If there’s anything fashion people are as fanatical about as getting their hands on their favorite designers’ collections each season, it’s getting into their favorite workout classes each week. They all have their alliances, whether it’s to a particular yoga teacher, a state-of-the-art Pilates reformer class or a boutique spin studio, and, naturally, they're not going to show up in just any old pair of sweats. Having the right high-end workout gear has become just as important. Of course, this phenomenon is not limited to the fashion community, though the industry has seen an uptick in sports-inspired clothing and activewear as daywear in 2014.
Activewear sales are booming, and the active sports category is the fastest-growing segment of the market. Consumer market research firm NPD reported that sales of activewear and athletic footwear reached $36 billion YTD in August 2013, and that sales in this category were growing faster than other apparel -- they were up seven percent in 2013. It seems that everywhere we turn -- including publications like French Vogue -- gym gear is present, and this might just be the beginning.
“It’s really based on the trend towards activewear as daywear and weekend wear, which we’ve seen as a fast growing theme on the runways for the past few seasons,” says Sheila Aimette, VP of North American Content at trend forecasting firm WGSN. “With more consumers adopting this trend, it’s natural for many labels to create product that speaks to what consumers want and are wearing.”
In line with that thinking, a number of traditional ready-to-wear and accessories brands have added an activewear category to their offerings in recent months, with H&M, Old Navy, Juicy Couture and Free People among them. Tory Burch has also announced that her label will begin offering activewear options—meant for both inside and outside of the gym—beginning in spring 2015.
“[Activewear has] been something that we’ve talked about for so long, but it’s something we really wanted to get right, so it took some time to figure out how to interpret it for our customer,” Ana Hartl, managing director of creative at Free People, tells us about FP Movement, the brand’s new range of activewear designed for yoga, surf and ballet. “You can be really cute and fashionable, but will still feel secure during your workout.”
While the line is meant for rigorous activity—the pieces were tested out by a number of the hard-core yogis within the Free People team—it is just as suitable for everyday. “A lot of it can be what you wear on the weekends. It’s casual and comfortable, and you still feel good whether or not you’re working out. I know some people aspire to these [athletic] activities and others dabble in them, so I think it should reach some more serious athletes as well as people who are still getting into it,” says Hartl.
More than anything else, Free People wanted to meet customer demand. “So many people are interested in fitness now, which is a great thing—I think within our main collection, there are pieces that aren’t necessarily meant for yoga but could be. People want that from us.”
To outfit their most loyal devotees, some of the most popular fitness studios in New York—namely SoulCycle and Barry’s Bootcamp—have recently expanded their owns lines of apparel to increase brand awareness both in and outside of class. Since SoulCycle partnered with Shopbop to sell its pieces and Barry’s teamed up with Bloomingdale's, even consumers who don’t have these classes in their cities (at least for the time being) can still feel like they’re a part of that particular fitness community. Shopbop and Bloomingdale's aren't the only retailers getting in on the action: Industry rumors suggest that luxury e-tailer Net-a-Porter also wants to take a bite out of the fitness apparel craze, and will be expanding its activewear offerings later this year.
Additionally, classic sports brands like Nike and Adidas are joining forces with luxury designers at an alarming rate. Jeremy Scott has had a long-standing partnership with Adidas Originals, but in 2014 alone, the brand announced that it would be collaborating on capsule collections with the likes of Mary Katrantzou, Pharrell Williams, Topshop and, the fashion world’s enfant terrible himself, Kanye West. Nike released a collection with Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci called Nike + R.T. in March.
That both Nike and Adidas are trying to up their fashion cred is not surprising. Aimette believes that the global influence of street style has a lot to do with it. (You might recall that fashion editors started flocking to the classic Adidas Stan Smiths sneaker during Fashion Week in February, following Céline designer Phobe Philo’s endorsement of them and a handful of runway appearances.)
"I believe many designers are also inspired by what is going on in the streets from around the world,” Aimette explains. “I see many designers themselves wear the more directional sneakers and want to be part of these limited, high-end collaborations because it speaks to their own sensibilities. By pairing with these classic active brands, designers have almost a sure-fire way to reach consumers that are part of that world, and also introduce new consumers to their brand. As the mix of high and low, formal and active, continues to intensify, so will these collaborations,” she says.
Whether or not you’re a fitness devotee, the trend of wearing activewear both inside and outside of the gym is likely here to stay, at least for a while, thanks in part to the increasing popularity of incorporating sporty elements into street style looks, but also because of what's been shown on the runways.
From Tom Ford’s sequined sports jerseys and Alexander Wang’s relaxed, utilitarian track pants, to Chanel’s ultra-casual sweats and sneakers and Jeremy Scott’s very literal take on the trend—there were dresses made to look like baseball socks—sports pervaded fall 2014 fashion month. Aimette adds, “It’s a testament to the trickle up effect of street style influencing the higher end.”