The Rise of Athleisure Wear


Athletic apparel has not always been the booming industry it is today. While sports have been a large part of the American culture for the better part of the last century, the growth of the sporting apparel industry is reaching unprecedented heights.  While companies like Nike and Adidas have had a large foothold in the athletic apparel industry for decades, and newer companies like under armor have also seen success, a new trend has swept the nation and opened the market to new consumers, locations, and growth that hasn’t been seen before.  The trend is athleisure, a new term that indicates wearing athletic style clothing in a casual and comfortable way. The rise of this trend has helped to grow the sporting goods industry by billions of dollars a year with even more growth expected over the few years.
For many years, athletic wear was not seed as a major industry. Cotton t-shirts, sweat pants, sweatshirts, and a pair of converse shoes were all that were needed for athletic performance. As technology progressed, consumers began seeing many benefits for sport specific shoes.  Nike began selling shoes in 1972 trying to gain a share of the running shoe market in America, but they didn’t start selling apparel until 1979.  As athletic companies continued strategic marketing campaigns and developed new technology for footwear and apparel consumers began to incorporate the brands into their everyday lives.

One problem with the athletic wear and sporting goods industries is that they were focused mainly on the male consumers. Title IX was passed in 1972 but even after that, female participation in sports paled in comparison to that of their male counterparts. As females began playing more and more sports, the found themselves wearing male versions of shoes and clothes during competition. This was hardly ideal.

By the 2010s, female participation in sports had increased exponentially from the passing of Title IX.  That, along with the cultural trends shifting towards healthier lifestyle, led to people being more active and incorporating athletics into their lives. The ease, comfort and versatility of athletic clothes led to more and more consumers wearing them casually everyday, especially women.  As this trend gained more and more traction, companies began to realize the huge mistake they had made.  Ignoring half of the population and focusing specifically on men had left them embarrassingly on the outside of the market.  A small Canadian company that specialized in technical yoga clothing, which joined the market in the early 2000s, became an industry leader by 2010. Their yoga specific clothing consisted of comfortable tops and their best selling leggings.  As these legging became more and more popular, other athletic companies began to take notice.  Brands like under armor and Nike began to launch women specific apparel lines to try to keep up with Lululemon. Companies did marketing events specifically for women in an attempt to build brand loyalty for their athleisure wear. Nike had women’s marathons and events across the country to help bolster their athleisure lines.

As the athleisure trend became a full-blown sector of the industry, business strategies were changed and the focus was put on a consumer that hadn’t received as much attention as they deserved.  Companies realized that they had to market, advertise, and sell differently in order to appeal to women as a consumer base. Women were put front and center as the focus for many growth strategies. Nike brought its athleisure line to New York fashion week to appeal to more fashioned minded consumers.  Mark Parker, the CEO of Nike, remarked that “leggings are the new denim” while he gave interviews that week.

The athleisure industry has become an almost $100 billion industry worldwide, with growth continuing to happen.  Athletic companies have women to thank for that huge surge to their profits.  Lululemon has seen 20 percent increases over the past 4 years as a result of the trend. Nike saw its women’s department by $1.2 billion dollars in just one year, with hopes and plans to increase that by even more.  Seeing giants of the industry do so well, many small companies have jumped at the chance to join the market by releasing their own lines of athleisure wear.  It has become so popular that Miriam Webster has actually added the word athleisure to the next addition of the dictionary. Women have taken these companies to new heights, and the athletic wear companies are finally putting in the effort to keep them as consumers.

Phalguni Soni – Disclosure  | May 12, 2016 4:24 Pm EST. “Why Women Are Boosting Top-Line Gains for Activewear Retailers.” Why Women Are Boosting Top-Line Gains for Activewear Retailers – Market Realist. Accessed November 20, 2016.

Tabuchi, Hiroko. “Products and Competition Stretch Market for “Athleisure” Clothing.” March 25, 2016. Accessed November 20, 2016.

Friedman, Vanessa. “Nike Stakes Its Fashion Claim.” The New York Times. October 23, 2014. Accessed November 21, 2016.

By. “World Sports Apparel Market Is Estimated to Garner $184.6 Billion by 2020 – Allied Market Research.” MarketWatch. October 08, 2015. Accessed November 20, 2016.—allied-market-research-2015-10-08-82032519.




6 thoughts on “The Rise of Athleisure Wear

  1. While I love what the availability of athleticwear for women means in regard to women being accepted into the sports and active lifestyles, I think the fact that women’s atheticwear is highly gendered is a little problematic given that they tend unnecessarily objectify and sexualize women (shorts are really short, tight leggings, etc). Additionally, these companies often only feature thin, able women in their advertisements as well.


  2. “Leggings are the new denim” oh my gosh…it’s so true though. I think like in the 1950’s when the teen market was starting to emerge and establish itself, people were hesitant at first to acknowledge it, but ultimately realized that they could make a lot of money with it, and the same is true with that demographic and athleisure wear. I see it marketed toward teen girls so heavily, and leggings today are heavily associated with the “basic white girl” archetype, which I think is interesting.


  3. Has the rise of athleisure wear affected how many women actually participate in sports, or do a lot of women just see it as something comfortable to wear? I know a lot of women who wear yoga pants and sweatshirts all the time, sometimes in order to make it seem like they were just doing something like going to the gym to explain why they haven’t showered or are wearing makeup, but really they don’t actually participate in athletics very often. I’ve also noticed a trend where some of my yoga pants don’t hold up very well to the rigors of actual exercise, maybe because now companies are marketing them simply as leisure wear rather than athletic wear.


  4. It is interesting that the rise of athletic wear as leisure wear lead companies to realize that women were a big market. I wonder how the marketing strategies vary for men and women. How does the material clothing is made from differ between men and women? Why have women been seen as not a market for so long?


  5. I agree with the comment on the sexualization of women in athleisure wear ads, however I also think that part of this is the nature of the clothing. I do think it is positive that this industry has expanded to include women more fully.


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