On average, Americans spend 93 percent of their time indoors, but an increasing number of them prefer to dress as if they don’t.
Whether that EPA stat is tied to the surge in the nation’s urban population, the ever-increasing work week or the tethers of technology, is best left to socio-economists. But more than 54 percent of Americans live in urban areas and that figure should rise to 66 percent by 2050, according to the U.N.
Furthering the quest for chlorophyll is this year’s U.S. National Parks’ “Find Your Park” campaign, which encourages Millennials to explore the great outdoors. And some speculate that the popular music-festival circuit is prompting some to dress more outdoorsy — and even camp out.
Whatever the impetus, designers, activewear brands and outdoor apparel labels can attest that women are more than ever all about the outdoor sportif life. U.S. dollar sales of overall activewear apparel increased 17 percent to $41 billion in the 12 months ended August 2015, from $35.1 billion in the same period a year ago, according to NPD Group’s Consumer Tracking Service. U.S. dollar sales of women’s activewear apparel increased 21 percent to $19 billion in the 12 months ended August 2015, up from $15.7 billion in the prior year.
Tory Burch and Derek Lam are two recent designers to jump into the fray, perhaps inspired by the success Stella McCartney has seen with her Adidas deal and Yohji Yamamoto has with Y-3.
That momentum is only being propelled by the strength of the boutique fitness trend, thanks to SoulCycle, The Movement, Flywheel, Model FIT, FlyBarre, AKT, Peloton, Tone House, Pure Barre, Swerve, Barry’s Bootcamp, Ballet Beautiful and Chaise 23, among others. And while some of these have gotten into the apparel game, more established ones are making moves, as well. Equinox, a 76-unit fitness club, is amping up its fashion offerings with new labels and trunk shows in its own pro shops. E-tailers like Bandier, Carbon 38, Vimmia and Net-a-sporter have added athletic-oriented assortments. Plagued as it has been in recent months with a glut of inventory and sinking sales, Lululemon probably helped to advance the idea of leggings-as-sportswear more than any other brand.
Given all that interest, it’s no surprise more traditional brands are also trying to step up their fashion game, with Columbia Sportswear and REI hosting West Chelsea events in New York this week. The $2.2 billion Seattle-based REI spotlighted its REI brands, REI Co-Op and evrgrn collections Oct. 13 on The High Line, with hard-to-miss photos shot on trips organized by REI Adventures.
Nike has been known to offer select fashion editors concierge services for training and gear when traveling to Milan, Paris, New York or London collections. Asics is ramping up its apparel with its FujiTrail line, in stores at the end of January.
ABT prima ballerina Misty Copeland, who tells her story in Under Armour ads, is reportedly helping drive the brand’s women’s business.
Counter to what used to be the industry’s “shrink-it and pink-it” approach to women’s, Reebok’s new UFC-endorsed apparel deal is all about training. Despite UFC champion Ronda Rousey’s fame, some questioned how the workout gear would take with women. Nearly 45 percent of Reebok’s apparel sales are driven by women’s and the aim is to be around 55 percent by 2020, said head of brand strategy Amy Klaris.
Tory Burch is so committed to her Tory Sport collection that she will open a Fifth Avenue store for it in March. And Bandier will open boutiques in Manhasset, N.Y., and Dallas in the next two weeks, and three more in the Tristate area next year. The company will also relocate its Manhattan store to a 3,000-square-foot space at 164 Fifth Avenue that will have an 1,800-square-foot studio for fitness classes. Derek Lam has linked up with Athleta, and even Old Navy has been flagging the category in its windows and on its homepage. Kate Spade New York and Beyond Yoga are teaming on an ath-leisure line as well, in January.
Last month, high-end tennis and golf line L’Etoile launched activewear and expects sales to rise by about 50 percent, said founder Yesim Philip. “While one can argue that there seems to be a saturation of contemporary sportswear, there is a definite cache for activewear that transcends the court and could feasibly be worn throughout the day. I wanted to be able to offer our customers the ability to ‘play all day’ without compromising style, so the move toward activewear came naturally,” she said.
Japanese heritage brand Snow Peak is making inroads beyond REI and now sells to Barneys New York and Steven Alan. Snow Peak founder Yukio Yamai’s granddaughter Lisa designs the collection in three sectors: Camp, Dwell and Transit. There are plans to open a few stores in the next few years, with New York a priority, according to e-commerce manager Russell Borne. “There’s this whole resurgence in the outdoors. It’s a lot more accessible to everyone, and it’s not about this huge expedition to climb a mountain. Now it’s like, ‘Let’s go play in the park and Instagram it,’” he said.
Celebrities, who are often photographed by paparazzi pre- or post-workout, are also getting in on the action. Kate Hudson is expected for Friday’s grand opening of her Fabletics store at Bridgewater Commons in New Jersey. And Jessica Simpson is expanding her mainstream apparel empire with an activewear collection this fall. New Balance flags its HKNB collaboration with Heidi Klum “as a collision of sport plus fashion.” And as a follow-up to its Selena Gomez-supported Neo label, Adidas launched the teen-friendly adigirl label. Taylor Swift opted for activewear for some of her current “1989 World Tour” appearances, and she had the World Cup winning women’s soccer team join her on stage at the Meadowlands this summer.
Not to be left behind, authentic outdoor companies like Icebreaker are keeping a closer eye on the influence of more fashion-oriented activewear. Icebreaker’s international merchandising manager Sveti Enlow said, “Things you would never have seen two years ago, these crazy, printed leggings, are what women are wearing hiking. It’s not that brown, granola look anymore.”
Free Country’s chief executive officer Ira Schwartz expects its Free2B activewear to fuel $25 million in sales this year through retailers like Academy Sports, J.C. Penney and Sports Authority.
Salem, Mass.-based Avalanche, a $45 million outdoor-inspired apparel brand, has opened a New York showroom at 525 Seventh Avenue, partly to expand its nine-month-old licensing business. There are plans to open 20 stores through partners in the next two years, said Ron Petrucci, president and ceo of parent company Red Rock Trading Co.
Meanwhile others are delving into technology. The recently introduced Vimmia X uses smart yarns to help regulate the wearer’s body temperature and compression fabrics for circulation. More enterprising is Brooklyn-based Wearable Experiments, which has designed avant-garde products for brands like Oakley, Reebok and Fox Sports, and is now developing technologically advanced activewear under its own label. The company developed customized software for its Netherlands fan jersey that mimics the emotions and actions of the Netherlands Rugby Sevens in real time. Now being sold in the Hague’s Store of the Future, the shirt gives wearers a sense for the physical impact, heart rate, exhaustion and adrenaline being experienced on the field. Whitehouse said, “Until now sensorized clothing has zeroed in on elite athletes, and in doing so has “kind of forgotten about everyone else.”