Beyond Athleisure: The Rise of Technical Apparel

Image: Nike

High-tech sportswear is going mainstream.

  • 9 in 10” Americans wear athletic apparel in contexts other than exercise.
  • The number of “moisture-wicking” athletic wear products grew 39% last year.
  • Globally, the activewear industry topped $353.5B in 2020, projected to add another $157.1B by 2024.

Apparel giants are taking notice, catering to an exploding base of practical, performance-minded consumers:

  • Nike’s Spring 2021 collection pairs traditional Italian craftsmanship with industry-leading sports science research.
  • lululemon’s Spring/Summer 2021 offerings blend fashion and tech, featuring Glyde fabric construction, thermoregulation spacer layers, and more.

Mind the details. Not to be confused with ”faux” athleisure that prioritizes fashion over function, technical sportswear can withstand formidable outdoor conditions while being sleek enough to show up at Paris fashion week.

Why now? The pandemic propelled consumer demand for versatile, high-performance clothing. With shutdowns lasting over a year, the population flocked outdoors, donning apparel that can transition seamlessly between strenuous hikes and urban leisure.

And as online fitness booms, brands are tapping into digital communities of hyper-engaged consumers keen to spend on functional gear.

Connecting with consumers online can be “really powerful,” says Strava Director of International Marketing Simon Klima. According to Klima, brands hosting Strava clubs or challenges have seen a “10x return on investment.”

But… not everyone can cash in. It’s tough to construct technical apparel that works and looks good, so plenty of brands are taking the partnership path:

Takeaway. Industry giants are getting in on technical sportswear, and not just co-opting the outdoor look — they’re crafting beautiful apparel that’s built to last. All the above signals a return to quality craftsmanship well-suited for the high-performance lifestyle.

Breaking down the business of fitness and wellness

Subscribe to receive industry headlines, trend reports, and investment activity — delivered every Tuesday.

    No thanks.