Feeling good is the new looking good

Have you noticed your favourite coffee shops are full of women who look like they’re forgotten to change after yoga?

The athleisure wear market is showing no signs of slowing down, but what exactly is it, and what has caused this trend to become the billion pound industry that it is?

Last year at the Women’s Innovation Summit in New York, Mike Parker — the CEO of Nike — said: “'Leggings are the new denim.” With more and more people wearing trainers in the office and the high street cashing in heavily on the trend, how is it that fitness has become fashion?

Last year, Key Note business intelligence estimated that not only will the UK sportswear market surpass £8 billion by 2019, but that it will increase by a whopping rate of 35.6% between 2015-19. With clothes that suggest that you look after your health and well-being, feeling good is the new looking good.

Currently, the sportswear market is approximately £7 billion. However, Mintel research found that only 53% of British consumers take part in a sport activity nearly once a week, with just one in six of us working up a sweat more than five times a week. Twenty-eight percent of 16-24 year olds exercise five times a week or more, with three in four of these younger shoppers making new sportswear purchases over the last year.

Mintel Retail Analyst Samantha Dover wrote: “The sports goods market continues to grow at an exceptional rate. Driven by a rising interest in health and wellness amongst young consumers, coupled with an increasing acceptance of casual dressing, the athleisure trend is dominating the sector.”

With people’s attitudes towards fitness changing, it’s clear that fitness isn’t just a fad any more. Rebecca Gillen, 27, is a qualified personal trainer and online coach. She describes London as a “hotspot” and also having the “best of everything in regards to exposure and the first to know about the latest trends”. She said: “I genuinely believe it's become a big deal because it's the 'in' thing to do”, she says about fitness in general.

Rebecca has always had an interest in keeping fit, but after returning to London from a trip to Australia in 2012, she really got into fitness. At the same time the Olympic Games were gripping the nation, subsequently motivating people to get exercising. During the Summer Games, sports goods sales increased by 7%, reported Mintel.

Rebecca wearing Gym+Coffee garments (@gympluscoffee)
Rebecca said: It’s definitely here to stay and it'll only get bigger! With the influence of celebrities in the fitness industry too it's becoming more and more popular.”

Nick Carroll, another retail analyst at Mintel, said the sporting goods market has benefited from increased sporting activity following the London Olympic Games and the Rugby World Cup. “It will certainly continue to spur on the market,” he wrote. “Sportswear has for a long time been worn outside of sport but in recent years more sports-led fashion styles have entered the mass market alongside a greater number of mass-market retailers that have launched dedicated sports lines.”

With its substantial hype, fitness has found its way to the high street. Topshops successful activewear range — Ivy Park co-founded by Beyoncé is now in its second season, Kate Hudson’s Fabletics brand was launched in the UK in 2014, and online retailers like Missguided have created exclusive sportswear collections too. 

This as of late health-kick craze may have been borne from the spirit of the London Games, but in 1998, Tamara Hill-Norton noticed a gap in the market to fuse fitness and fashion. Often considered as the “pioneer” of athleisure, she created Sweaty Betty. 

Charlotte Cane, 22, is a Customer Care Manager at the firm’s west London Wimbledon branch. She believes that if you feel good and confident in what you are wearing, then you are more likely to enjoy your workout, reach your peak physical potential and, in turn, see better results.

“Sweaty Betty clothes are original, high tech but fashion forward,” she says. “I think we stand alone in terms of our pioneering concepts, designs and prints. SB isn’t just a brand, it is a lifestyle, this is something extra we offer that most sportswear brands do not.”

Sweaty Betty in Wimbledon
Whilst clothing still dominates the sportswear sector at 54%, footwear is also at an all-time high, after Mintel estimated that sales would make up 34% of specialist sporting good sales in 2016 alone. Mintel’s Samantha Dover said: “Footwear is an increasingly crucial part of any sports retailer’s assortment. The substantial growth we’re seeing in the footwear segment is likely driven by the increased acceptance of sports clothing in society. In particular, athletic footwear has become a big, mainstream fashion trend.”

Wearing athleisure may seem the easy option for people’s busy lifestyles but in the last few years there’s been a 90s casual style resurgence. According to the Telegraph around half of Britons bought sports clothing for non-sports use, with a third of shoppers saying they bought fashionable sportswear that can be worn when not exercising.

A revival of nostalgic sports brands like Ellesse, Fila and Reebok are becoming relevant again because of millennials - a generation who didn’t get to embrace this fashion the first time round. Whilst it may be labelled that it’s influence comes from the working class “chav” subculture, it’s still created another reason to give rise to the athleisure market. It’s success has even influenced luxury brands like Chanel who churned out flash trainers on the Parisian catwalk in 2014.

In a post-recession consumer climate which has seen the closure of retailers like BHS, more and more apparel brands are seeing the continuing success and thus choosing to compete in the athleisure sector. There is a new attitude towards wearing sportswear. It’s not just a fashion-forward movement, but it’s a communicative lifestyle choice that’s here to stay.

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