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Athleisure is Leading the Eco – Path in Combining Life and Work in Fashion


Over the past decade, the term “athleisure” has often been cited as a dominant fashion trend, however the concept of blending fashion with elements of sportswear can be traced back to the 1970s with the rise of the fitness regime. Not to be confused with performance sportswear, athleisure is about comfort and function combined with an everyday fashion element.

It’s a trend that has seen continual growth. According to ResearchAndMarkets.com [1], the athleisure market size was valued at USD 155.2 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach USD 257.1 billion by 2026, registering a compounding annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.7% from 2019 to 2026.

With the current COVID-19 pandemic thrown into the mix, the athleisure/functional fashion market continues to grow thanks to the increased number of people working, exercising and spending more time at home. Trends have also shown people are now more health conscious both physically and mentally due to COVID-19, hence they have garnered higher awareness to stay fit and healthy, which reflected a rising demand in sports and outdoor activities.  Such finding echoed with trend forecasters predicting an increased demand for “staycation” athleisure styles that offer practicality and comfort, while maintaining an overall fashionable look. It is an evolving fashion market which appeals to a broad age range of consumers looking for a style that can easily adapt from home comfort to conference call smartness.

Lauren Morrison, founder of Trend Forecasting service, Fashion-File [2] comments: “Since the global onset of the pandemic, consumer lifestyle and behaviour has changed. Consumers have become focused on achieving a level of comfort and wellbeing that can move effortlessly between public and private living.  As we move forward, our homes are becoming a place for all activities across work, rest and play – our clothes will also have to adapt to this change. Athleisure will continue to grow and provide comfort and flexibility within our day-to-day lives from underwear to outerwear. Athleisure is set to move forward into ‘Ath-luxury’ formal sportswear, that combines ultimate comfort with smart aesthetics.

“Ath-luxury’ sportswear provides performance fabrics that are sophisticated and clean. Designs will include minimal detailing that provide functional style. Consumers will also concentrate on buying better products rather than frequently replacing them. This will provide an opportunity to use technology-based, sustainable fabrics to optimize the transition between public and private living,” added Morrison.

The change in the way we live and work today and the sudden shift to a less carbon intensive lifestyle has set off a wake-up call for more eco-consciousness among consumers.  In light of this, early adopters of such athleisure trends are ahead of the game and are furthering brand kudos with the use of environmentally friendly textile and business practices.

Global sportswear brand, Adidas, for example, has introduced the “Three Loop Strategy” to reduce plastic waste and lead the charge on circularity in sports. Adidas said their goal is to become completely virgin-polyester-free by 2024. As the rising focus on circularity increases, fabrics made from fibers produced in a closed-loop process will become more sought-after by consumers and brands. This will play a role in advancing the circular business model in the fashion industry, increasing the availability of eco-friendly fabrics and reducing the demand for non-sustainable alternatives.

Currently, climate change and CO2 emissions are certainly the two hottest topics when it comes to environmental challenges.  According to The Fashion Climate report [3] compiled by the Global Fashion Agenda and McKinsey & Company in 2018, the fashion industry produced 2.1 billion tonnes CO2eq. This represents 4% of global carbon emissions, a share larger than that of France, Germany and the UK combined. The most dominant polluting sector across the entire garment life cycle could be found in textile production, which has forced to more brands to consider the fibers they use within their collections.

Sustainable direct-to-consumer brand Allbirds, for example, has focused on its materials since the day it launched. Allbirds started up with an innovative and comfortable wool sneaker and aims to design environmentally friendly products. With their motto “Measure, Reduce, Offset” they aim to reach the goal of emitting no carbon. The company measures materials, manufacturing, product use, and end of life to calculate the carbon footprint of each product, and these numbers are clearly labelled for everyone to see. Driving Allbird’s carbon footprint to zero is one of the company’s mission.

In addition to excessive carbon emissions, water waste is another big consideration for the fashion industry. The availability and quality of water are essential to our ecosystem and health, and the opportunities associated with tackling water pollution still seem to be underestimated.  The fashion industry is the second highest user of the world’s water supply, with the textile dying process being the world’s second-largest water polluter. It is said that a cotton t-shirt requires around 700 gallons of water to produce, which is enough to provide one person with 8 cups of water every day for 3.5 years. It is also said that the waste produced annually by the textile dying process amounts to 2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools. With these two factors touching upon the water waste and pollution problem in the fashion industry, a rising awareness among consumers is pushing responsible brands to use more fabrics made from sustainable or recycled fibers that also use eco-friendly and water saving dying methods.  

Black Label collaboration Photo credit: © Stiefkind Photographie

The Lenzing Group, a cellulose fiber production company, recently developed the “Black Label” capsule collection with a number of mill partners featuring TENCEL™ branded modal fibers with Eco Color technology. Using 50% less water and energy whilst reducing the carbon footprint by 60%, the TENCELTM Modal fibers allow for in a lower environmental impact compared to conventionally dyed fabrics. Furthermore, the Eco Color technology ensures garment vibrancy and color retention, even after multiple washes.

The “Black Label” collaborations featured designs by Magdalena Brunner from Plural fashion and fabric designer Marie-Louise Rosholm from Studio MLR. Both designers partnered with the TENCEL™ brand on a forward-thinking, sustainable capsule collection that introduced sporty and casual everyday looks. The union spanned the entire supply chain, connecting fiber production, fabric creation and garment design under one umbrella to create footwear and garments that are durable and timeless.

The problem of conventionally dyed fabrics is not only to do with water waste and pollution, but also raises issues for compostability. The TENCEL™ Modal fibers with Eco Color technology featured in the “Black Label” collection also provides the solution here. The spun-dyed fibers result in fibers that are fully biodegradable and compostable and thus can return to nature.

Black Label collaboration Photo credit: © Stiefkind Photographie

Guided by circular principles, the Swedish sustainable outdoor brand Houdini, develops sportswear which is biodegradable, or even compostable – featuring natural fibers that can be returned to nature, granted that they are not blended with synthetic materials or treated with hazardous chemicals. The eco-friendly fibers used by Houdini include Merino wool and TENCEL™ branded lyocell fibers for their many performance and sustainability benefits. As part of their sustainability mission, Houdini Sportswear established the world’s first clothing compost in Stockholm. The brand also interestingly created the “Houdini Menu”, a fine dining menu made from vegetables grown in the compost of old sportswear from their 100% natural wool line.

In recent months, athleisure has become so much more than the combination of sports and day wear. Athleisure has adapted to our evolving need for clothing that can provide comfort and practicality with aesthetics borrowed from both sports and fashion. Those pressing ahead are wisely introducing innovative performance fabrics, solid brand ethics and charitable incentives. With climate change high on the agenda, brands now need to demonstrate their eco-ethics by demonstrating that their supply chain is transparent and sustainable. Now more than ever, crop producers, mill partners, factories, designers and retailers need to work together to set the industry on the right, eco-conscious track.

[1] https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200302005773/en/Global-Athleisure-Market-Expected-Grow-CAGR-6.7 

[2] www.fashion-file.co.uk  

[3] https://www.globalfashionagenda.com/publications-and-policy/fashion-on-climate/ 

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