Posted on 10/29/2015

By Fran Stevenson, Director of Strategic Accounts

There’s a permeating fashion trend that is causing more of a hubbub than the rise of Crocs. Commonly known as “athleisure,” this style featuring accented yoga pants, slouch tops and tailored sweatshirts blurs the line between athletic wear and casual, everyday wear. While brands like Lululemon have catered to this growing trend for years, other businesses are creating special lines to cash in on the retail craze.

Why is it popular?

Athleisure is essentially athletic wear (think durable, breathable fabrics) that is also stylish enough that you can stroll into a store wearing it and not receive any judging glances. There are different ideas as to why this fashion trend is growing. Some experts say it’s a form of rebellion spearheaded by the millennial generation.

Department stores like Macy’s are reportedly struggling, with millennials shunning brands like Michael Kors and gravitating toward Nike, Under Armour and Lululemon, all of which support the athleisure trend.

"There is an underlying sense of rebellion that comes through in today’s fashion," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at market research company NPD.

Others believe it’s a reflection of the shift toward a healthier lifestyle. The growth of other health-centric brands supports this idea. Fitbit, a fitness tracker, saw exponential share growth after it filed its IPO in June. Other brands like indoor cycling business SoulCycle have popped up around the country and continue to spread.

Still, others say it’s just a fad. Only shopping trends over time will tell.

“[Athleisure] probably has two or three years before it loses some of its cool factor,” said Ellen Sideri, chief executive of trend forecasting firm ESP Trendlab.

Who’s joining the race

Whether or not athleisure is here to stay, athletic brands are capitalizing on its current popularity with new lines and concept stores. Dick’s Sporting Goods, whose sales usually rely on hard lines like sports equipment and fishing gear, opened a new athleisure-inspired chain called Chelsea Collective. Under Armour re-positioned their market strategy with its female empowering “I Will What I Want” ad campaigns, which star a feminine touch and ballet dancer Misty Copeland.

Other retailers that historically didn’t sell active wear are expanding their offerings to include stylish workout outfits, including Ann Taylor’s new “lifewear” sibling store Lou & Grey. Even the fashionably famous are seeing a market opportunity: Kate Hudson recently co-founded Fabletics, a “super-chic line of activewear for anywhere.”

Looking to the future

“People want to get up, put on one outfit, and be able to go from dropping off the kids at school to going to work to going out at night,” said fashion critic Booth Moore in an L.A. Times article.

Even if athleisure is here to stay, the number of brands entering the competition will most likely thin out over time. Brands like Lululemon have a leg up for entering the scene early, but also because they offer something not everybody else does: quality products and an “addictive experience.”

"They are addictive because each time customers co-create the experience with the brand, they are shaping it to their mood of the moment,” said retail expert Robin Lewis on his blog.

Other reasons attributing Lululemon’s success includes creating a sense of urgency with limited inventory and new items regularly hitting the racks. In fact, Lululemon’s success may have less to do with selling into a trendy marketspace and more to do with its savvy business model. Other brands might have to find a more specialized niche to fill in order to compete in the athleisure arena.

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