The numbers don’t lie: yoga pants are the new blue jeans. In 2014 alone, the U.S. active-wear market hit $35.1 billion in sales, resulting in an 8 percent increase over 2013. All the while, after decades of consistent growth, blue jeans sales fell 6 percent.
While retail sales have been on the decline, athleisure apparel– comfortable stylish clothing with an athletic function– has seen impressive growth. What started as a cultural acceptance of yoga pants being worn in after-yoga settings has spiraled into a fashion craze, with even iconic fashion houses like Chanel sending sneakers down the runway in their fall 2014 Ready-to-Wear fashion show. This shift from traditional to gym-ready, everyday apparel has so greatly surpassed the threshold of a fashion trend that it has evolved into its own lifestyle.
While many trends come in and out of style, very few manage to actually establish themselves in the fashion hierarchy— how is it that athleisure has so seamlessly done just that?
Embracing the Busy, Health-Conscious Consumer
Today’s consumer is always on-the-go, and multifunctional, “crossfit-to-crosswalk” clothing meets the demands of their busy schedules. This is especially important to Millennials, who place an added value on versatile apparel. A widespread relaxation of office dress codes has also created the opportunity for professionals to save time by dressing for both work and play. Athleisure brands satisfy all of these needs with stylish, multi-purpose, quality fitness apparel.
One could argue this rise in active-wear is due to a shift in lifestyle trends rather than a shift in fashion trends, but that would only tell half of the story. Athleisure’s magic lies in combining functionality with fashion statements. Meet one of these criteria, and you have a trend. Satisfy both, and you have a legacy.
Selling A Lifestyle
Companies specializing in athleisure (such as Lululemon, Nike and Under Armour) do so much more than sell apparel—they sell a lifestyle. Shoppers buy athleisure apparel at a higher price point because they are motivated by the perceived lifestyle benefits that come with the clothing. The power does not lie in the products themselves; rather it is the stories behind these brands and products that stimulate consumers to keep buying.
Take Lululemon, for instance, and what the company truly offers behind its $92 yoga pants. Through goal setting workshops with life coaches, they create added value by offering inspiration, motivation, and opportunity at the community level. Through partnerships with neighboring studios, Lululemon allows their customers the opportunity to try out the Lulu-experience through complimentary in-store classes. Lululemon is truly dedicated to establishing itself as less of a retail store and more of a manifesto to achieving greatness and happiness, and the lifestyle they portray makes it nearly impossible for customers to turn away.
Lululemon is not the only company to use life motivation and inspiration to reach its consumers. Take a look at the stories behind Under Armour and its “I WILL WHAT I WANT” initiative for women’s active-wear. Under Armour partnered with Misty Copeland, the first African American woman to be named as principal dancer at the acclaimed American Ballet Theater, to connect its brand narrative with the perseverance and determination of her story. With this partnership, Under Armour is not just selling leggings and spandex, they are selling what it means to want something great and to have the will to achieve it.
Athleisure brands succeed in building emotional attachments between their product and the consumer, making it only a matter of time before they return for more. Customers not only want the pants themselves, but the active lifestyle that comes with them. They look and feel the part while wearing athleisure garments, and this inspires them to embody the characteristics that athleisure brands represent. With wellness currently trending as a lifestyle, consumers’ choice of athleisure over other apparel should come as no surprise.
Athleisure brands leveraged changing consumer habits to gain a stronghold in the apparel sector and crafted a “can’t live without it” craze through effective storytelling, making the movement bigger than a fleeting fashion trend. They have positioned their products as the core of a healthy lifestyle—and with that this trend will continue to breathe on for a while. Denim purveyors, beware.