This week, a look at the pandemic-driven evolution of activewear. Scroll down to use Glossy+ Comments, giving the Glossy+ community the opportunity to join discussions around industry topics.
On a January 15 episode of Washed Media’s “Sunday Scaries Podcast,” co-hosts Will deFries and Barrett Dudley got to discussing which activewear brands are currently “in” and “out.”
“Alo is, by far, ‘the’ athletic wear brand for women right now; it’s the No. 1 brand I see,” Dudley said, pointing to social media and people out and about in his hometown of Austin. “Lulu is still very solid, but … Outdoor Voices has really fallen off a cliff.”
As the market stabilizes following a pandemic mega-boom, a fresh crop of brands seemingly built on the new consumer mindset is indeed rising to the forefront. Their core products are traditional, in terms of general silhouette, yet they’re made for comfort over performance. And, as Dudley noted, they offer a look that’s “more glamorous” and “polished” than basic bra-and-leggings sets. Call it a rejection of lockdown’s uniform of basics.
In step, the line between the “apparel” and “activewear” categories has increasingly blurred.
“We’re now wearing ‘activewear’ every day,” said Kristen Classi Zummo, apparel industry analyst at NPD Group, comparing activewear styles to wardrobe staples including denim. From 2019-2022, 200 brands launched activewear, she said. “It’s important for [apparel] brands to have an offering that plays to this space.”
Brands that have managed to cut through the noise have leaned on influencers to promote their products’ versatility and trend-driven aesthetic. And setting the stage for social content by rolling out stores reflecting a distinct vibe is a shared strategy.
According to data analytics company Launchmetrics, Lululemon dominated activewear buzz in 2022. However, 73% of its media impact value of $233 million was driven by mentions in traditional media, including print publications. Just 19%, or $44 million, was generated by influencers. Meanwhile, influencers drove $51 million in MIV for Alo Yoga, helping to sell its products as being suitable outside of the gym. An Instagram post by Georgina Rodriguez (45 million followers) earning $2.3 million MIV featured an Alo pullover paired with a bikini bottom and platform heels.
Seventeen-year-old Beyond Yoga, which Levi’s acquired in 2021 for $400 million to diversify its own offerings, has always had an eye on fashion trends, said co-founder and CEO Michelle Wahler. “We’re not high fashion, but we take inspiration from high fashion and bring that into the everyday wardrobe,” she said. “We make the trends accessible to people in an extremely comfortable way.”
Since 2021, the brand has introduced a variety of dresses, skirts, jumpsuits, outerwear, sleepwear and “alternative pants,” meaning bottoms other than leggings, Wahler said.
In 2022, Beyond Yoga earned $100 million in revenue and opened its first of “a lot of stores” it plans to roll out with Levi’s support. Based in Santa Monica, the store is draped in signature Beyond Yoga fabric to provide a cozy feel. More stores will open in California and beyond by the end of this year, under the direction of a new head of retail. Last year, Beyond Yoga grew its corporate staff by 34%. And to date, it’s remained profitable.
For its part, multi-brand retailer Bandier has been “dedicated to being the fashion destination for fitness” since its launch in 2014, said Danielle LaFleur, the company’s president as of December.
“Lulu and others have the amazing basics, Alo is all about the color. For us, [the differentiator] is the fashion element — specifically with a focus on New York fashion and the downtown girl,” LaFleur said, noting that the company’s core customer is 25- to 35-years old. “We like to say [our shopper] is the cool girl, not the mean girl.”
Among the brands spotlighted on Bandier.com’s “Designers” menu is Beyond Yoga. Other brands currently resonating include Varley, Year of Ours and Héros, as they offer trendy, “hybrid pieces within the active space,” LaFleur said. Among them: catsuits, playsuits and a “third, throw-on layer” to wear over bra-and-leggings sets, as well as pants “beyond the legging,” including flair styles and cargos.
“Brands that were primarily reliant on bra-and-leggings sets saw [sales] declines in the last year. And there was oversaturation, which drove some pricing down,” she said.
What shoppers have proven willing to spend on is brands in the high-end, “designer” category, which grew fastest among activewear tiers in 2022, Classi Zummo said. And, often they’re trend-driven, now offering styles including asymmetrical sports bras, push-up styles and flare pants.
“Versatility is definitely the theme [for Bandier] going forward,” said LaFleur.
Bandier, which secured $34.4 million in funding in 2019, currently has stores in Southern California, New York in Dallas. It plans to open more locations this year, with spaces in Miami, Orange County and Chicago among those being considered. LaFleur declined to share the company’s 2022 revenue, but called it “a year of growth.”
Investors are clearly jazzed about activewear brands that do more, even as the market cools. According to NPD, total activewear sales in 2022 were down 2% year-over-year. However, they were up 35% compared to 2019 and accounted for 26% of total women’s apparel sales, showing much room for growth. “[Growth] is slowing from those pandemic highs, but activewear isn’t going anywhere,” Classi Zummo said.
In late 2021, 8-year-old Vuori announced a $400 million investment from Softbank Vision Fund, valuing the activewear-focused company at $4 billion. It’s since opened 17 stores, including its first international location, in London, and expanded its travelwear and outerwear categories. It’s been profitable since 2017, said CMO Nikki Sakelliou.
“Vuori appeals to anyone who aspires to live a healthy lifestyle, complemented by physical activity at any level, travel and comfort,” said Sakelliou, who also described the brand’s clothes as “effortless,” “timeless,” “versatile” and “ridiculously soft.”
“Looking at activewear over the past few years, it’s gotten tough for us analysts to really identify what is and is not activewear,” Classi Zummo said. “It’s become this all-encompassing [label] for everything from active sports bras to lounge sweatpants; it’s very messy and convoluted.”
In November, Laura May Gibbs, founder and creative director of 8-year-old Australian activewear brand Nagnata, told Glossy that the brand’s Net-a-Porter sales spiked after she convinced buyers to feature its styles in the apparel category. Zara Terez Tisch, founder of 15-year-old Terez, known for its ultra-colorful leggings, is seeing the same opportunity. In an interview for next week’s episode of the Glossy Podcast, she said, “I’m trying to explain to buyers that activewear doesn’t have to sit separately from the contemporary floor.”
Rather than the death of the activewear department, Classi Zummo expects it will come to be defined by “pure performance” brands and pieces, versus those more driven by trend.
On that note, “conditioning” focused activewear brand Gymshark announced layoffs this week. That was despite its timely community focus and industry experts’ confidence in the brand. In October, Shopify president Harley Finkelstein said in a Glossy interview that Gymshark founder Ben Francis is “gonna win,” as he “deeply understands the future of modern retail.”
Community has long been core to Outdoor Voices’ business model and marketing. In August, rumors swirled that the company was either going up for sale or seeking funding, after reportedly growing its annual revenue from $40 million pre-pandemic to $90 million in 2022, and reaching profitability. It has yet to make an announcement and executives were unavailable ahead of this story’s publication. Over the years, the company has evolved its product assortment to include tennis dresses, “sport” skirts and “Trek” overalls. At the same time, it’s led with “movement”-centered marketing. Its Instagram imagery is currently heavy in people hiking. As noted by the podcasters, its buzz has remained comparatively low: Its media impact value for 2022 was at $17.4 million, remaining flat (up 1%) from the year prior. For comparison, Alo’s total MIV for 2022 was $106 million. Lululemon’s increased 27%.
Strong communities remain key for the brands gaining popularity. And along with influencers, they’re using workout apps, owned workout studios, and exclusive memberships and events to fuel them. Alo has the Alo Moves membership and several “Sanctuary” studios, while Bandier hosts virtual classes and events at its Studio B space in its Melrose store. Next week, Bandier will relaunch its loyalty program to better cater to its “affluent customer” who values exclusive opportunities, like first dibs on new products, more than discounts.
As for influencers, Beyond Yoga started the year with a robust partnership with online fitness instructor Megan Roup (300,000 Instagram followers), known for training fashion “it” girls including model Miranda Kerr and influencer Arielle Charnas. “Everything she wears sells out,” Wahler said, of Roup. In 2024, following a product collaboration release with the company this year, it will become the exclusive active apparel brand sold by barre workout company Barre3.
Meanwhile, Bandier works “super closely” with Amanda Kloots (730,000 Instagram followers), who hosts some of its workout classes, and fashion influencer Julie Saranina (7.3 million Instagram followers), through collaborative collections. It’s also dressed Elsa Hosk, Bella Hadid, Kit Keenan and Camila Coelho.
And, of course, Alo’s teamed with Kendall Jenner, among other mega-popular names.
Clearly in expansion mode, Alo CEO Danny Harris was unavailable to comment for this story, as he was traveling internationally, preparing to open two stores in Israel and another two in the Emirates.
And every brand executive commenting on this story mentioned plans to grow their men’s business.
On that note, the sales growth of Lululemon’s men’s category exceeded that of its women’s category in the third quarter, reported in December. And, it proved, it’s stable: Its quarterly revenue grew 28% year-over-year, to $1.86 million.
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