Just about every week, it seems like a major lifestyle company launches an activewear line, or a new indie brand blows up on Instagram. Looking at the numbers, that's no surprise: While sales of women's apparel have remained more or less flat in recent history, sales of activewear have been steadily on the rise, according to NPD. In the U.S. alone, men and women spent more than $33 billion on workout leggings and other athletic gear between June 2013 and June 2014.
Money is being poured into the sector — not just from the Kate Spades, Ralph Laurens and Tory Burchs of the world, but also from venture capitalists, who have invested millions in upstart brands including Outdoor Voices, Tracksmith and Rhone, hoping that one will prove to be the next Lululemon or Nike.
But a fancy VC backer does not a good pair of yoga pants make. To find out what activewear brands we should have on our radar, we polled the market editors at several major fitness magazines — Women's Health, Shape and Self — as well as our own super-athletic editors, Alyssa and Cheryl. Here are the labels they think are set for major expansion.
Both Gabrielle Porcaro, senior fashion and market editor at Women's Health, and Julia Malacoff, senior fashion editor at Shape, rave about NYC-based Alala for its quality, fashionability and versatility: These are understated but fashion-forward pieces that are easy to wear, and transition easily from the gym to a post-workout brunch or errands. Founder Denise Lee started Alala in 2014 after working under venture capitalist and Tory Burch co-founder Chris Burch. Prices run on the high end of the spectrum — a pair of leggings will run you about $110, while a mesh bomber jacket is costs $225 — but are "absolutely worth it," Malacoff says. In addition to Alala's own website, the line is carried by Bloomingdale's, Equinox and Free People, among others.
K-Deer's multihued, black-striped leggings are immediately recognizable — so recognizable, in fact, that Athleta was compelled to pull a pair of yoga leggings that looked too similar to the three-year-old brand's after its fans ignited the web in protest. Founder Kristine Deer, a hot yoga enthusiast, started the label after she was laid off from her design job at Converse by John Varvatos, and her earliest designs are credited for helping kickstart the trend for printed leggings. Impressively, K-Deer's garments are all manufactured in New York and New Jersey of American-made fabrics. Tops and leggings, priced from $36 to $98, are sold through her website and boutiques and fitness studios around the world, and she has recently expanded her lineup to include athletic gear for kid's and men's.
Karma Athletics isn't a new kid on the block: The Vancouver-based brand has been in operation for 12 years, but isn't well-known in the U.S. — yet. The label is recognized for its sexy, strappy bra tops — Porcaro says they are her "go-to" when she's styling a Women's Health feature — but our own Cheryl Wischhover swears by Karma's tights, which favor natural prints, paneling and feminine details like pleated sides.
If you're a fan of sheer paneling and the occasional leopard or marble print, Varley is your new go-to. The brand launched in London in 2012 as a swimwear line, and just recently expanded into athleticwear. Porcaro is especially taken with the brands' mesh and zipper details, as well as its patterns. "This is a brand that I think fitness fanatics will rocking on the streets of New York in no time," she says.
P.E. Nation only launched on Monday, but it's already got the attention of Dana Ortiz, Self magazine's fashion market and accessories director, who is drawn to its graphic, streetwear-infused pieces and sleek silhouettes, which are cool as well as functional. A logoed crop top will run you about $79, while leggings are priced in the $100-$120 range on its website.
Aday's slick, sleek clothes could easily pass as streetwear — but don't be fooled, there's some serious sweat-wicking technology at work. Porcaro calls it "the ultimate workout-to-street collection." Cool details, like a cellphone pocket in the brand's bestselling $95 Brakes On Leggings, make its products beloved — and have landed founders Meg He and Nina Faulhaber on Forbes's 30 Under 30 list.
Michi arrived in New York in 2010, well before the activewear trend took off, and it already has a large list of international stockists (including Neiman Marcus and Shopbop) and a wide range of categories, including tennis and swim. Unconventional cutouts and rich pops of color are two of its signatures, making it a favorite of style editors, including our own Alyssa Vingan. The label's wares aren't cheap: A sports bra can cost up to $195 on Michi's website, while leggings run from $115-$225, but you can bet they don't look like anyone else's.
Forget yoga leggings — after trying one of Koral's head-to-toe performance jumpsuits, you may never go back to a traditional workout ensemble again. Based in L.A., designer Ilana Kugel creates memorable looks with delicate cutouts, diagonal sheer panels and fashion-forward prints and metallics, priced primarily in the $75-$175 range and available for purchase online.
Pineapples, roses, Frida Kahlo's face — all those, and more, can be found on Goldsheep's cheeky $95 leggings, which Malacoff swears are "the craziest but best leggings I have ever seen." (They're a favorite of "Big Bang Theory" actress Kaley Cuoco, too.) Every piece is made in Laguna Beach, Calif., and sold on Goldsheep's website and at a growing number of fitness studios.
Heroine Sport's designs are classic, sporty and slim — ideal for someone looking to branch out from Lululemon or Tory Sport, but not too far. Take a styling tip from Malacoff and layer the brands's bras and tanks ($95-$135) under a leather moto jacket. Its performance leggings ($110-$190) are also "super comfy and flattering," she says. Designs are sold on Heroine Sport's website as well as at major retailers including Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue.