How Many More Laps Are Left for the Athleisure Trend?

Financial gurus around the United States have started to ask whether the prosperous athleisure trend is on its last run around the track.

Recently, retail analysts have been dissecting the revenues of various sporting-goods stores and athleisure makers whose fortunes have risen with the tsunami wave of growth in everything that comes in stretchy fabric. And some are starting to sound the alarm that the athleisure trend is nearing its end.

After Dick’s Sporting Goods reported its same-store sales were up a weak 0.1 percent in the second quarter, retail analysts blamed slowing athleisure sales as one culprit contributing to the fall-off.

That analysis was loudly voiced by John Zolidis, president of Quo Vadis Capital, who blamed Dick’s lackluster results on dipping athleisure sales. “The largest issue, in our opinion, is the end of the fashion athletic trends, or ‘athleisure’ as it has been called,” he wrote in a report. “This is an industry-wide trend.”

He pointed out that skidding athleisure sales contributed to lackluster revenues at Big Five Sporting Goods, Hibbett Sports, Lululemon, Under Armour and Nike. Some of these stores should be benefiting from the Sports Authority closing 450 stores across the nation last year after the large sporting-goods chain filed for bankruptcy. Southern California–based Sport Chalet also filed for bankruptcy last year, shuttering 47 stores.

But is the trend really dead?

Most experts and retail sages believe the fashion craze is slowing down but still has legs to run on. According to The NPD Group, activewear sales for men, women and children totaled $45 billion for the 12 months ending in June, barely up from a year earlier. In comparison, non-activewear totaled $170 billion in sales for the 12 months ending in June, down slightly from a year ago.

“Athleisure is still growing but slowing,” said Marshal Cohen, retail analyst for The NPD Group. “Part of the slowdown is the nature of the product.”

He noted that athleisure has entered that area where everyone is getting into the game and prices are coming down rapidly. “Target is putting together a good sports bra for $19 and an athletic bottom for $39 compared to other brands that sell a bra for $79 and a bottom for $120,” he said. “Also, a lot of this stuff wears like iron. It is not in the same replenishment cycle as regular athletic wear.”

Then there is the fashion part of it, which doesn’t change much. Leggings are leggings with only a few things such as prints changing seasonally. “Leggings are a little different and there is some interest in different prints, but when all is said and done, people don’t say, ‘That is last year’s style or last year’s color,’” Cohen said.

Competition, partnerships and fashion innovation

Roseanne Morrison, fashion director for The Doneger Group, a trend forecasting and retail advisory company in New York, said she heard athleisure was leveling off, but she didn’t believe it was declining. “People are still working out. The girls are extremely competitive about what they are wearing, and they want to keep up with the trend, look their best and see what other people are wearing,” she said. “This lifestyle trend to be fit and well is a shift in our culture.”

Fung Global Retail & Technology has been monitoring the athleisure industry and believes it has enough energy to keep jogging. “However, it does appear to be entering a new phase,” said Deborah Weinswig, a global retail analyst and managing director at Fung Global. “Consumers still want to incorporate sport-styled designs into their everyday wardrobe.”

She said athleisure for men is one area that continues to gain momentum. That was seen at athleisure retailer Lululemon Athleta, which now sees menswear making up 20 percent of its total revenues. The pioneering yogawear retailer recently launched some key products for men such as “Metal Vent Tech” and “Pack-and-Dash” run tops, which were expected to boost sales. Also, sales of men’s bottoms, often the first thing that people buy in the athleisure category, were up 20 percent in the first quarter compared to last year.

Manik Aryapadi, a principal in the retail practice of A.T. Kearney, a global strategy and management consulting firm, said that athleisure has grown at a double-digit pace over the last three years but is hitting some headwinds. “But I wouldn’t say, ‘Oh my god, it is falling off the charts,’” he said.

He also noted that retailers fear that will be stepping into the arena with its own private athleisure label, adding to the fact that the field is already crowded as more companies enter the category.

Or Amazon could partner with a big athleisure brand, much like it did with Nike, which is working on selling some of its products directly on Amazon to take advantage of the popular online shopping site. “That Nike deal is sending shivers through the sporting-goods industry, which relies significantly on Nike,” he said.

By 2021, Amazon is expected to account for 16.2 percent of apparel sales, or $62 billion, followed by T.J. Maxx and Macy’s.

Innovation is expecting to be the savior for the athleisure category, as it has been for all fashion trends through the years. That could mean that more athleisure fabrics are integrated into everyday clothes or different tech fabrics are developed that mask sweat and hide imperfections.

Andy Annunziata, an analyst at SportsOneSource, sees the athleisure trend showing flat sales this year and then shifting to lifestyle brands that are influenced by activewear. “Still, the crystal ball is cloudy,” he said. “We need some innovation in the active world to get people juiced up again.”

Some of that innovation is coming from Outdoor Voices, a relatively young athleisure retailer started in 2013 by former athlete and Parsons School of Design grad Tyler Haney.

Recently it collaborated with French cult retailer A.P.C. to develop a limited collection that had well-fitting and long-lasting pieces that could be worn every day.

This year, Mickey Drexler, the former chief executive of J.Crew, was named to head Outdoor Voices’ board of directors after his Drexler Ventures led a $9 million convertible note to Outdoor Voices that can be turned into equity.

Currently, Outdoor Voices has three stores and three pop-ups—with one at The Grove in Los Angeles—but it is hoping to expand its store footprint this year and next, giving athleisure a new look and a new voice.