THE ATHLEISURE TAKEOVER
BY ANABELLE SCHLACKMAN & SAM BROWN
Fan favorite athleisure brands like Lululemon, Alo, and Set Active have not just risen in popularity because of an increased demand to work out, but because of the lifestyle they preach. The brands aim to create workout clothing that can also be worn as basic daily staples. The premise of wearing stylish, flattering clothes to the gym, rather than the drab, baggy options that were offered before, has attracted the interest of women across the country. Through their clothing, these brands target the mindset of looking good and feeling good. They make it exciting to get dressed to go to the gym, which increases motivation to work out. Athleisure companies have been focusing their efforts recently on tapping into this wellness lifestyle market by producing countless variations of the workout set. These sets appeal to consumers because they are designed to be sleek, monochromatic, and easily transitioned from daywear to athletic wear. Regardless of how you choose to style them, workout sets, like athleisure as a whole, have earned their popularity through versatility and proven they are here to stay.
But why are workout sets, and athleisure so popular? We think that answer lies in their ties to wellness and some key players in the industry today - one being Lululemon.
Lululemon, with humble beginnings as a small Canadian company, has become a globally recognized brand capitalizing on athleisure, in line with long-standing athletic brands like Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour. In 2019, the S&P 500 grew less than 5%, but Lululemon stock soared over 80%, beating rivals Nike and Under Armour which gained 25% and 2% respectively. What allows Lululemon to compete with these corporate giants is its emphasis on community, or the wellness lifestyle. From meditation classes to running groups and other organized activities, it’s clear Lululemon cares deeply about their consumers. Just last year, the brand announced the opening of their new Centre for Social Impact, which will head current wellbeing programs and create new ones, with a goal of positively impacting over 10 million people globally by 2025. Funding for these advocacy programs and initiatives has exceeded 75 million dollars, making them an economic leader in self-improvement and a brand people are proud to wear.
Not only are Lululemon’s consumers benefiting from these wellness programs, but the financial health of the company is as well. Happy customers with a strong sense of loyalty are willing to pay a hefty price tag. One of Luly’s recent bestsellers, the Scuba Oversized Half-Zip Hoodie, is priced at $118 while their legging staples remain higher than competitors at $98. This is why you’ll hardly ever be greeted by discounts when you walk in the doors of Lululemon. Rarely does the brand discount their goods by more than 20-30%, whereas other brands in the same space are constantly being forced to cycle inventory by discounting products upwards of 40%.
It’s clear that Lulu has no issue getting clothes off their shelves. This is because consumer input and people themselves are at the forefront of each inventory launch. A lab called Whitespace is the retailer’s research and development headquarters, in charge of brainstorming the brand’s next best-selling design. The lab consists of scientists, psychologists, mechanical engineers, neuroscientists, and biomechanists who team up in an effort to bring fresh, original products to consumers. The experts remain focused on connecting the physical, emotional, and mental components of what it means to be human. Motion-capture testing and pressure sensors allow the researchers to test how garments work as people move. Their proficiency in understanding human sensory experiences is why Lulu lovers feel so in touch with themselves while wearing the clothing and showcases how closely in tune Lululemon is to the wellness of their customers.
Not only are fitness giants like Lululemon making consumer confidence and well-being a priority, but so are smaller startups. Lindsey Carter, a social media manager turned designer, is the founder and creator of SET Active, an athleisure brand that started as a small LA-based startup in 2017. Carter doesn’t even consider herself an avid fitness enthusiast but found herself wearing athletic clothing on a daily basis simply to lounge in. But in doing so, she didn’t feel stylish. She aspired to create a clothing line that brought stylish activewear to consumers, making them feel confident and comfortable in their own skin. And so, after much hard work and 10k in credit card debt, SET Active was born. In the short 5 years since the brand’s launch, Carter has made the Forbes 30 under 30 list and the brand has taken off, with a YOY growth in revenue of 625% from 2019 to 2020.
SET Active is built on a drop-based business model, meaning every few months new leggings, bike shorts, and other basics in four limited-edition colors are released. In 2022, this business model is increasingly gaining momentum. The model allows for a wide selection of products to be sold, ensuring a small brand like SET Active can keep up with trends and avoid accumulating excess inventory. And, despite being relatively small and new, SET is growing rapidly thanks to their commitment to their following. Sales are increasing because consumers feel they are a part of building the brand. Not only do they get input on picking out colors and best fit, but they also get a say on which influencer the brand should collaborate with next. A huge draw towards SET Active is the unique fabric used in making their products. Microfiber nylon spandex is mixed with a special ingredient that no other factories have, something that the brand keeps secret, making the products incapable of being replicated. The exceptional mix of fabrics creates a comfortable waistband designed to hold you in, and a slimming structure that expands and contracts with your body. This means SET’s design and unique fabrics allow consumers to feel good in their clothes - something the wellness movement is all about.
Stylish workout outfits represent the evolving connection between mental and physical health. It is proven that physical exercise is good for your mental health because working out releases endorphins and other chemicals in your brain that make you feel happy. Exercise can also boost self-esteem, self-confidence, and help you get better sleep. So, choose a comfortable and stylish workout fit for your next run to the gym to feel good in more ways than one. Because when paired with a workout set that makes you look and feel good, physical and mental health have never been more connected.