Although we tend to associate the word athleisure with “yoga pants”, the term has begun to take on a new meaning. Instead of simply producing clothing for a particular activity, the most successful athleisure brands have evolved into lifestyle engineers. As a result, the technical fabric you sport and the color palette present on your leggings is indicative of both how you sweat and who you are (or at least who you want to be). With the global activewear market expected to reach $547B by 2024, battle lines are being drawn as new entrants and established players plot their next move.

Surveying the landscape, leading brands like Nike, lululemon, and Under Armour have made headlines as they hone their respective strategy. First up, Nike. The company recently unveiled their first apparel line designed specifically for yoga, with an emphasis on yoga apparel for men. However, Nike isn’t going full-blown yogi. Instead, their stretching into lululemon territory with a different pitch. Their “Enhance Your Training with Yoga” line aims to pick off athletes and runners who don’t know the difference between Bikram and Vinyasa yoga, but could be convinced to buy some new gear. 

Meanwhile, lululemon is also searching for white space. The company is hopeful that recurring revenue from a $96/year subscription program will help. But the men’s business represents the biggest upside. According to lululemon’s COO Stuart Haselden, about 40% of the company’s men’s product sales today are to women. Surprisingly, among guys who do wear lulu, the number one activity is running, not yoga. Going forward, the company is embracing that fact in an effort to grow the men’s business to $1B in sales by 2020. As Ben Stubbington, lululemon’s SVP of men’s design put it: “We’re not saying that everybody has to do yoga.” Whether it’s cycling, CrossFit, or running, the retailer wants guys to seek out a sense of flow and meditation

In contrast, Under Armour is breaking from the athleisure craze. UA’s CEO Kevin Plank said the company lost its “focus” and it would return to making clothing for athletes. In an interview with the Financial Times, Plank said “If [consumers] want to go sit on the couch they can, but that product was built to help them get through a 10-mile run.” Aggressive, sure. But that’s Under Armour’s brand. Whether or not people will buy in is the bigger question. In 2017, the company saw a decade of growth come to an end. Although UA posted modest gains in 2018, if they’re avoiding athleisure, we’ll have to wait and see if their return to performance can right the ship. 

Of course, there’s a host of DTC and upstart athleisure brands applying pressure. With $64M in funding, Outdoor Voices is acting on their mantra, #DoingThings, as they bring their recreationalist vibe to the masses. Meanwhile, RYU Apparel is making a name for itself with its “urban athletic apparel”, with sales of $3M in 2017 and $40M forecasted by 2020. Then there’s Wone (pronounced “won”), who’s selling ultra-exclusive (and expensive) $320 leggings and $200 T-shirts. And while mens sportswear startup Rhone is hoping to exclusively corner the guys market, GAP wants to replicate Athleta’s success with Hill City, their new men’s brand. Vuori, a men’s activewear brand with a West Coast aesthetic, is also on the rise — with revenue projected to reach $30–$50M in 2018. Finally, expect to hear more about Gymshark as they build upon 2018’s revenue haul of $128M.

The punchline here: from the gym to the office and streetwear collabs to luxury labels, athleisure has become a blank slate for brands willing to innovate. Whether its technical fabric, performance apparel, or a lifestyle-driven approach, brands who understand their customer and nail their narrative can capitalize on and help define the evolution of athleisure.

Headlines & Happenings 
Full Stride 
While studios like CycleBar, Club Pilates, and Pure Barre have become household names, Xponential Fitness—the holding company behind these boutique concepts—has kept a relatively low profile. In 2019, though, the company will dominate the boutique fitness conversation

Last week, Xponential announced its acquisition of Stride, a boutique running studio. With this pickup, the company has made eight acquisitions in all (Club Pilates, CycleBar, StretchLab, Row House, Pure Barre, AKT, Yoga Six, and Stride), with five coming in 2018 alone. Looking back, last year’s acquisition spree has set the stage for rapid expansion of franchise locations the world over as Xponential seeks to solidify its position as the largest curator of boutique fitness brands.

Line forms here 
Fact: the gym gets a little more crowded at the start of a new year. But if you thought waiting for a few minutes for a treadmill was bad, try waiting in a line 100-people deep for a salad. Apparently, the number of people pledging to eat healthier has created a headache for the likes Sweetgreen, Chopt, and Little Beet, where the line is out the door and down the sidewalk.

While January is proving to be especially busy, long lines aren’t out of the ordinary at fast-casual spots. That’s one reason why Sweetgreen continues to innovate with app-based ordering and its Outpost delivery service for corporate offices. Still, with the third-party restaurant delivery valued at $13B, a number that could rise to $365B by 2030, expect the trend toward speed and convenience to continue as automation, pick-up/delivery, and even robots define the fast-casual experience.

On Trend
When we shared the Fitt Insider Outlook for 2019, there were a number of trends that appeared to be on the cusp of breaking out. Three short weeks into the year, we’re off and running. Joining a long list of brands looking to capitalize on the wellness craze, PUMA and Maybelline have teamed up to create a line of sweat-proof makeup. As skincare becomes synonymous with self-care, London-based FaceGym—known for its facial “workout” massages—is preparing for a rapid expansion in the US. Taking advantage of the trend toward personalization, 23andMe will add new wellness offerings including weight loss advice to its DNA-testing service. Finally, with CBD slated to become a $22B industry by 2020, two Goop alumni are hoping their retail platform Fleur Marché can become the “Sephora of CBD”.