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Active Gets Cool

NEW YORK — No longer quibbling about what defines an athlete, activewear firms are now welcoming sports fans with more nonperformance products designed for their busy lives.<br><br>For years, sneaker giants like Nike and Reebok used to balk at...

NEW YORK — No longer quibbling about what defines an athlete, activewear firms are now welcoming sports fans with more nonperformance products designed for their busy lives.

For years, sneaker giants like Nike and Reebok used to balk at the idea that their clothes would be worn by fashion types, but now they see it’s not such a bad thing. Puma and other Seventies powerhouses are making a comeback based on their leisure looks. This month, Ellesse, a skiwear and tenniswear label, relaunched its apparel in the U.S. with nonathletic types like Urban Outfitters.

So bid adieu to the stereotype that used to limit the bulk of activewear sales to sporting goods stores and athletic specialty shops. After all, 82 percent of all athletic purchases are not used for exercise, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.

“There is a disproportionate number of women in America who think they participate in an athletic lifestyle, even if it’s not an athletic one,” said Carol Hochman, president and chief executive officer of Danskin. “A tremendous part of the American public wears these clothes as casual attire.”

Outfitting nonathletic types is “huge” to Danskin’s business, she said. In these trying financial times, activewear prices are generally more affordable than sportswear and ready-to-wear in department stores, and that is a selling point with shoppers. Many nonathletic women are buying the brand’s performance-oriented O2 line for casual purposes.

In July, New Balance will ship two new groups, Seasonal Basics and Sport Comfort, to appeal to the more relaxed set. Hooded zip-front jackets and full-leg pants are among the offerings geared for weekendwear, said Nancy Desrosiers, apparel product manager.

“We decided to do it based on feedback from our bigger accounts,” Desrosiers said. “They said there was a need for that in the market.”

Later this month, Everlast is launching its junior boxing collection at 62 Mony, Jimmy Jazz and S&D stores. A boxing robe-inspired wrap dress, a T-shirt embellished with rhinestones of boxing gloves and a hooded jacket are among the offerings.

Everlast will stage a fashion show in May and plans to host an in-store event complete with a boxing ring in Mony’s 125th Street store in Manhattan. The company decided to develop this group since the junior and contemporary markets are looking for active-inspired pieces.

“Girls want to look active, as well as hip,” said Nicole Torres, senior account executive.