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The Modern Elements in Vintage-Looking Activewear

This week at the Oscar’s, Sylvester Stallone sat in the audience after having been nominated for his supporting role as Rocky Balboa in “Creed,” the latest sequel to the “Rocky” franchise. Iconic scenes from that first film include Rocky wearing traditional gray fleece sweats while running through the streets, eventually leaping up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In Creed, Michael B. Jordan’s character wears similar garb for a run through the city—only this time, the apparel has been updated in more ways than one.

While vintage activewear looks can be seen in hoodies, jogger pants and crew socks, the silhouettes are more streamlined and the colors go far beyond gray. And while cotton is still the fabric of choice for activewear, it’s now available with newer technologies and performance features.

“We are students and fans of sport so we often look to history of sport for inspiration,” Under Armour vice-president of women’s apparel Kelly Cortina. “With our end goal of making all athletes better, we often use newer [technologies] in our collection to bring a more modern aesthetic to complement our classic silhouettes.”

Morgan Stanley reports sports apparel and footwear sales increased 42 percent over the past seven years, reaching global sales of $270 billion. The firm estimates the industry could add $83 billion by 2020. Its report says a 10 percent jump in U.S. sports participation among high school age kids to 35 percent overall, has helped spur the active market. The U.S. leads the global activewear market with $97 billion in sales and 36 percent of all purchases, according to the Morgan Stanley report, which also points to the rise in athleisure apparel as a reason for the expected upward trend.

Regardless of their preferred sport, though, nearly two in three consumers (65 percent) say they prefer their activewear made of cotton and cotton blends, according to Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle Monitor Survey. More than nine in 10 say they would purchase cotton activewear over synthetics if the cotton apparel wicked moisture, dried faster, didn’t show sweat, had thermal regulating properties and was UV protective. Further, the majority would be willing to pay more for cotton activewear that had those features.

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Americans’ most popular fitness choice is walking, and more than six in 10 consumers (63 percent) say they walk for exercise, followed by running (44 percent), cardio training (41 percent), and weight training (39 percent), according to the Monitor Survey.

Men are significantly more likely than women to indicate running as a fitness activity of choice (48 percent versus 40 percent), weight training (46 percent versus 36 percent), hiking (27 percent versus 21 percent), and participating in organized team sports (24 percent to 10 percent), according to the Monitor data. Women are more likely than men to indicate walking as a preference (70 percent versus 56 percent), cardio training (45 percent to 37 percent), aerobics (30 percent versus 15 percent), yoga (32 percent to 10 percent), or dance (28 percent versus 7 percent).

Sara Scott-Curran is currently the director of retail for the Bar Method, one of the largest barre-based workouts in North America whose locations and website also sell apparel. She’s also a retail and activewear veteran whose experience includes stints at Nike’s UMBRO and Lucy Activewear.

“Cotton is something that resonates with consumers,” she says. “There are people who have such a strong preference for cotton because they don’t like the way synthetic tops feel when they sweat. Also, in certain sports, such as yoga and even barre classes, cotton was always a fabric that was a foundation of the assortment, so consumers definitely have a preference for its performance and authentic nature.”

Devigi, a three-year-old women’s activewear company based in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, has a mix that includes selections in cotton blends to create to satisfy consumer preferences for comfort, performance and style.

Consumers rank comfort (77 percent) as the most important factor in their activewear purchasing decisions. That’s followed by fit (69 percent), that the garment washes clean or does not hold odor (65 percent), quality (64 percent), durability (62 percent) and price (58 percent), according to the Monitor statistics.

“Consumers are really craving natural fibers of all kinds,” Scott-Curran says. “There is increased demand from consumers to wear natural, sustainable fibers with a soft hand and breathability. The breathable nature and soft hand of cotton makes it a wonderful choice for activewear, especially when you can blend it to give fabric mechanical wicking properties.”

Those mechanical properties truly separate today’s activewear from the old-school Rocky Balboa styles. Cotton Incorporated has developed moisture management technologies—TransDRY and WICKING WINDOWS—so consumers can enjoy the fast-drying and moisture-wicking performance of synthetics, while wearing natural cotton.

Under Armour includes its Charged Cotton collection among its large assortment of styles and fabrics.

“We are very pleased with the performance of our Charged Cotton styles,” Cortina says. “The comfort, fit and dry time of our Charged Cotton makes our styles very versatile so she can wear them to work out or go out. We will continue to grow our offering around these products.”

Cortina expects the collections will grow with the consumer, whether it’s vintage or newer athleisure styles.

“Our consumer has a very high expectation for our product to perform and fit well during her workout,” she says. “As we continue to expand our collection, we will outfit her in the gym, on the streets and everywhere in between to keep her moving with confidence.”


This article is one in a series that appears weekly on The data contained are based on findings from the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor Survey, a consumer attitudinal study, as well as upon other of the company’s industrial indicators, including its Retail Monitor and Supply Chain Insights analyses. Additional relevant information can be found at