Athleisure, a portmanteau of the words “athletic” and “leisure,” is leading the fashion game into 2022. While pandemic lockdowns boosted a global trend in stylish sportswear, the multi-billion-dollar athleisure movement is here to stay as consumers continue to seek comfortable, fashionable clothing that suits every pace and place.
Appealing to consumer interest in both wellness and fashion, athleisure is a hybrid style of clothing that can be worn everywhere, from a gym session to a coffee date. Consumers typically look for athleisure that’s durable, high-performance, breathable and sweat-proof while also stylish and trendy. To stand out in this saturated market, brands must ensure that their products meet and exceed consumer expectations in terms of function, performance, comfort, aesthetics, value for money and brand image.
Making better-quality athleisure
As consumer demand for athleisure continues to soar, so do the experimental methods to enhance the performance, comfort and fit of athleisure products, which bring with them new technical challenges.
Fabrics used for athleisure should be durable, stretchable and resistant to body odor, UV rays, tears, abrasions, loss of elasticity and color fade. Moisture and sweat need to pass through the fabric to the outer surface to dry quickly without raising body temperature. Seams and other vulnerable areas should be reinforced or utilize stitch-free or seamless technology. Consumer care is also important so that wearers don’t cause damage to the garments.
Athleisure should always be comfortable, both physically and physiologically. In a physical sense, the garment shouldn’t interfere with, hinder or limit body movements during the sporting activities for which it’s intended. Physiological comfort refers to elements like balancing body heat across different activities, breathability and fast-drying performance with good thermal and moisture vapor transmission.
Given the relative newness of the athleisure fashion category, manufacturers and suppliers still have much to learn. Construction can be complex, requiring specialized equipment and a higher skill level. As one example, stretchable fabric is an essential component so that garments don’t restrict movement, which necessitates the adoption of new bonding technologies.
In a product segment aligned with a healthy lifestyle, athleisure brands also need to integrate materials and processes that attract mindful consumers and demonstrate sustainability efforts. Athleisure processes tend to use complex chemicals and advanced raw materials that are not necessarily sustainable, inviting reputation risk if sustainability objectives are not considered and managed.
Overcoming athleisure challenges
To win the athleisure race, it’s essential for companies to ensure that the functional claims of their products align with the performance requirements and aesthetic expectations of their customers. Quality management firm SgT has vast experience working with athleisure and sportswear brands, taking a proactive rather than a reactive approach to get it right the first time and tackle issues upstream.
SgT’s suite of risk-mitigation services for athleisure includes assessing, evaluating, correcting and maintaining technical solutions, from raw materials to finished products. Following a tailored process, SgT would typically begin by making sure a client is working with the right suppliers and raw materials to achieve its desired product development path. The quality company’s technicians with extensive manufacturing and materials expertise are on-the-ground in customers’ factories, identifying issues before they arise and implementing flexible solutions.
SgT also provides comprehensive assistance with sustainability objectives, including traceability, life cycle sustainability assessments (LCA), chemical footprint, analyses of the impacts and integrity of new materials with scientific testing, and more. Ultimately, the firm helps brands avoid greenwashing and substantiate their sustainability claims by working upstream, anticipating risks early on and prioritizing focus areas.
Overall, taking a more preventative approach will enable brands to manage their athleisure processes more efficiently and effectively, helping to reduce the costs of bringing competitive products to the market while enhancing consumer satisfaction.
Case study: Improving athleisure quality and time to market
An influential brand in the outdoor industry recently faced continual quality issues with one of its factories, severely impacting its production. The recurring defects included irregular seams, skipped and broken stitches, asymmetric assembly of pattern parts, and more.
The brand initially asked SgT to reinforce their inspections before requesting that 100 percent of their orders be checked before shipment. However, this was just an emergency approach, and the SgT quality experts suggested solutions to help the factory remedy the issues upstream and prevent them from occurring. Some elements of SgT’s plan included teaching the factory workers to evaluate their quality on a daily basis, training them in not only manual skills but in eye and perception to understand the customer and market standards.
After just three weeks, the factory demonstrated significant improvement, and the workers understood how to prepare the problematic assembly steps, carry out inspections and correct any issues. Final inspections revealed improved results and increased product quality, enabling the brand to create better products with a faster time to market.
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