Athleisure Makes it Big on Wall Street

Sneakers lined up on a wall

Athleisure is looking like more than just a fad.
Image: Lodimup / Shutterstock.com

Last year U.S. consumers spent nearly $2 billion on active wear, sports shows, and gym bags. This trend is building muscle and attracting big investors. When a pair of leggings selling for $400 can be worn to the gym or to brunch with a blazer you know there’s an opportunity for profit. Lululemon and Nike have been in the market for years. Now, aspirational brands like Tory Burch are entering the market as well, led by a board including Bill E. Ford. This fad is looking more and more like a new classic.

So what’s the appeal of athletic wear worn outside of athletics? For one, the combination of comfort and style is a definite winner. And for the designers, it’s a chance to combine a variety of interests into one line. “I have always been passionate about sports,” says Tory Burch, “and activewear is something I have wanted to do for years. Our goal was to design a collection that balances fashion and function.”

“Casual and ‘Athleisure’ have taken on a life of their own,” says Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst of The NPD Group, Inc. “This is no longer a trend—it is now a lifestyle that is too comfortable, for consumers of all ages, for it to go away anytime soon.”

The Athleisure lifestyle appeals in particular to Milennials who are frugal but not cheap. If an item of clothing can have more than one purpose—exercise, casual wear, business casual—it’s more likely to appeal to this segment. But can you really wear yoga pants to work?

“I know it sounds crazy, but you can style a full look around these leggings,” says April Hennig, Bergdorf’s vice president of women’s contemporary. “They really are acceptable in multiple end uses.”

But will shoppers pay $100 or more for athleisure wear? So far, the answer is a definite yes. US consumers spent $323 billion on apparel, footwear, and accessories in 2014, a 1% increase from the previous year. That 1%, which was equivalent to about $2 billion in sales, was largely driven by athleisure.

Meanwhile, upscale clothing stores like Lord & Taylor, which once displayed brands like Under Armour with pajamas, now feature athleisure front and center with women’s dresses. Sneakers have made it to the front and center of the shoe department. And some brands, such as Nike, have created entire showcases specifically for athleisure wear.

While fashion trends come and go, athleisure is poised to be a big money-maker for some time to come.

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