. The Athleisure category shows no signs of slowing down, and apparel brands and retailers alike are finding out how to capitalize on this trend. This new category exists in many spaces but at its core is built around a foundation of yoga apparel. How brands choose to build on the yoga momentum is fascinating. As customers preference has shifted and formality has become more lax, we're getting a glimpse at how brands build stories and followings for the new normal.
For how much we all mix and match athletic with dress apparel, clothing brands and retailers are still figuring out how to communicate this blended point of view without dumbing down their product story. Lululemon probably won’t say “great for going to work and sitting around the house”. These brands are more likely to stick to their aspirational messaging around outdoors and fitness and maybe have a wink and a nod in the lifestyle imagery showing someone going out to brunch with the caption “urban exploration”.
New brands getting into the space are best positioned to hone their brand story to the the current trends. As newcomers, they can adapt to the trends without the risk of alienating an existing customer base. Some of the most focused storytelling has come from Outdoor Voices. The four-year old brand has struck balanced tone between fitness and fashion. The cuts look good and they seem on or ahead of trends with their complex patterns and color blocking.
Wer have also seen large athletic brands like Nike, Addidas and Under Amour bring a lot of new ideas to this space, creating garments that test consumer's openness to a continuing blurring of the fashion/performance space. Adidas' partnership with designer Stella McCartney shows the brands hard push to establish it's self in the main stream apparel space.
Established outdoor brands seem poised to capitalize on this new category but have been slower to react. There seems to be some reluctance to broaden their outdoor story to encompass the everyday. For some of the larger outdoor brands, it seems like a missed opportunity to bolster their apparel categories. I understand the reticence many of these brands may have to watering down their massage of outdoor escapism, but this could still be an opportunity for a sub-brand that can take ownership of this space.
Now the tricky part. Where is athleisure headed?
While I can only imagine what trend forecast services like WGSN would say, I offer three ideas:
A. Athleisure Dissolves
There is a risk that as the movement grows, aethletic-inspired aparell will lose its identity and soak into the ever more casual attire. We may already be seeing this with Betabrand's Dress Pant-Yoga Pant. A style that takes the comfort of athletic fabrics but ditches the look.
B. Athleisure Matures
Athleisure’s DNA is in technical performance mixed with comfort. This trend might continue to evolve beyond the basic yoga-centric pieces and mature as a category for technical dress that is more about ergonomic cuts and breathable textiles that continue to bridge our workout/home lives.
C. Athleisure's Becomes simplified and iconic
After starting to watch the Netflix series 3%, I’m inspired by the the mix of simple cuts and and what look like synthetic meshes. After a movement of increasingly complex “engineered” patterns, we may see a return to simple, basic shapes that allow new textile technologies and color/pattern to shine.