The last year has seen brands pushing themselves into unexpected new directions. Glossy’s own research found that 57% of surveyed brands and retailers launched new categories in 2020. In particular, the pandemic and the ensuing work-from-home shift led to an explosion of loungewear and activewear options, many from brands that had never sold the styles before.

Launching into a new category can be expensive and difficult, and that’s especially true for activewear which often uses performance materials like spandex that can be more complex to manufacture than materials like cotton. But new tools have sprung up to make the development and launching processes easier. They include materials available via license and programs for developing activewear lines. And they represent a big revenue opportunity for both the brands selling the activewear and the companies selling the tools.

One such tool comes from a company called The Athletics MVMT, which was soft-launched about six months ago and formally launched this week by Courtney Capretto, founder of contemporary brand 10 Corso and founder of brand development agency Form Department. The Athletics is a build-a-brand program to help brands create their own athleisure lines.

Capretto said that working with The Athletics can cut a brand’s time and investment for developing a line to a fraction of going it alone, because much of the product development and manufacturing is already done. Brands can choose from a 30-piece base line of activewear products developed by The Athletics, which they can then customize with different colors, materials and graphics to create their own activewear collection. The program is intended for apparel brands with no experience in activewear and for companies that don’t produce any apparel at all. Capretto said businesses from contemporary brands to entertainment companies to TV networks have used the service so far.

Typically, developing an activewear line from scratch would require several months of fittings and tweaking samples, with a minimum cost of around $2,000 per product, said Capretto. The Athletics charges a flat rate per product — $20 per sweatshirt, for example — which includes its production, tags and packaging. Brands buy the products in bulk at that rate, and The Athletics suggests a sales price — $72 for a sweatshirt. Capretto said her team can have a new line on shelves within 30 days of a brand signing on. 

The Athletics does not disclose the brands that use its program, but Capretto said it has worked with over 100 brands. Capretto is using a combination of social media advertising and direct outreach for client acquisition.

“We started development of this concept before the pandemic, so we didn’t know activewear would blow up,” Capretto said. “We started with 10 pieces, but upped that to 30 when we saw how much [new] interest there was in the category.”

Activewear sales grew by 11% last year, reaching $157 billion globally. And the brands that launched the category saw returns almost immediately. Kohl’s launched an activewear line in 2020 and expects it to make up 30% of the company’s revenue in the next three years. 

“Several brands adapted quickly last year and began offering new product categories to cater to the ever-changing environment,” said Krista Corrigan, a retail analyst at Edited. “Retailers specializing in formal or trend-driven apparel introduced never-before-stocked lounge staples to keep up with the competition. Even retailers who previously offered athleisure or loungewear began making these stories a focal point of promotions.”

Corrigan said that, even with vaccines rolling out and a return to normalcy on the horizon, demand for activewear is set to remain high.

There’s also an opportunity for more B2B revenue for activewear companies. Pangaia, whose sweatpants and sweatshirts became a celebrity favorite during the pandemic, is in the process of turning its patented performance materials into a B2B revenue stream by licensing them out to other brands. Its executives expect B2B sales to become the company’s main driver of growth, according to Business of Fashion.