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How Fashion's Athleisure Obsession Is Taking Over the Beauty Industry

It's not just for the fashion realm anymore.
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The fashion world seems to have finally reached its peak obsession with athleisure, a market now estimated to be worth nearly $44 billion in the U.S. alone, according to consumer market research firm NPD Group. At this point, it's practically an exercise in futility to name a designer or major fashion brand who hasn't jumped aboard the activewear train — and lately, a slew of beauty brands have begun to follow suit. As consumers have demonstrated an increased interest in getting fit — and in sharing said fitness routines with the world via social media — beauty companies have found an opportunity to carve out a market for their products amongst gym junkies. Welcome to the age of athleisure beauty.

The fitness-focused category has begun to crop up both in line extensions from established brands and in entire brands founded around the concept. Through these collections, which emphasize natural-looking makeup and breathable formulations that (supposedly) endure through sweaty gym sessions without causing breakouts, brands are looking woo beauty junkies' inner athletes — and, at once, athletes' inner beauty junkies.

Rae Cosmetics' sweat-resistant makeup line. Photo: Rae Cosmetics

Rae Cosmetics' sweat-resistant makeup line. Photo: Rae Cosmetics

Then there's Rae Cosmetics, a line that was created entirely around the notion of appealing to active makeup users, where all of its products were developed to last through workouts and heat. "I was a sweaty girl who was active at the gym — and I was doing it in Texas," recalls Rochelle Rae, the company's founder. "For me, no makeup isn't an option, but I'd end up looking like a hot mess. There had to be something better." Rae was ahead of the curve, launching her niche cosmetics line in 2005; the Climate Cooling Mineral Tint foundation remains a best seller. But Rae has seen the demand for her company's products change in recent years as the culture around working out has transformed. Going to the gym or yoga is now a social experience: "You don't just go to quietly work out alone and leave. You meet friends, have a coffee or go straight to a date," says Rae. "It's nice having makeup that will hold up without smudging or leaving stains on your white T-shirt after a workout."

Brands also are keeping in mind the slew of Snapchat and Instagram users (raise your hand if you've ever snapped a sweaty selfie) when it comes to creating athleisure-oriented beauty products. Sweat Cosmetics, a brand made specifically for active women, launched in the summer of 2015. Created by five former professional and Olympic athletes, the inspiration came from their own experiences playing collegiate and professional soccer.

"We were out on the field and in front of the camera and couldn't find a product that would hold up and was good for our skin," says Courtney Jones, CEO of Sweat Cosmetics. "Nowadays, we're in front of the lens more than ever thanks to social media." The brand's formulations incorporate chemical-free sun protection (zinc oxide), and are breathable and silicone-free, since the common makeup ingredient can trap oil and clog pores. "We saw the trend of downplaying your femininity as a female athlete moving to celebrating your femininity," says Jones. "There's something special about feeling good while you're heading to a workout; you feel more confident and ready to take on your day."

Sephora began selling Sweat Cosmetics in June 2016, and was also the exclusive launch partner for First Aid Beauty's Hello FAB superfood and athleisure-oriented skin-care line in December of last year. The beauty retail giant is also a purveyor of skin and body care brand Yuni, which touts itself as "the first beauty brand inspired by the athleisure movement." Yuni sells items like body wipes and muscle recovery gel targeted to consumers with active lifestyles and busy schedules who prize efficiency and portability.

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Tarte's athleisure colleciton. Photo: Tarte Cosmetics

Tarte's athleisure colleciton. Photo: Tarte Cosmetics

In December, Tarte launched its own take on athleisure makeup — literally called its Athleisure line — which consists of a highlighting moisturizer, sweatproof mascara and oil-blotting papers. "We like to think of it as the yoga pants of skin care," says Maureen Kelly, CEO and founder of Tarte. "It helps you have this quiet confidence; you know you look good and pulled together when you run out of the house." 

With Tarte's athleisure play, social media has been a key marketing tactic. Tarte's social team has been regularly snapping workouts while test-driving the products, and even motivating consumers to get moving by creating community-sourced playlists on Spotify. "[Our followers] snap us their favorite songs and we add it to a special workout playlist," says Kelly. She also tapped beauty and fitness expert Laiba Zaid (a.k.a. @Bodmonzaid), who boasts 1.2 million followers, as the face of the new collection. A powerlifter and personal trainer who also moonlights as a beauty YouTuber, Zaid views the rise of athleisure makeup as a positive trend because she's convinced it will motivate more women to work out in the first place. "I think [it could] actually encourage more people to work out if they have options that are actually good for their skin," she says.

Meanwhile, other makeup brands are experimenting with marketing their waterproof or long-wear products as athleisure-oriented. (Let's keep in mind that cosmetics companies have been producing water-resistant makeup or formulas for decades; this is merely a reversal in the language being used to talk about them.) One example is Thrive Causemetics, which invited beauty editors to test out its new lashes and waterproof eyeliner during a FlyWheel class. "My love of fitness and nutrition was the true inspiration behind creating sweat-proof products," says Karissa Bodnar, the company's CEO. "As a teen, I had terrible acne, [which caused] me to never go to the gym without makeup. Because I didn't have access to clean beauty products, sweating in my makeup only made my acne worse." Bodnar says she consults with dermatologists to make sure her products won't clog pores. As an added measure, the company also brings real-life athletes into the product creation process, adjusting the makeup to make sure it fits their needs. 

In late 2015, Birchbox launched Arrow, an athleisure-inspired skin and makeup collection designed specifically for women with active lifestyles. "We recognized the significance of the athleisure movement and knew our customers were among the women embracing the trend. We saw an opportunity there," says Jenna Hilzenrath, a spokesperson for Birchbox. The company will expand its Arrow line (which already consists of lip balm, aluminum-free deodorant, brow gel, face mist and a cooling cheek tint) with cleansing cloths, skin tints and water-resistant eye makeup in January. Tarte's Athleisure collection began with limited-edition items, but Kelly hinted at growing the collection for the summer. In short: Plenty of makeup and skin-care brands are getting in on this concept to market their products, and from a retail perspective, it seems to be working.

The athleisure fashion industry is predicted to grow to an $83 billion business by 2020, and beauty companies are banking on that same growth within their realm. "Fitness-conscious consumers and gym-goers are a rising demographic; we plan to continue to keeping them in mind as we formulate new products," says Bodnar. "We figure that if makeup can last through a real marathon, it will most definitely keep up in this marathon we call life." Now all that remains to be seen is whether the brands themselves can have the same sort of staying power their makeup formulas do.

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