ATHLEISURE AND SNEAKER CULTURE ARE CHANGING MAINSTREAM FASHION

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The athleisure apparel and sportswear categories continue to grow at above-market rates, and they are exerting significant influence on mainstream fashion. In the US, consumers increasingly prefer to dress in outfits that they can wear to the office, the gym and after work as well. These kinds of clothes are often more comfortable than traditional workwear, and not having to switch outfits based on activity or setting saves people time. The technology sector was where athleisurewear first found acceptance in the workplace, but the trend has now spread to more traditional industries such as advertising and business. Athleisure’s expanding influence is even affecting fashion categories such as denim and formalwear. Meanwhile, sneaker culture is impacting the broader footwear market, from the mass-market segment to the luxury space. Both of these trends underlie the increasing casualization of fashion.

Market forecasts call for growth of the athleisure and sportswear categories to continue to outpace growth of the broader apparel market. Sales of sportswear (an umbrella category encompassing athleisurewear) will hit nearly $116 billion this year, Euromonitor International forecasts, and grow at a 3.0% CAGR from 2018 to 2020—more than twice as fast as the combined US apparel and footwear market, which the firm forecasts will grow at a 1.3% CAGR over the period.

Athleisure’s influence is expanding beyond sportswear into traditional categories such as workwear and denim, in many cases supplanting denim entirely. Athleisure bottoms—especially leggings and yoga pants—have replaced jeans at a 1:1 ratio, according to The NPD Group. Back in 2000, premium denim jeans went for $200–$300 a pair, but this year, the average price for a pair of jeans is expected to be $32, driven by an expected 1.8% price decrease and a 5% annual market decline, according to Euromonitor International. Rather than purchasing a pair of designer jeans, many women today are electing to purchase a more comfortable and less-expensive pair of yoga pants, and new athleisure brands at both ends of the pricing spectrum have followed Lululemon Athletica’s lead as they seek to meet this demand. Yet rumors of the demise of jeans appear to be exaggerated: Levi’s reported an 8% sales gain in 2017 and many designers have been developing hybrid products that combine the durability of denim with the style and comfort of athleticwear.

Meanwhile, sneaker culture is invading many segments of footwear—from the mass market to luxury—and lifting the entire footwear market. As part of the continuing casualization of fashion, shoes that people historically wore only for sports are now often seen in more formal arenas, and this is particularly true for sports footwear styles from luxury brands such as Balenciaga, Coach, Fendi, Gucci and Prada.

Sock sneakers are one of the latest footwear trends. Originally designed by traditional sports apparel makers Adidas and Nike, these shoes have a minimal, stretchy knit upper attached to a sole, and no laces. Luxury sock sneaker brands include Balenciaga, DKNY, Fendi, Marni and Rick Owens. Demand for this style has been on fire: from the first quarter through the early part of the third quarter in 2017, the number of sock-like sneaker luxury brands increased by 220%, and the shoes had an average price of $410 in the third quarter last year, according to fashion researcher Edited.

Major athletic brands are down, but not out, in terms of competing with athleisure brands. In their respective latest quarterly earnings reports, Nike reported that its digital sales had climbed over the quarter, while Adidas reported a 10% increase in quarterly sales and Under Armour reported that sales had stabilized during the period.

Another driver of athleisurewear demand is the rising popularity of wellness as the new status symbol. Many health-minded individuals participate in aspirational fitness classes and social fitness events; enjoy healthy, organic and natural food; and use devices to quantify their health and track their fitness. The global wellness market was already worth $3.7 trillion back in 2015, according to the nonprofit Global Wellness Institute.

As consumers increasingly adopt sportswear as daily wear, apparel brands will add functionality to their products to ride this trend. More new brands are likely to enter the athleisure market and existing brands will likely continue to expand their product offerings to address more of the market. Thus, the athleisure category will continue to grow as the line between activewear and daywear blurs further. The combination of cultural trends, favorable demographics and innovation should continue to drive above-market growth for the athleisure category, which could generate $130 billion in sales by 2020.

 

Other pieces you may find interesting include: Deep Dive: Athleisure Update—a Market in Transition, Adidas Investor Day 2017: Riding the Athleisure and E-Commerce WavesA Primer on Athleisure5 Trends in the Athleisure Retail Space.

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