Why Athleisure? July Series

Editor’s Note

So what’s the store with athleisure anyway?

Why athleisure? No one can deny that we are in an age of activity. From Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, to the Back to Nature movement in Kenya moving you to juice yourself back to health, to fitbits tracking your every move, being active is essential, there is no doubt about that. But we are not going to debate that here right now. The boom in fitness has given birth to a commensurate boom in apparel and footwear. What I would like to point out is how common it is these days to find women doing grocery shopping or having brunch looking like they are about to go running or pull out a yoga mat but surprisingly look quite casual. You know who I am talking about, the woman who is dressed in black leggings, sneakers probably with a white sole, a sporty t-shirt and a waterfall sweater (because it’s cold out there), a loose scarf stepping out with a green juice in one hand and fitbit in the other: the athleisure wear customer. Boom!

Athleisure - (c)PureWow.com
Athleisure – (c)PureWow.com

What is athleisure you may ask? I would call it the “just about to hit the gym but first let me grab a coffee and run one errand” look. Formally though, athleisure is a smart casual sporty look, basically athletic active leisure wear. You can wear the leggings, casual sneakers and the loose vest with that “familiar tick” but it doesn’t mean you are actually going to break a sweat. Looking like you are about to though doesn’t hurt though right? Athleisure started off as a trend but it is far more than that with it’s inclusion in the 2016 unabridged version of Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defined thus “casual clothing designed to be worn for both exercising and for general use.”

Athleisure basically refers to your yoga pants, leggings, sweat pants, hoodies, sneakers that can basically translate from your morning workout to lunch to a dash in the office (depending on where you work) to heading to a movie (granted you have showered after a workout). Elizabeth Holmes from the Wall Street Journal stated in her article “Are You Going to the Gym, or Do You Just Dress That Way?” in May 2015 “It is a big moment for “athleisure,” the apparel industry’s term for the casual athletic-inspired way of dressing rooted in leggings, tank tops and sneakers.”

streetnic-feature-1 Lululemon (c)Sportsluxe
streetnic-feature-1 Lululemon (c)Sportsluxe

There is a reason this has become a series in our TDS books. When you look at a Nike store, it is a fashion store with a different type of apparel; sports wear. Why athleisure has become so prominent, beyond the obvious fact that people clearly want to be uber comfortable all the time, is that luxury fashion brands began to adopt athleisure into their collections. Kit Hamlen from Paste Magazine stated in her article “Keeping Pace with Athleisure Suits” 2015 “this multi-purpose, typically androgynous style is rooted in streetwear ease and athletic functionality, and has more and more people opting to wear hoodies, neutral-hued basis and even sweatpants beyond the gym and into the office, while running errands, and of course, while reclining on the couch – because what is athleisure without, well, leisure.” She further stated that the end goal for all players in the activewear style industry is a return to comfort, “effortless ease and the unspoken understanding that these crossover pants, tops and jackets are as appropriate for the gym as the every day.”

Think of Ivy Park, an activewear brand co-founded by Beyoncé and London based retailer Top Shop in 2016. Beyonce’s Ivy Park is a jump into athleisure fusing streetwear and sportwear. Her video introducing her brand made being sporty look cool but it did not necessarily inspire you to go running as much as it did to look as cool as she does. The point is that Beyoncé made Ivy Park, an active wear brand, look like a must-have a luxury fashion brand. You want to wear her leggings, that crop top and a hoodie to a movie or a festival. This is how the brand Ivy Park is explained: “ Ivy Park is merging fashion-led design with technical innovation creating a new kind of performance wear; modern essentials for both on and off the field.”

Carolyn Asome in her article in the Telegraph entitled “The compelling reason Beyonce is launching Ivy Park – a new sportswear line” in April 2016 states “The ‘athleisure’ market (that’s luxurious gym/leisure wear, by the way) is now worth a staggering £4.5 billion in the UK, according to consumer market research group NPD. Globally that figure is around £173 billion, up 17 per cent on the previous year and expected to hit an estimated value of £229 billion by 2020.”

Beyonce Ivy Park (c)IvyPark
Beyonce Ivy Park (c)IvyPar

When people think of the typical fashion designers you think of Galliano and his gowns, Prada bags, Hermes scarves and the grand couture creations of Alexander McQueen. But, how about being a brand that focuses solely on creating athleisure wear. We are certainly not talking about the hobo chic look by Kanye West but we are talking about designers who have decided to focus on creating sporty casual looks for everyday.

We want to look into how we can begin to grow that part of the industry locally in Kenya. Which brands are doing that right now and what can we learn from them? If you have been thinking about starting that yoga fashion brand, we want to share some tips on what materials to use and what to look out for. Do you remember Enda sportswear from KCB Lion’s Den with the Kenyan made sneakers? Well, we will share more about the brand and what they have been up to. Do we believe in athleisure and have we started to see it adopted in our local cafés and street wear chic? Are their local brands that are making sport look cool and can this be an arm of the industry that is yet to grow and can?

How about the rest of the continent? We have found a couple of brands we want to highlight this month and share how they are growing in this athleisure industry.

So tell me, what is your sporty casual look? Could it be athleisure?

Happy July folks!

Editor's Signature

Author: Wanjiku N. M | Editor and Founder of TDS | Twitter: @WanjikuNM

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