NEW YORK — For a technique that’s based on relaxation, yoga sure is stirring up plenty of activity in the apparel market.Activewear brands are stretching their expertise to add yoga to the mix, with the hopes of attracting more comfort-conscious shoppers. With more people getting into yoga, health clubs are offering more classes and a greater variety of types of yoga. Several companies now have yoga classes at their corporate headquarters and are encouraging employees to carve out an hour or so of their workday to partake in one."Yoga is one of the few growth areas in fitness in terms of new activities," said Norm Zwail, president and chief executive officer of The Weekend Exercise Co. "The fact of the matter is things are a little tough and people need a release for their emotional and physical energy."Anne Appleby, president of Yoga Force, said there are about 18 million U.S. practitioners of yoga, up from 6 million in 1994, and 74 percent of health clubs offered yoga classes last year — nearly double the percentage in 1995, according to a study by U.S. News & World Report. These figures should help further the more than $100 million yogawear industry and Yoga Force’s line, distributed in 150 stores, she said.This weekend the Omega Institute, a Rhinebeck, N.Y.-based center for wholistic studies, is planning for the largest turnout at its yoga conference at the Sheraton Hotel here.Equinox, a 13-unit health club, has yogawear in its store windows this month, which are imprinted with "Ohm" and other yoga terms. Hank and City Lights are two popular brands, said Fran Errico, national buyer for Equinox. Thermal shirts with thumb-holes in the sleeves and straight-leg pants are key looks."What’s happening is people are not killing themselves with high intensity exercise," Errico said. "We don’t have the aerobics neurotics in New York anymore. People realize living your life is more important than being five pounds thinner. People are buying things to be comfortable."Carol Estel, general manger of two Equinox clubs, said, "What should I wear to these classes?" is a common question and members are inclined to buy outfits specifically for yoga. She noted that people interested in joining Equinox’s new club in Darien, Conn., want to know all about the yoga offerings.At Crunch Fitness, about 3,000 New Yorkers take yoga classes each week, according to Donna Cyrus, national group fitness director for the health club chain. Interest in basic yoga is showing signs of peaking, Cyrus said, but hybrid classes such as disco yoga and laughing lotus are extending interest in the activity."I don’t see it waning," she said. "It’s here to stay."One indication of the activity’s widespread appeal is the success of Gaiam, a $100 million lifestyle company that now sells yoga products to Target, among others.Nuala, Christy Turlington’s yoga-inspired collection backed by Puma, is building on the movement by adding accessories and footwear. Nike, a brand that has long been associated with Olympic and pro athletes, showed a softer side by introducing a yoga line in January. This fall it launched Nike Organics, a group made from all-natural fabrics. Another newcomer to the arena is Liz Claiborne, which launched Liz Spa nationwide at retail this fall.Many people no longer need a work wardrobe due to relaxed corporate dress codes and the prevalence of layoffs and home offices, said Debra Rodman, who a year ago gave up her job as a literary agent to start Yogini, activewear for yoga fans. The looming war with Iraq is turning consumers away from materialism, and the aging American population is more concerned about personal fulfillment than their appearance, she added."People have a more relaxed lifestyle and many think clothes are too expensive," she said. "People are in the mood to transcend superficial values. In the Sixties, clothes promoted people’s idealism, counterculture, and they stood for something."Yogini has hired Collective Elements to rep the line on the East Coast. The company has developed an e-mail newsletter that "promotes certain values, instead of just selling a pair of pants."The Weekend Exercise Co., maker of Marika activewear, has signed a sponsorship deal with yogini Shiva Rea, who will appear in advertising, is helping develop a line of signature yogawear and will make special appearances on behalf of the line. Next month, Rea will appear in Marika commercials that will air for two weeks on the jumbotron in New York’s Times Square.Shiva Shakti by Marika, a 12-piece collection, should generate about $500,000 in first-year wholesale volume, Zwail said. It will be shown to stores in January and should be available in at least 300 yoga studios and specialty store accounts, he added. Retail prices will be between $30 and $75 for the moisture management camisoles, crop tops and T-shirts.Marika is working with UCLA to try to line up Rea to lead an outdoor yoga class on the campus. The company is also considering doing a private label yoga group for the school to sell to its students.The company decided to pursue the yoga trend after its success with Balance by Marika, yoga-inspired activewear launched last year. Advertising in Yoga Journal has helped introduce Marika to the limber set.Last year’s introduction of Danskin Yoga helped the brand broaden its distribution beyond sporting goods stores to department store distribution, said Carol Hochman, president and chief executive officer. Many stores are showing the line in their spa departments, she noted.The company also produces a Zen line of yoga-inspired clothes that are about 40 percent more expensive than the new group."Yoga is a euphemism for this lifestyle. A lot of yoga apparel is casual, easy, downtime clothes," said Hochman, citing loose-fitting pants and coordinating jackets as classic examples.Through a new partnership with Yoga Journal, Danskin will give shoppers who buy two spring Danskin Yoga pieces a free six-month subscription to the magazine.Ken Silverman, president of City Lights, said: "Spinning and step classes were fads. Yoga is here now as a category and a lifestyle." Yoga’s popularity has prompted department stores to merchandise yogawear in their leisurewear and innerwear departments.City Lights Yoga, a 30-style collection launched 18 months ago, now accounts for more than 15 percent of its apparel business, Silverman said. In addition to major retailers, it is sold in a "a couple of dozen" yoga studios. What’s selling is soft, lightweight fabrics that aren’t too loose, he said. The company has broadened its color palette beyond yoga’s traditional muted earth tones to include "friendly colors" like rose, blueberry and avocado.

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