From Rishi Sunak’s 6am Peloton workout to the new aerobics comedy Physical starring Rose Byrne, our love of all things gym-related shows no signs of abating. Now two of the most cutting-edge fashion brands are releasing clothes to squat, jump and sweat into.
Telfar, the black-owned fashion brand beloved by Oprah Winfrey and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, known for its vegan leather, gender-neutral handbag and luxury durags, has announced a sportswear line set to launch in September. And Pangaia, the label at the forefront of sustainable fashion, which can count Pharrell Williams among its fans, has announced a 31-piece gym line.
“So far this year, sales for athleisure have outperformed fashion sales,” said Matt Powell, a senior sports adviser at retail market researcher the NPD Group. And despite it being a trend before the pandemic – in fact according to Chantal Fernandez, from industry website the Business of Fashion, “its fast growth had slowed down in recent years” – in 2020 the activewear market accounted for 40% of all online sales.
“This isn’t a flash-in-the-pan trend, it’s a lifestyle shift,” said Edited’s retail analyst Aoife Byrne. Indeed, the pandemic accelerated a more “hybrid” style of living. Work, home and pursuits such as exercise dovetailed together and dissolved the boundaries that had previously separated them. People are dressing to express this shift.
Gym gear has become everyday wear, as people wear items such as leggings as they would have worn jeans (searches for them grew by 144%, according to Lyst). “The pandemic took physical fitness from a public sphere to a private [one],” said fashion historian Prof Deirdre Clemente. “ This retreat has stripped away any auspices of formality in workout clothing: no one is going to see you.”
At the same time, the evidence suggests home gym goers are fully leaning into a new look. Lululemon announced an 88% sales increase in the first quarter of this year. Under Armour reported a year-on-year sales increase of 35%. Gym brands such as Puma, Gap’s Athleta, and running shoe brands such as Brooks, On and Hoka all outperformed in their market. “The relationship between exercise and what we wear has, yet again, been born anew amid social and cultural change,” said Clemente.
The growing activewear market is expected to reach £393bn by 2024, according to Allied Market Research. “In visceral ways the pandemic has brought to the cultural fore ideas about sportswear and athletic wear that had been percolating for almost two decades,” said Clemente. “Athleisure was a blurring line pre-pandemic but the demarcations between, ‘that’s casual but OK I guess’, and ‘that’s casual, whatever’, are nearly gone.”