Everyone from Target to Madewell to Urban Outfitters’ Free People, to smaller brands like Solid & Striped and Danielle Bernstein’s WeWoreWhat, were placing bets on activewear during quarantine, as wellness took on a new meaning and consumers looked toward sports for recreation and entertainment.
And companies and brands had good reason to get into the game: The global activewear market is expected to be worth nearly $547 billion by 2024, according to Allied Market Research.
The signs are everywhere. Brands like Athleta and Lululemon have been revealing digital wellness platforms with tips and tricks on how to stay physically and mentally healthy amid the pandemic, while consumers continue to stock up on at-home workout equipment and Peloton slashes prices for its stationary bikes, all of which helps drive up activewear apparel.
Meanwhile, performance wear giants like Nike, Under Armour and Adidas continue to post solid quarterly results, illustrating that the demand for activewear isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Even Victoria’s Secret is leaning into sports bras and other adjacent categories.
But as the pandemic winds down — and live events return IRL — will the demand for activewear continue?
The answer rests somewhat on the state of the country — and by extension the world — in the coming months. Local lockdowns and mandates as the Delta variant makes its way across the nation means not all dress codes have been created equally and the needs for apparel in each market will continue to shift. Los Angeles County, for example, requires masks at all indoor public settings, public transportation and outdoor mega events, while New Yorkers need to show proof of vaccination for indoor restaurants and gyms. Local regulations mean some people may opt out of social events altogether, thereby relinquishing their need for fancier clothing.
At the same time, many companies once planning for workers to return in-person post Labor Day have extended their work-from-home deadlines to 2022, while others have said employees can stay home indefinitely, or on a hybrid schedule.
With employees stuck at home, at least part time in the near-term, consumer desire for activewear and workwear could go either way. Some may decide to replenish their work attire, even if it’ll only be in use a few days a week. While others will decide that even a return to the office isn’t enough reason to forfeit their desire for comfort, hence the rise of work-leisure.
Express chief executive officer Tim Baxter said the return of occasions, such as weddings put on hold during the pandemic, will create a return to more structured attire. But even his firm has expanded its activewear assortment in the last year, with categories like body contour and basics strong in the most recent quarter.
Others say activewear — and by extension athleisure and loungewear — will remain at the forefront of people’s minds and closets for the time being.
“The world has forever shifted,” Felix del Toro, Fabletics senior vice president, chief merchandise and design officer, told WWD, regarding the activewear brand’s expansion into loungewear. “We’re living through a major shift in culture with the pandemic. Hybrid work is not going away. And we learned early on that our guests want to be both comfortable and stylish.”