The New Definition of Athletic Apparel

Athletic Apparel Has Been Permanently Disrupted

Remember when athletic apparel was mostly made by footwear and sports equipment companies? It was budget-priced, logo-driven basic tees, sweats and shorts, sold primarily in sporting goods stores, for working out and active sports. It was the ugly step child to the primary businesses.

Market disruption started about 10 years ago when higher-value athletic apparel started to hit the market by fashion and price pioneers, Under Armour and Lululemon. They were innovators with more costly, functional fabrics, fashion-driven styling and unique branding; think of Under Armour’s powerful mannequins and Lululemon’s yoga cult brand experience.

Their flattering and comfortable styles, outperformed and outlasted their cheaper competitors. Customers found emotional value paying for creative, sexy and fashionable looks at a higher price and started wearing them in and out of the gym. They created “aspirational status” athletic brands.

The athleisure trend took off and has been the biggest trend in apparel for more than 5 years. Active and casual apparel blurred into a new category. The genie is out of the bottle and it is never going back.

Athleta pushes urban lifestyle products.
Athleta pushes urban lifestyle products.

Competition in Athletic Apparel Has Gotten Fierce

As athleisure has grown, the competition for market share has gotten fierce. Many non-athletic brands including Tory Burch (Torysport) and Free People (FP Movement) now offer their own active apparel. Footwear companies like Nike really upped their fashion game and companies are doing designer collaborations like Stella McCartney and Kayne West’s Yeezy for Adidas.

High-end, ecommerce specialists like Carbon 38, and Bandier (online and opening stores), have sprouted up, carrying ediger brands, like Michi and Heroine Sport. Designer ecommerce company Net-A-Porter started Net-A-Sporter.

Lululemon is seriously challenged lately by Gap’s Athleta. Athleta fully understands the blurring of the category with their combination of performance and sophisticated street wear looks (they used to only carry bright colors and the cliché “zen-like” NorCal prints). Lululemon has recently vowed to double-down on market-leading innovation and put a greater focus on performance athletes, in a recent article with Bloomberg.

Lululemon is pushing market-leading innovation.

Lululemon is pushing market-leading innovation.

Retailers like Target, Kohl’s and JC Penney greatly improved their active offerings. Macy’s, late to the athleisure party, now has a big selection in 700+ stores and online. Victoria’s Secret has an growing sports bra and athletic business. In fact, the sport bra  business has seriously dented fashion bras. Fast-fashion stores like Primark, have large active assortments at rock bottom prices.

Primark has rock-bottom prices, like $10 pants.

Primark has rock-bottom prices, like $10 pants.

Active Apparel Distribution Has Been Diluted

Distribution has been widely diluted across all retail channels. Sporting goods stores are no longer where most women buy their athletic apparel. Footwear and sports equipment companies have to sell direct to consumer and forge forward-thinking relationships beyond the sporting goods channel to regain market share.

It’s no wonder retailers like Sports Authority and defunct City Sports didn’t capitalize on this mega-trend. Sporting goods stores have to do more than display apparel in cavernous spaces and start competing head-on with real apparel merchants. They must be discerning, take brand risks and edit out the so-so.

Adidas at Urban Outfitters.

Adidas at Urban Outfitters.

2016’s Definition of Active Apparel

Athletic apparel is two-pronged. A smaller percentage is worn for true performance sports, but the lions’ share is used as casual, lifestyle clothing. Shorts designed for running, are a teenager’s summer staple. Sports bras are worn all day. Leggings and sweats are paired with Uggs for school. Hoodies are everywhere.

Design teams must understand the bulk of their products will never be worn for active sports. Personally, I own at least a dozen Lululemon tops and have never even tried yoga. Active designers simply can’t assign cursory importance to the “lifestyle” part of their business.

The definition of athletic apparel in 2016 is predominantly knit-driven, fitness inspired, comfortable casual apparel that is made of functional and innovative fabrics that can be worn for range of casual uses, including sports activities.

Fierce competition in the women’s and men’s apparel and accessories markets requires real innovation in styling and function. I’m not just talking “anti-stink” here, but unique and compelling designs as trend relevant as the underlying brand. The emotional connection to an active lifestyle is more important than the intended use of the clothes.

The world doesn’t need another ordinary half-zip. If the label was removed would anyone recognize your brand? What’s compelling about your products? The innovative brands will have pricing power, the copy-cats will experience significant mark downs and price deflation.

 

The Dix & Pond Blog is the blog of  Dix & Pond Consulting,  a Boston-based, company that consults on trend and creative direction, brand experience and business strategy, product development, merchandising and provides executive coaching for retail, apparel, footwear & consumer products companies.  CONTACT US TODAY!  or call 617.733.7411

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Twelve Hot Design Trends in Athletic Apparel

If you still think of women’s active apparel as polar fleece and half-zip poly jackets you’re living in a time warp. Fashion athletic apparel has disrupted and blurred casual lifestyle apparel, like Uber has to transportation. We aren’t going back to formulaic tees and jeans any time soon, as the dominant uniform of women’s weekend casual.

This seismic shift started when market disruptor Lululemon questioned the assumptions that women didn’t want fashion and were not willing to pay for style, comfort and quality in athletic apparel. Until then women’s activewear was an identical twin to men’s, in equally dismal fabrics and devoid of fashion. Under Armour began pushing the envelope in men’s at the same time as Lululemon. Both of these innovative brands were born from a fashion point-of-view, not the footwear industry that used to drive the category.

Dix & Pond Athletic Apparel Trends

Athleisure was born. Women have adopted the fashion, quality performance fabrics and comfort to wear in and out of the gym, at the expense of the traditional jeans and tee businesses.

As one of  the few bright spots in women’s apparel, competition is rising dramatically. Everyone is getting into the game. Athleta, Gap’s active division has elevated themselves from dated “new-age” California looks to a more urban vibe with a wide range of lifestyle items. Tory Burch, Kate Spade and many startup brands have entered the game. The competitive stakes are much higher now, and only “brand relevant” innovators will win. If your company is following, not innovating, your going to feel the squeeze.

Here are twelve significant trends in women’s athletic apparel design. Did your company see them coming?

Sheer madness. Sheer insets and translucent fabrics add cool functionality and peek-a-boo sex appeal, to everything from tops, legging to outerwear.

Under & over. Highly-evolved sports bras are a key classification to be worn layered and alone. Matching “no-show” undies from leaders such as Lululemon, Under Armour, Moving Comfort and others complete the look.

Self reflection. Playful and highly creative, reflective detailing adds function and fun-factor, to all categories of running apparel.

Printed matters. Hip, urban, abstract and geometric prints are driving legging, capris and short sales. Spiritual, “zen-like” yoga wear prints are now soooo 2010.

Back story. Naughty or nice? Back interest…cut outs, layering, lingerie detailing, halters and criss-cross backs, have been heating up top sales.

Booty call. Design and functional back details and shorts are the ultimate “booty call” and driving bottom sales.

Town down. Regular and micro down filled outerwear vests, parkas, anoraks and baseball jackets are ubiquitous and go uptown in styling. Try this, count how many Barbour, Canada Goose and Moncler jackets you see in 30 minutes on an East Coast city street on a December day.

Dress up. One piece ease and comfort, knit dresses are layered over gym clothes, swimwear or worn alone. This hot category is the ultimate multi-tasker from gym to street.

Metro techno. Unique knit and woven technical fabrics with performance properties such as SPF 50, wicking, anti-stink, water resistance, etc. are used in fashion forward, modern styling. Outerwear is a stand-out category, in new fabrications.

Short & sweet. Short-shorts, boy shorts, gym and bikes shorts layered and worn solo are driving sweet sales.

Walk the talk. Graphic typography plays to the mega-trend for self-expression and individualism. Edgy, motivational and descriptive words, quotes and sayings are on tees, tops, jackets and bottoms.

Tony trousers. The market has gone way beyond yoga pants and leggings to drawstring gym pants, knit jeans and “city pants” in comfortable and durable functional knits and techno wovens.

How did your company do?

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting, Boston-based, product development, creative, branding, business consulting and executive coaching for retail, apparel, footwear & consumer products companies. Follow me to get the latest posts

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A Letter To Mickey Drexler – What Happened To J.Crew?

Dear Mickey,

We need to talk. I thought you were “the one”. I consider myself a classic girl, the type you can bring home to mother, with an individualist fashion sensibility. After a very long loving relationship with J. Crew, I feel we’re drifting apart. You showed me the love, always wanted to please and surprise me. I gave you loads of attention and spent a lot of money on you. Lately our relationship has gotten repetitive, lost its color and doesn’t fulfill my needs. I’m not faithful to you anymore. Let me be specific on where our relationship lost its way:

1. You missed the athleisure trend. No, I don’t do downward dogs, but am very active at 2 gyms. I have blurred the lines between gym clothes and ones “formerly known as casual” in my wardrobe. Lately, I’m tired of shapeless cotton tees, that get little holes at the waist. I’m buying more substantial, expensive, inventive and sexy athletic tops for everyday use. You continue pushing twill cropped pants, when I am buying knit pants that look like jeans and sweats. I’ve never seen a comfortable knit dress in J.Crew.

I had a big crush on Lululemon, but find myself stalking a new love named Athleta. I’m loving athletic inspired outerwear, too. Who would have thought 2 years ago, I would buy a $500 leather/French terry moto jacket from my new crush?

Great outerwear is dominating athleisure apparel.

Great outerwear is dominating athleisure apparel.

You are the master of the casual playlist, taking classic pieces and pairing them in a hipper way. Somehow you missed the macro trend of mixing quality sport-inspired items into one’s everyday wardrobe.

2. You used take me on quality dates. Lately, you seem to be cheaping out, taking me to “fast-fashion ” places. I would rather pay more for a good meal. Why did the fabric qualities go down hill? I’d rather pay $98 at Lululemon for a relationship that will last, than $58 for a quick hook-up.

J. Crew stores lost the sharp focus of Madewell and became cluttered with junk food. Are you distracted by the Zara and Forever 21 effect? They aren’t your competition.

3. I thought you loved tall girls? Many of your clothes don’t fit me. I’m on the tall side (5’9″) and physically fit. Many of your specs are either too short or cut really small. Your customers aren’t all 24, 5′ 4″ and a size 0.

4. You don’t give me the attention you used to. I would never “trash” your catalogs, and always took your calls. The catalogs arouse me, causing emotionally driven online behavior. I would always buy more than needed. I get fewer catalogs now, so you  stopped “playing me” with your enticing images.

A look from J Crew for Spring 2015.

A look from J Crew for Spring 2015.

5.  Something changed. I trusted you to color my world. Some of the colors got very repetitive and harshly un-wearable. Dirty ochre anyone?

Mickey, I will never forget the good times. I’m definitely willing to give us another chance. I think about you often and still drive by your house. I need you to be the reliable source for key items like tees, shirts and sweaters, but mixed with more exciting quality pieces. You have a special place in the mall. You just got in with the wrong crowd.

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting Creative and strategic consulting for retail, wholesale apparel, footwear, consumer products and branding agencies. Follow me to get the latest posts

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