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Keeping athleisure fit for the future

The Association of Suppliers to the British Clothing Industry’s (ASBCI) annual conference focused on the athleisure phenomenon this year and examined its lasting impact on the fashion, textile and retail industry.

The conference, which took place in Nottingham’s Crowne Plaza hotel on 14 November, highlighted areas of strength and future growth in the sector.

“Athleisure is definitely not [just] a trend,” argued Angela Cody, designer of Marks & Spencer’s T51 Active collection.

“[It] has taken on a life of its own, bringing it out of the gym and into our everyday lives. There’s no turning back in our desire to have ultimate comfort. Athleisure is definitely not dead or dying. It almost feels like it’s at the beginning of its life.”

Jutta Vo Quang, strategic marketing at technology company Freudenberg, agreed: “The sports apparel trend is not to be short-lived. Sales of sports apparel are still seeing growth. It’s a symbol of today’s modern world.”

As well as the “casualisation” of fashion under which dress codes are relaxed, speakers argued that the longevity of the athleisure movement was secure, thanks to shifts in lifestyles and cultures, as health and fitness “has gone mainstream”.

“Athleisure is here to stay. It’s growing, and it’s going to be a much bigger phenomenon to come,” said Claire O’Neill, marketing manager at Lycra.

“Fashion gives sports apparel creditability and sports give fashion functionality,” she added.

Terence Senford, head of design at Hugo Boss’s Boss menswear division, echoed this sentiment: “Athleisure has such a broad appeal, [so] potentially anyone can be an athleisure consumer. It’s not going to slow down in 2020 as [the analysts] are telling us. It’s just beginning.”

Looking to the future, speakers pointed to several areas they believed will maintain athleisure’s prominence and drive it forward.

For Freudenberg’s Vo Quang, a new approach to comfort and fit should be a focus: “We’re finding that comfort is more and more important. Consumers are not willing to sacrifice comfort elements: stretchability, washability, odour control, moisture management – these are all providing more comfort and will become even more important.”

Speakers argued that more advanced fits and sizing, ranging from more specific sizes, made-to-measure options and plus-size offerings, could also provide growth.

Hugo Boss’s Senford added that “gender neutrality is key” for the future and has been thus far widely untapped in athleisure.

Speakers pointed to fabric innovation as giving brands and retailers a competitive edge in the future.

Helen Coleburn, technical consultant at certification and testing agency Bureau Veritas CPS UK, spoke of “micro-encapsulation” as a new development within the athleisure market. This involves fabrics that release beneficial additions from within the garment. This has been used in some fashion items before, such as releasing moisturiser from inside hosiery and insect repellent within clothing.

Sustainability was also a key topic across the conference. Most speakers highlighted the need and opportunity for more a sustainable approach within not only athleisure, but the wider fashion industry. While recycled and repurposed fabrics are finding their way into athleisure collections, it was agreed that the sector has much progress to make in this area.

Drapers head of content Graeme Moran gave the opening address at the conference.

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