Sweatpants forever? Why the athleisure fashion trend could survive the pandemic

Your sweatpant size isn’t the only thing skyrocketing in this pandemic – the number of stores selling forward-thinking comfort clothing is growing like an elasticated waistband.

When millions of office workers moved in droves to work from home at the start of the pandemic, it also sparked a shift in fashion trends, as people no longer needed the same clothes for the same activities. that they were used to.

Men who typically wore the classic suit and tie to the office found themselves throwing those Oxford shirts and three pieces in the back of the closet and grabbing something less stuffy for their Zoom meeting knuckle.

And women who normally dressed to impress in a blouse and pants or pencil skirt were now donning something more comfortable at work.

It has forced clothing retailers to change what they do as well.

Overall, clothing sales fell in Canada in 2020, but are up 20% so far this year, according to Tamara Szames, industry advisor for fashion and retail at the firm of NPD Group research.

“It’s athleisure and these categories of comfort that lead the way,” she said in an interview, using the industry’s coat rack for clothing designed for both athletic activities and everyday life. .

Two years ago, these “active” clothes made up about 25% of the clothes Canadians bought. Now that’s over a third – and sales are growing twice as fast as other forms of clothing, Szames said.

No wonder retailers are trying to take advantage of the trend. Denim pioneer Levi Strauss announced earlier this month that he buy the brand Beyond Yoga for an undisclosed sum, citing the need to “diversify its business” beyond their iconic jeans.

The Gap, with its flagship brands Old Navy and Banana Republic, is also reinventing itself on the fly, closing stores and strengthening its online activity.

It’s a painful transition that has seen the ubiquitous store chain close more than 200 Gap stores in North America since 2019. But it also now has almost as many physical stores of its athleisure brand, Athleta.

Retail analyst Tamara Szames says sales growth in the athleisure category outpaces just about all other types of clothing. (Jacqueline Hansen / CBC)

Athleta is opening two new flagship stores in Canada – in Toronto and Vancouver – because they believe the athleisure trend is sustainable.

“We know the Canadian customer is super active… she hikes, she swims and our Performance Lifestyle product gives her the ability to do all of these activities in very comfortable and performance active wear,” Jennifer said. Steichen, channel vice president for North America. -president for stores and operations.

With 199 stores currently, Steicher said the company expects the athleisure category to double by 2023.

Athleta targets people who want to be stylish and comfortable while being active, not necessarily those who sit in their home office all day.

And while the company is banking that the sweatpants trend is here to stay, that doesn’t mean schlubby is in the game.

Far from there.

Michelle Watson is the Founder and Creative Director of Michi, an ethical clothing brand that describes itself as a maker of “active lifestyle clothing that combines high performance and high fashion”.

She came up with the idea of ​​comfortable, well-designed and stylish workout gear while living in New York City over a decade ago. After some initial positive reviews for her handmade prototypes, she brought the company back to her homeland of Canada in 2012 in an attempt to grow.

Today, her clothes are sold in stores around the world, including department stores like The Bay, Holt Renfrew and Selfridges.

The iconic Gap shopping bag may be in decline, but the yoga-focused company brand Athleta is growing rapidly, including in Canada, with two flagship stores opening this fall in Toronto and in Vancouver. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

While the pandemic has made things more difficult in many ways, Watson said she is helping in other ways by fueling existing trends towards more online shopping and a desire for more versatile and comfortable clothing.

“I’ve always believed in making products that can be worn to the gym for your most intense workouts, but also fit into your standard wardrobe,” she said. “I wear the product to work every day, I work really long hours, and I can’t get over it.”

She is not alone.

At Yorkdale Mall in Toronto, where Athleta is set to open next month, client Sarah Mohavir said comfortable clothing has become her “go” while working from home during the pandemic.

“I don’t even know if I could go back to wearing dress pants,” she joked.

Fashion is always reinventing itself, and Szames said the new consumer push to demand comfort and style in office wear is just an extension of what was before.

“We’ve seen the trend start with people wearing Lululemons at the grocery store or on weekends – and that has really evolved and spread into our everyday wardrobe,” she said. .

“Now we are seeing more athleisure entering a different segment of the market and we are starting to see it moving into exits and even work wear,” she said.

Wherever the desire for stylish comfort goes next, Watson calls it an idea whose time has come.

“Comfort is a movement … not a trend,” she says. “It’s here to stay.”

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