What is athleisure? Well, the Cambridge dictionary describes athleisure as a style of clothing that is comfortable and suitable for doing sports, but also fashionable and attractive enough to wear for other activities. Darshan M, CEO, Deivee gives the term an alternate definition. He says, “Athleisure is actually a trend to wearing sports performance wear for leisure.” Improved fabrics have allowed sportswear to become more versatile, comfortable and fashionable. The athleisure line-up include leggings, tights, sweatpants, sneakers, hoodies and jackets.
Factors Propelling Athleisure
According to Harkirat Singh, Managing Director, Woodland, there has been a significant rise in the demand of athleisure in India recently. A key factor in increase in demand can be attributed to the growing health consciousness among Indians. There is a rise in health and wellness expenditure among Indian consumers which has contributed to the segment’s growth and athleisure fits the bill since it is a combination of trendy sportswear and relaxed apparel.
Vishal Patel, Managing Director, Hustle explains that athleisure is perfect for the Millennial consumer who is always looking for an option that fills the gap between sportswear and trendy clothes, helping them switch effortlessly between work and workout. “Athleisure can be worn both in the gym as well as for going out to a casual meet or even a party and that, according to me, is the biggest contributor for the growth of the segment,” he says.
There has been a rise in health awareness and the increase in the number of gyms, fitness centres and yoga studios across the country is proof of the growing change in the lifestyle of urban Indians.
Darshan M says that the reason this trend has emerged is because of the general trend of dressing down. He explains, “You don’t see formal clothing in offices anymore. It started with denims replacing formals and now comfortable tracks are replacing denims. The startup culture and relaxed office spaces have fueled the growth of this segment. It’s currently growing at 25 percent year-on-year.”
“Comfort is the number one reason people are moving towards athleisure. Whether you are running a marathon or just chasing your kids at home or chasing deadlines at work, comfort is the number one priority to choosing athleisure over traditional clothing options. No longer does the consumer want to change from the gym or yoga session to something to go catch a coffee or attend a meeting.”
He observes that athleisure is more popular with women than men globally and in India as well. “It is because women can easily pair a running leggings with a format jacket and look comfortable in an office setting, but men won’t look appropriate. Also women multi-task between home and office and need comfortable clothing even more than ever.”
Harkirat Singh on the other hand feels that athleisure segment for men has become as popular as for women. This has given a new sense of style and a variety of options to men in terms of apparel and footwear. “Of the 20 to 25 percent annual growth witnessed in 2016-17, men’s wear grew at a rate of 8 to 10 percent, while women and kids’ apparel segment grew at 11 to 15 percent. Seeing the current trend, it seems there will be a categoric growth in this segment for kids as well,” he says.
Going by the present scenario, athleisure is the fastest growing segment across the fashion space. According to Harkirat Singh, the segment is witnessing a growth rate of 20 to 25 percent annually. Considering its size, Darshan M says that non-sports brands too have started offering athleisure ranges.
Myntra, in 2017, had reported that it had a phenomenal response to its athleisure ranges. Athleisure as a segment has seen 1.5X growth, compared to rest of the portfolio of the e-commerce major.
Likewise in 2016, Van Heusen forayed into the segment by introducing premium and innovative innerwear and athleisure range for men. According to the brand, its product offerings received phenomenal response from consumers across the country. This propelled them to tap into the rapidly growing women’s segment too, which is witnessing 15 percent year-on-year growth.
“The exact size of athleisure market is difficult to measure right now. However, every year we see a new player entering the segment and the segment is growing rapidly along with its customer base. Though the trend has just picked up, athleisure is here to stay in long run fashion trends,” says Vishal Patel.
Trending in the Market
According to Darshan M, currently there are three main types of athleisure clothing in the market. First, the authentic active wear – these are clothes made for performance and being using for leisure. This is the original and true form of athleisure. These clothes are made with performance features and are built for technical use. For example, the yoga range of Deivee is made for professional yoga practices and is designed by yogis for yogis. However, a lot of its customers use them as office wear.
Second, sports-inspired athleisure wear – these are not designed for sport but by sportswear. These are not usually made with technical fabrics. For example, polo tees. These are inspired by Polo and Tennis players of the early 20th century and is worn as a casual collared tee all over the world.
Lastly, sustainable athleisure – today consumers are making informed decision on who makes their clothes, what raw materials go into its making and what is the impact of their choices on the planet. Increasingly informed customers are seeking out organic and sustainable clothing.
A new athleisure range is smart workout wear. At Woodland, athlesiure is about casual clothing which includes jogger pants, shorts, sweatpants, yoga pants, gym stringers, gym tanks, sports bras, sweat-wicking gym tees, sneakers, hoodies and so on. “These are designed to be worn for exercising and are equally comfortable and sassy for running other errands too,” says Harkirat Singh. “Considering the segment is relatively new, it has been noticed that all the products under it have been selling be it apparels, footwear or others. It is a trend to sport the right attire even at gym, the benefit that athleisure has is that it is also perfect for workout or brunch and beyond.”
“Tees and track pants are the fastest selling products within the space. However, hoodies and jackets which are popular globally are not a hit with Indian audiences since we live in a hot and humid country,” shares Darshan M.
“At Hustle, we bridge the gap between gym and casual wear; so you have a fashionable, stretchable pro gym wear to suit the Indian weather,” Vishal Patel adds.
Key Innovations & Sustainability
Darshan M shares, “The challenges to sustainability in athleisure is huge. About 99 percent of all athleisure brands in the country use polyester. And everyone know the ill effects of using polyester fabrics. These plastic garments are polluting the water bodies. In fact, due to these plastic garments, there is micro plastic filaments in every food we eat even in the water bodies. Today the oceans have one piece of plastic for every 5 fishes. By 2050, there will be 5 pieces of plastic for every fish in the ocean. If the athleisure market keeps growing at its current rate and more or more people buy cheap polyester goods we are looking at global catastrophe in the making.”
Deivee, which is a 100 percent sustainable active lifestyle brand, uses only organic, fair-trade and recycled raw materials to manufacture its clothes, which means it puts purpose ahead of profit. “It only works with ethical factories and is very particular about the impact on the planet. It also works with rural artisans and helps in improving the lives of the farming communities. It believes in adding value to the entire value-chain from farmers to end-consumers,” says Darshan M.
Deviee’s products are made to suit Indian body types, Indian environments and local sensibilities. It is the only brand in the segment to design clothes for different body types. The brand’s mantra is to provide the best products money can buy while making a difference to communities a person works and lives in.
Woodland maintains a commitment to innovation and sustainable business practices in line with its tradition of promoting outdoor and adventure sports worldwide. Few of its product innovations include heat lock apparels made in lightweight fabric with micro fibre to regulate the body temperature but retaining body heat. Aquasorb apparels which block rain and snow. Super charged cotton collection to keep the wearer cool, dry and light. Pure green apparels which are made out of recycled plastic turned into fibre to manufacture garments. And, tech shoes that are embedded with battery powered temperature control system, with their anti-microbial property, the shoes absorb sweat to keep the feet dry.
Hustle claims that its joggers, vests, t-shirts and jackets are the bestsellers amongst its product range. The brand’s target audience is between the age group 16 to 24 years, which is often called the “social media generation”. Vishal Patel states that in order to offer innovative range, it analyses trends through social media and translates them into products.
Their USP lies in understanding its audience by having a huge presence on all social platforms while their pan India operation network remains the backbone of the brand. “The graphics we use on our products for categories like t-shirts, vests and joggers, are inspired by the latest social media trends,” Vishal Patel explains.
Tier II & III Demand
Today, Tier II and III cities are as important as Tier I for any brand as the markets in urban cities. These cities have immense potential owning to the rise in the per capita income of people in these cities and the shift of consumers from unbranded to branded products.
“We have customers from small towns and villages who are as informed as their metro counterparts. Social media and internet has ensured easy flow of knowledge and information. The early adopters however will continue to be the urban consumers,” says Darshan M. “Online is the key growth driver for athleisure and many more categories as it democratises the access to the best products to consumers living outside the top metros. Now a customer in the North-East has the same access as someone living in Delhi, Mumbai or Bengaluru. About 70 percent of our business happens online and this trend is only going to grow.”
Harkirat Singh also states, “E-commerce has helped athleisure segment to grow day-by-day. It has been noticed that online sales of this segment has increased in high single digits.”
According to Harkirat Singh, the future of this segment is bright as it has received tremendous support from the industry. It has become customers’ favourite which is the main reason of its growth and success. Thanks to the increased knowledge and initiatives towards health and fitness, this trend is here to stay.
Hustle too, is confident about the segment’s acceptance in the Indian market and is looking for better business in the coming years. “Athleisure was brought into existence by simply breaking the rules of classic gym wear and casual wear categories. There are rules yet to be written but still it’s become more of an understanding right now. Any category needs its ideal time to surface as a steady independent division in itself. As they say, customers are the king and I think its them who will write the rules while we will try our best to cater to their demands,” concludes Vishal Patel.
(With inputs from Gurbir Singh Gulati)