Track Pants Grace Runways as Activewear Goes Up-Market December 08 2013
Feb 10, 2014 9:39 AM ET
Baseball jackets and cashmere track pants will vie for the spotlight alongside more traditional evening gowns and fur coats at New York’s fashion week as designers seize on shoppers’ growing penchant for athletic wear.
The fashion world has woken up to a trend that’s driven strong sales at Nike Inc., Lululemon Athletica Inc. and Under Armour Inc. for the past couple of years: increasingly, men and women are trading in jeans for sweatpants, yoga gear and shorts and unapologetically wearing them anywhere and everywhere.
“It’s huge,” said Roseanne Morrison, a fashion director at the Doneger Group, a New York-based researcher of industry trends. “It’s the new uniform.”
With activewear sales growing more than four times as fast as the $201 billion U.S. apparel industry, according to NPD Group Inc., it’s not hard to see why designers from Cynthia Rowley to Todd Snyder planned to show so-called haute-casual or sports-deluxe clothes at fashion week, which started Feb. 6 and runs through Feb. 13.
In years past, high fashion has typically trickled down into everyday clothing. The activewear trend is a “truly casual,” bottom-up phenomenon, Marshal Cohen, NPD’s chief industry analyst, wrote in a blog post last week. As workout gear becomes more fashionable and is worn in more places, streetwear is looking more like athletic apparel.
Throwing on a zip-up jacket over track pants has become a lifestyle choice for men and women of all ages, shapes and economic means. Fifty-year-old ladies-who-lunch sport $1,000-plus Chloe leather track pants while high-school girls flock to Under Armour’s $20 running shorts. Yoga addicts and couch potatoes alike snap upLululemon’s $82 Wunder Under pants.
The numbers show how consumer choices are transforming the industry. While overall U.S. apparel sales rose 2 percent last year, activewear sales surged 9 percent to $33 billion, according to NPD, which is based in Port Washington, New York. Jeans sales fell 1 percent.
The trend has opened a chasm between chains that still sell a lot of denim and those positioned in the activewear sweet spot. Under Armour’s sales rose 35 percent in its most recent quarter while Nike’sprofit exceeded analysts’ estimates. Apparel chains will record a 1 percent gain in same-store sales for the last quarter, according to analysts’ estimates averaged by researcher Retail Metrics Inc.
Under Armour shares have surged 25 percent this year; Abercrombie & Fitch Co., which continues to focus on denim, flip flops and tank tops, has gained 5.5 percent. Under Armour gained 0.3 percent to $109.47 at 9:40 a.m., while Abercrombie fell 0.1 percent to $34.70.
Maria Woike, a 31-year-old associate creative director at a New York ad agency, likes to mix things up by wearing more formal clothing with activewear from various brands.
“It fits my on-the-go lifestyle,” Woike said. “I tend to have a little bit of tomboy style. My favorite outfit is a pair of yoga pants with heels and a blazer and a retro throwback T-shirt.”
While Juicy Couture’s velour tracksuits were popular last decade, Lululemon is largely responsible for making activewear de rigeur, Morrison said. The Vancouver-based chain applied a feminine touch to a previously male-oriented category, she said.
Things went haute when French fashion house Celine elevated the look two years ago, said Sheila Aimette, vice president of North American content at WGSN, a London-based trend forecasting firm. Since then, the designer Philip Lim has made the sweatshirt redux an iconic piece while Alexander Wang has rocked the hoodie. This spring, expect to see activewear-inspired pieces from such luxury brands as Prada and Gucci, Aimette said.
At fashion week, up-and-coming designer Anjhe Mules, 37, plans to show a $295 baseball-inspired T-shirt and futuristic compression leggings for $460 from her Lucas Hugh collection.
“People want clothes that are more functional because they’re doing more through the day,” she said from London.
Designers also are incorporating sports textiles, like mesh and neoprene, into dressier pieces like skirts. For Rowley, an avid surfer, it all started a few years ago when she was inspired to invent flattering wetsuits for women.
Increasingly, designers are working with mainstream sporting goods companies. Last fall, menswear designer Snyder developed an activewear line for Champion Products Inc., which he also sells at his own downtown New York store, City Gym. Riccardo Tisci, creative director of Paris fashion house Givenchy, has collaborated with Nike on a new line. Stella McCartney is known for her collaboration with Adidas AG.
Macy’s Inc., owner of Bloomingdale’s, has seized the opportunity. The Third Avenue windows of its Bloomingdale’s Manhattan store currently are highlighting such fashions.
“Not only is the need there, there is the supply and the diversity of designers that are really feeding this,” said Brooke Jaffe, a Bloomingdale’s vice president of women’s ready-to-wear. “We thought we were in a position to showcase the range of options. We call it ‘Track and Heels.’”
Other chains are trying to muscle in, too. Last year, Aeropostale Inc. introduced its well-received Live Love Dream line. Gap Inc. also has diversified into activewear with its Athleta brand and through Old Navy.
Jennifer Black, an apparel analyst based in Lake Oswego, Oregon, has bought multiple pairs of Lululemon Wunder Unders and mixes them with short skirts, tucks them into boots and works out in them. They’re her favorite garment for travel.
“They are so cute,” she said. “They are so light and comfortable and easy to pack.”
Black’s jeans rarely leave the closet nowadays.
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