“After active,” “work leisure” or just plain comfortable. Descriptions aside, athletic companies are counting on more sportswear-oriented items made of performance fabrics to bolster business.
Just as American and European designers have taken inspiration from activewear brands — or jumped in altogether — now the tables are turning with more sportif labels offering shoppers everyday options to carry them beyond the office. More than 20 years after Casual Fridays first took hold in corporate offices in the U.S., relaxed dress codes are more of a sure thing due partially to the gig economy, flexible work hours, urban nomads and fitness-minded shoppers.
Former Adidas American cofounder and industry veteran Peter Moore said, “The once very sharp line between fashion and sport is now so blurred it is impossible to see where one begins and one ends. Sport has become part of our culture — like it or not.”
Aside from consumers’ never-ending quest to improve their health and appearance, their daily workouts make them want to show off their fitness. “What better way than to wear a pair of Lululemon pants to work?” he said. “With all this happening, athletic companies have decided they now have an invitation to venture into more sportswear than ever before. It works both ways. Look at what Prada has done with performance fabrics, look at Tory Burch.”
To that point, Nike continues to keep fashion editors in ship-shape during the European collections by offering them sessions with personal trainers. And Rei Kawakubo featured customized Nike sneakers in her Comme des Garçons fashion show in Paris this season. Meanwhile, Under Armour founder and chief executive officer Kevin Plank touted the brand’s new fashion-skewed UA Unstoppable Collection in the company’s most-recent earnings call. The new line bowed earlier this month on the company’s site and in its stores as well as at Dick’s Sporting Goods.
In March, Under Armour will launch a signature line with Misty Copeland that is meant to be “high style that will go from studio-to-street or gym-to-street,” said Pam Catlett, general manager and senior vice president of Under Armour Women’s. “We think the opportunity to infuse more and more style into technical performance fabrications and footwear as well is a huge white space. It’s highly competitive, but we do believe that authentic performance is a position that is one of strength for us as a brand.”
Another addition will be Prince’s first lifestyle assortment for men through a new collaboration with Dyne. Even more streetwear-inspired options will bow through another collaboration with Publish, and Prince aims to secure a collaboration for a lifestyle-inspired women’s line with another label for summer 2018.
Building from the momentum of Fila’s Heritage program, the company plans to expand that sector somewhat for fall 2018 with more streetwear options made with performance features. The latter will be used in details such as rubber patches, bungee cords and zippers, but the fashion element will be integral, said Danny Lieberman, senior vice president of apparel. “The majority of the pieces will not be built for the gym. Just because we are who we are, a few of those pieces will be scattered about. We’re a performance brand at heart,” he said.
Designed in-house, this new group may carry a new name since the options won’t be vintage-inspired. Lieberman said, “I don’t think it will replace anything. I think it will add and will create a category for us that is really important.”
Reebok’s vice president of product marketing Barbara Ebersberger said, “The modern consumer is looking for products that adapt to her lifestyle and activities that he or she might like to do at a specific time of day. Apparel choices also should allow for spontaneity, like taking a fitness class unexpectedly and then going out for a drink.”
True to that concept, Reebok’s new corporate office in Boston has a workout facility so that staffers can squeeze in a workout when their schedules allow. Shoppers’ interest in versatile pieces is a trend with global relevance, due to consumers’ increasingly transient lifestyles which have them moving from one activity to the next, she said.
“People are riding their bikes to work so they want products they can wear in an office setting, but at the same time are comfortable enough to be worn on a bike. Or women want something to wear for a yoga class that they can later put something on top of afterward that makes them presentable to run an errand,” Ebersberger said. “Even in Asia, especially in China, consumers want to dress sporty even if they aren’t doing a specific activity at that point in the day.”
Building off the success of Natureix, functional fabrics blended with natural ones, Reebok is experimenting with creating fibers that will adapt to environmental changes such as temperature and lighting. For example, a jacket may look completely normal in daylight, but at night, its reflective yarns would be illuminated by passing cars to keep cyclists safe, Ebersberger said. Reebok is also cooking up a collaboration with an unnamed designer for spring 2019.
The activewear brand’s newest ambassador, Ariana Grande, will be helping to spread its nonathletic message to her more than 168 million social media followers. “When we talk about our female consumer we understand that she is all-inclusive — from a Gigi [Hadid] to an Ariana to a CrossFit athlete who is performing in a different way than Ariana is on the stage. We want to show all of our consumers that Reebok is the brand that she can rely on no matter what she does and wherever she is on the spectrum between high performance and fashion and lifestyle,” Ebersberger said.
To emphasize its versatility, Attitude Apparel markets itself as a New York “streetletic” line for women and men. The brand’s new “sweat-resistant” Street Hoodie and Joggers are meant to hold up under frigid conditions so that wearers won’t have to change — or bail — on a winter workout, according to a spokeswoman for the company.
More often than not, executives cited practicality as the impetus for more everyday styles, but they also provide higher price points than the basic sports bra. A Pharrell Williams NY striped dress for Adidas retails for $400 and the brand’s Velvet Vibes long-sleeve dress has a $90 price tag. Columbia Sportswear has a designated area on its site for the company’s Outdoor Casual collection, which is under the header “Outside in the City.” Shoppers will find options like a $140 women’s Tillicum Hybrid jacket and the $60 women’s Times Two Chambray long-sleeve shirt.
For her EleVen collection, pro tennis player Venus Williams is offering more options that easily translate to the street. Frida Kahlo, an artist numerous sportswear designers have referenced in recent seasons, was a source of inspiration for Williams’ latest offerings. In addition to EleVen’s tennis-friendly Club collection, there is also fitness, crossover and core ones.
The active lifestyle is driving the need for fabrics that can go from day-into-night and from one activity to the next, said Invista’s marketing director Jean Hegedus. That said, an Invista poll of 2,500 people revealed how a lot of women wanted to be able to wear their jeans in the summer if they kept them cool, according to Hegedus. Such data inspired NYDJ to introduce Cool Embrace jeans using CoolMax. That was followed by a product called Smart Embrace, which integrates cooling with a little bit of insulation for more of a year-round project. Now companies like Old Navy and Lucky Brands are using CoolMax, she added.
The Woolmark Co. is also seeing the ripple effect of more athletic lifestyles. Stuart McCullough, managing director of The Woolmark Co., said outdoor European brands like Helly Hansen, Ortovox and Devold initially set the pace for Merino innovation and sportswear. But more recently there has been a growing interest from the largest multinational sports brands looking for odor management solutions and are now using wool within footwear linings and sock categories.
While Fila’s Lieberman doesn’t anticipate a shakeout any time soon, he allowed, “It’s not as though retail is so great. And the economy and the world are in a weird spot, but fashion always needs something.”