As Trends Shift, Activewear and Athleisure Remain Relevant to Fashion
As utilitarian looks and retro-style streetwear gain momentum, some in the fashion industry are declaring the end of activewear and athleisure. Looking back through activewear’s history, from the bodysuit–and–leg warmer days of the 1980s to the baggy basketball shorts of the 1990s and the track suits of the early 2000s, it’s clear that activewear doesn’t leave fashion—it simply evolves over time.
Examining the evolution of activewear and its athleisure sibling, it is apparent that this category of apparel has become a mainstay of fashion. Just ask Beyoncé and Adidas, who recently announced they were partnering to relaunch Knowles-Carter’s Ivy Park brand of athleisure apparel.
For the latter half of 2019, forecasters note that fashions are comfortable but stylish in a fun way. Many of the characteristics
of these fashions are spreading into activewear and athleisure by simplifying a consumer’s life.
“There are all these trend reports coming out for late 2019 or 2020 saying that ‘utility chic’ is trending. To me, it’s simply adding function to the clothes you’re wearing,” said Bre Neidt, senior designer at Walnut, Calif.–based activewear brand Thrive Société.“As an evolution, utility chic is a trend in active and athleisure that will bring more pockets, more functionality and also more reflective items to make female athletes safer.”
Active and athleisure pieces are often paired with more-formal apparel to create a fresh take on business and special-event attire. For the upcoming season, pairing more-casual styles from the activewear and athleisure markets will become more common.
“Athleisure is the uniform of the new generation. It has broken out of category, and it encompasses everything from your classic white T-shirt and items with serious tailoring to pieces polished enough for a boardroom,” said Michelle Wahler, co-founder of Culver City, Calif., brand Beyond Yoga. “It’s no longer about the activity, it is about servicing a lifestyle. We are excited to be in a space that is so flexible and future facing.”
Not only are brands designing to serve the fashionable active and athleisure client, but partners along the supply chain also report that these two segments of the apparel market remain strong. At Long Beach, Calif., fabric manufacturer Texollini,there is a large offering of textiles that serve the active and athleisure categories.
Texollini’s director of merchandising, Sherry Wood, explained that the segment is strong. “We haven’t seen any slowdown in either the active or athleisure market. If anything, we’ve seen continual growth,” she said. “There is this big market happening with self-awareness and self-wellness and health—not only with diet, but also mentally. It’s a lifestyle trend.”
Style in the active segment
During trend-forecasting shows for Fall 2019 and into 2020, there has been a lot of talk about a return to bright colors including hot pink, orange, lime and cool cyan while mixing these hues with more neutral tones such as dusty rose or olive green. When pairing active and athleisure pieces for a look that reaches beyond gym walls, Neidt mentions that accessorizing and layering is key to the trend-driven consumer.
“The super-crop hoodie or crew for Fall—it’s about showing how many pieces you can show off at once through layering,” she said. “The woman who is trend driven will invest in a lightweight cargo pant in a utility fabric in a stretch woven that can be worn to work with a heel and on a hike with sneakers. You can dress it up or dress it down and it will work for you all day long.”
A key element of athleisure has been its ability to add versatility to a consumer’s wardrobe. Investing in quality pieces that work in a variety of settings, from lounging at home to a night out with friends, has been the earmark of this segment.
“Over the last five years, we have used our fabrics to make more crossover items like rompers, loungewear and trend basics—items you could wear out for cocktails,” Wahler said. “[Our customer] wants to live comfortably and for all of her items to move seamlessly through her day. The same high-quality leggings she wears to a class she wants to toss a tunic over and look chic at supper. For the consumer, it is no longer an ‘active’ category, it’s simply fashion.”
Throughout the most recent period when fashion has embraced more-active styles and the advent of athleisure, a noticeable shift in athletic-focused apparel manufacturing has occurred. Serious athletes also want to have fun with their clothing, oftentimes through their warmup and post-workout apparel.
“Those that started as pure activewear brands now include some portion of athleisure,” Wood said. “Within their high-performance, active garments, they are now adding athleisure, whether it’s T-shirts, tops, track suits, sweats, sweatshirts or hoodies—any of those styles will complement and can be mixed with true active styles.”
On the activewear side, Wood has noticed trends moving toward technical fabrics that provide performance value to consumers who need apparel that will maintain its integrity despite demanding workouts and wash cycles.
“We’re seeing specific trends from a textile perspective with second-skin fabrics that are fine gauge with a lot of Lycra and some compression,” she said. “They are lightweight, free flowing with great movement but still have technical properties.”
On the athleisure side of the textile business, she sees demand for French terry, fleece, ribbed, twills and novelty jacquards, as texture is trending in a major way among brands who serve this market. At Thrive Société, Neidt is designing toward these trends as she sees consumers responding to multi-textured garments.
“We’ve seen a push toward ribbing and mixing it with a solid, smoother fabric,” she said. “You’re getting that textural play by making your solid garment more interesting. You’re seeing more jacquards and also beautifully monotonal multi-textured garments.”
The role of active and athleisure
The consistent success—and staying power—of the activewear and athleisure markets goes beyond the new trends in style but can also be found in the positive effects it can have on a person’s mood.
“Some brands are doing better than others, but the ones that are doing better are approaching inclusivity and highlighting our diversity by promoting fearless body positivity,” Wood said. “It’s all-encompassing. The brands are trying to diversify and not cater to one active or athleisure customer.”
The future of activewear and athleisure lies in the ability of these segments to support body positivity and diversity in a way that pure fashion struggles to achieve.
“There are girls who work out that are not a size small, but they are healthy and they are allowed to feel good about themselves,” Neidt explained.
Activewear and athleisure brands are onboard with the feel-good trends. When consumers wear clothing that makes them feel better or improves their self-esteem, they are likely to return to the brands that provided these experiences.
“We pull from runway trends and combine that inspiration with our high-endurance fabrics and popular silhouettes,” Wahler said. “We want all women to be able to access trend-forward collections that make them look and feel amazing.”
Brands have also noticed a change in the attitude of their clientele as the demands of the female consumer are reflective of an emboldened overall outlook.
“That is the state of women,” Neidt said. “The trends are going the way women are feeling: empowered, bold and our future is bright.”