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From College to Corporate: The Rise of Athleisure

Published on November 3, 2021 at 9:26 p.m.
by Gabrielle Jolly.

It’s no secret that 2020 was the year of stretchy pants, and many have yet to return to their previous wardrobes. Whether you’re at a corporate office, college campus or out running errands in the city, the athleisure trend is everywhere. This current fashion phenomenon allows brands to rethink their increased market scope, while maintaining and expanding newly segmented consumer relationships.

According to Allied Market Research, the U.S. athleisure market is projected to reach $257.1 billion by 2026. Shifts regarding the perception of health and wellness, fashion trends, and corporate dress codes have all resulted in a rise in functional and comfortable clothing for daily occasions.

athleisure leggings
Photo by Jacob Bentzinger on Unsplash

The emphasis on health and wellness in 2020 contributed to activewear sales, with conversations of inclusivity and body positivity following suit. Traditional athleisure companies like lululemon athletica launched extended sizing options in September 2020, while other niche alternatives rose to fame during this period. The authenticity of organizations like Girlfriend Collective and DAY/WON sparked interest among potential new market entrants. Their ethical practices and promises of inclusivity for all established a long-term relationship with new consumers in the activewear industry.

Along with health and wellness topics, societal fashion trends brought awareness to luxury lifestyle brands like Alo Yoga, Outdoor Voices and Splits59. According to Luxe Digital, the clear distinction between activewear and traditional clothing is quickly eroding with an opportunity for brands to showcase creativity.

In order to establish differentiation in the market, these luxury brands are emphasizing high-quality fabrics, funky designs and unconventional cutouts. With the help of influencers, sporting these garments creates a symbol of status and allows the clothing to be worn in a variety of situations. By reinforcing the unique aspect of comfort and fashion combined, brands are able to reach a wide variety of style-conscious consumers.

The widespread return-to-office movement offers additional options for brands to enter the activewear realm. The term “workleisure” has grown increasingly popular. For corporate professionals, this trend has provided a redesigned outlook on traditional office wardrobes.

Photo by LYFE Fuel on Unsplash

Brands like Athleta have capitalized on this opportunity by creating slacks with stretchier fabrics and dress shirts with breathable materials. Leading department store Nordstrom has responded to this shift by incorporating more “workleisure” outfits into its traditional clothing options. Clothing brands around the world can enter an entirely new and demanding industry of performance fabrics and versatile options for an even wider consumer base.

Authenticity remains a key consideration when evaluating a brand’s consumer base and ability to expand beyond its initial target consumers. With these emerging shifts in society, brands are able to redesign the concept of athleisure and divide this segment even further in order to create and maintain key relationships. However, it’s important for brands to formulate strategies for each category of athleisure in order to effectively maintain relationships in the future.

“I’m often asked if the athleisure trend is going to fade away, and the answer is no,” noted Marshal Cohen, chief industry advisor at NPD Group Inc. “When you have comfort and function combined with fashion, it’s difficult to go back to anything else on a regular basis.”

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