February 21, 2023
A continued work-from-home landscape and a consumer loyalty to all things athleisure is keeping the segment strong in 2023
The year 2022 was a solid indicator that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” A return to the office has changed the athleisure market, but not necessarily in a negative way. People continue to wear athleisure in unexpected ways, whether a woman throws a blazer over a work-out look for a more office-appropriate appearance, or a man swaps out sweats for joggers or dress pants.
The athleisure market also has become more wellness-focused and inclusive. Priorities shifted for many people during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2023, the consumer is looking for smart textiles and elevated silhouettes that bring out the proverbial “best self.”
Changes haven’t been sweeping in nature, but are subtle and steady, with certain details now emerging. “I don’t think much has changed within the market, except for maybe color pallets,” says Courtney Karam, general manager, CitadelBrands. “The athleisure market is thriving, and I do not foresee any slowing down. The post-COVID shift to self-care means that working out has become a part of a lot of the population’s daily routine. With that comes a matching reflection of apparel.”
The emergence of workleisure is driving the popularity of more tailored performance apparel as well, says Chris Guard, Senior Marketing Manager for HanesBrands Printwear. He specifically refers to something called “Earthleisure” as an important trend alternative apparel, in particular.
“Earthleisure continues to drive consumers toward Earth-friendly attire from companies committed to responsibly made apparel,” Guard says, adding that where performance features were once added to casualwear, tailored details are the current additions.
Without a doubt, the popularity of the athleisure category soared during the pandemic. “When people weren’t
Alternative Apparel Women’s mid-weight cropped hoodie is made of Burnout French Terry complete with ribbed cuffs.
Photo courtesy of HBI
working from home or lounging, a lot were escaping to the outdoors to reconnect with nature,” says Taryn Mejia, senior designer-activewear for the Fruit of the Loom, JERZEES and Russell Athletic activewear brands. “The popularity has not waned. It has evolved. Consumers are now dressing their athleisure up and down for office to evening looks, as well as still finding time to reconnect with nature.”
Today, these lifestyle changes are reflected in buzz words and concepts such as “self-care” and old favorites like getting to the gym, or simply living a healthier, happier life, which in turn seems to usher in more vibrant, yet softer, colors mixed with a relaxed fit that also is comfortable.
A change in mindset also seemingly has occurred. “Athleisure has been a growing and dominant apparel trend for almost two decades now, with consumers looking for comfortable apparel that can be worn throughout the day, from activity to activity,” Guard says. “Not that it needed more momentum or rationale behind it, but that’s seemingly what COVID-19 provided. It left us questioning the need to ‘dress up’ at the office and for other occasions.”
It stands to reason if a more traditional “office life” were to return to pre-pandemic norms, athleisure could take a hit in popularity. However, CitadelBrands’ Karam believes athleisure is here to stay.
Citadel Brands offers trendy transitional pieces for the athleisurewear segment. Photo courtesy of Citadel
“I do not think athleisure will take a hit,” she says. “If anything, we will see more transitional pieces come to the athleisurewear segment. For example, Just Hoods by AWDis now offers a quarter zip that can be paired with a pair of slacks, jeans or the matching Just Hood jogger pants.”
Office attire may not include joggers and hoodies for everyone, but athleisure surely is leaving its mark on corporate apparel. HanesBrands’ Guard says that while work-leisure is still being defined many are returning to the office with new or expanded dress codes on hybrid schedules.
“Customers are looking for comfort, flexibility and items that can be worn for multiple occasions, such as tees, track jackets and joggers,” says Mejia. “Our 975MPR NuBlend Pocketed Jogger Sweatpants come to mind as a great example of this. With a combo of comfy, transitional-weight fleece and a sleek design, they can be worn from day to night and feel dressier than your average sweat pant.”
To be sure, athleisure will also be worn throughout the everyday life of the end-user. With this in mind, customers are looking for durable, functional pieces that carry them throughout their daily activities. In addition, transitional athleisurewear will be key. Wear it to work, and then wear it to dinner. A more business casual setting will likely take precedence over professional wear.
Inner-office athleisure sightings will include quarter zips for men and women. More tailored performance wear, such as cinched legs instead of joggers, are a sure bet, says Guard.
“At Champion, we look at the printwear channel in three distinct groups in terms of who wears and embellishes our apparel: work, sport and creators. For work, you have more tailored fleece styles. With a sport look for tees, sweats and leggings with luxurious fabrics as well as performance features. For creators, it’s about style and a great print surface.”
Guard adds that the three descriptors capture the core consumer and embellisher, while reflecting the spirit of the apparel.
Two items expected to be especially popular in 2023 are the classic hoodie and jogger, says Mejia. Each has a timelessness and versatility that is tried and true. She points to the JERZEES Premium Eco Blend Unisex Hooded Sweatshirt as a must-have for 2023 and beyond. Another regular contender in the athleisurewear segment is apparel that is wicking and offers sun protection.
The JERZEES Premium Eco Blend Unisex collection offers a combination of wicking and sun protection. Photo courtesy of FOTL
Thermo-regulating base layers also will be in demand as adaptable building blocks for seasonless use, no matter the climate. Garment-dyed tees and fleece will continue to be popular as well. Same thing with vintage styles, especially on college campuses.
More broadly, responsibly made apparel will be an important consideration for many consumers as well, especially among younger buyers, says Guard. “Look for innovation in eco-friendly fabrics and washes. For our ‘Alterative,’ Earthleisure takes athleisure to another level, comfortable and stylish, but also easy on the planet. New from our alternative line is a new Botanical Dye Tee, which uses food-grade dye materials from the earth, rather than traditional dyes.”
Mejia adds that genderless and unisex functionality will continue to be important, given the rise of inclusivity when developing a brand strategy. The ongoing development of reversible, packable and layering apparel will be especially prominent, as the customer is looking for added value and multiple wears in one.
By contrast, it’s safe to say any athleisure apparel that is overly restrictive and uncomfortable or that does not make the consumer feel confident will be left behind.
A mix of colors will be trending in 2023, including shades of purple, according to Mejia. “Purple iris and periwinkle are two of our JERZEES shades that will be really important purple hues,” she says. “As society is returning back to normal and people are taking vacations again, coastal colors, such as mid-tone blues and refreshing lines are also key.”
FOTL 975MPR NuBlend Pocketed Jogger Sweatpants (right) can be worn day or night
and feel dressier than your average sweat pant. Photo courtesy of FOTL
Expect fresh updates to core colors, such as black, navy and white. Fabrics will focus on friendly textiles that contribute to a circular economy, with performance benefits that keep the customer comfortable. Styles will evolve to be multifunctional and encourage modular wear and will be layered for indoor-outdoor dressing.
With respect to the decorating side of things, Mejia maintains that while the challenges resulting from the pandemic have been tough, some have been more easy to navigate than others. With this mind, she suggests decorators adopt the following strategies to meeting and overcoming those challenges:
Flexibility and adaptability: Decorators able to quickly pivot and adapt to changing demand, supply-chain disruptions and other challenges may have been better able to navigate the crisis.
Digital capabilities: Decorators with strong digital capabilities, such as the ability to communicate and coordinate with suppliers and customers remotely, may have been better equipped to handle the disruptions caused by the pandemic.
Strong relationships: Decorators who had strong relationships with suppliers, customers and other stakeholders may have been better able to collaborate to find solutions.
That said, a number of manufacturers suggest the worst may be over in many respects. “A lot of the supply chain-issues have been resolved,” Karam says. “If anything, we are in an oversaturated, and we are starting to see price reductions being implemented in items.”
Finally, when it comes to trends and the many different types of buyers out there, the general feeling is that while millennials continue to have a say in the matter, but Gen-Z is not backing down. “While Millennials may have initially driven the popularity of athleisure due to age range and lifestyle, Gen-Z has caught up and are huge supporters as well,” Mejia explains. “Millennials are more lounge- and comfort-driven, whereas Gen-Zs are more focused on athleisure that has a streetwear influence and vibe.”
Bottom line, athleisure is a unique category because it is ageless. Every generation has become passionate about all-day comfort and wellness, and this is reflected by the rapid growth of the category.
“Athleisure shows no signs of stopping! It is not a trend. It is a lifestyle,” says Mejia. “Consumers are looking for functional and polished pieces that fit their lives, not the other way around. Continual newness through fabric and details is key to capturing the market.”
Jennifer Morrell is an award-winning writer who has written for a number of national consumer and trade publications. For more information or to comment on this article, email Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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