Gone are the days of happy hours, brunches and in-person team meetings. In the age of COVID-19, socially distanced interactions—both personal and professional—are taking place over email, text and Zoom.
As everyday life has given way to a new normal, consumers’ needs and shopping habits have changed. Occasions for corporate or even business casual attire have evaporated, revealing a desire for cozy, casual staples more suited to the living room than the boardroom.
Lounge and athleisure apparel brands quickly snapped into action this spring to fulfill those needs. But in 2020, casual garb is not limited to pajamas and leggings. A much more sophisticated class of versatile garments and textiles have arrived, offering stretch, softness and durability.
Los Angeles-based active wear brand Vuori has had to re-up on its ultra-popular performance joggers since the pandemic began. Consumers have taken to the design, which lends itself to dignified at-home lounging, and also to the feel of the brand’s proprietary Halo fabric.
Shoppers are “gravitating towards fabrics with an incredibly soft hand-feel,” Sarah Carlson, Vuori’s vice president of product design, told Sourcing Journal. While the brand has made a name on its high-quality textiles, “spending more time at home has made them particularly popular with both men and women,” she said.
Vuori’s soft and stretchy Halo formulation is made with a fine denier polyester and elastane, which promotes shape recovery after long hours of wear. “The fabric is developed as a yarn-dye and knit into a jersey construction, then mossed on the face,” Carlson said, giving it its soft, supple and slightly fuzzy feel.
Blending performance with comfort, Vuori’s Halo is both moisture-wicking and quick to dry. The pants are suitable for yoga, running, and training, Carlson said, “but are designed with a versatile aesthetic that can move effortlessly into everyday life.”
B Collection by Bobeau’s casual lounge wear styles—from joggers and wide-leg pants to hoodies and tees—lend themselves perfectly to working, and doing most everything else, from home, said merchandising director Michelle Hoover.
“What we aim for is making sure our loungewear isn’t too pajama-like, so you can actually wear it out of the house,” she told Sourcing Journal. “These are feel-good, emotional purchases.”
Part of what continues to draw shoppers to the brand is its penchant for luxe-yet-affordable fabrications.
Bobeau’s most popular fabric is its Cozy material—a fine, brushed sweater knit used across its line of apparel.
“We’re based out of southern California and it’s generally mild all year round,” Hoover said. “We still wanted to give our customers cozy, aspirational loungewear, but make it breathable.” Bobeau worked with its suppliers to develop a formulation that was lightweight enough to wear year-round.
The Cozy knit features slightly lofted rayon fibers and has a hand-feel not unlike cashmere—but at a fraction of the price. It’s also made to withstand regular wear-and-tear, Hoover said.
“A lot of people have versions, but we worked hard to make sure that ours could handle washing and care,” she said. “Ours is the proper weight to be laundered and retain its soft, silky finish.” Hoover claims the Cozy knit does not pill or flatten over the course of everyday use.
In light of the current public health issues, Bobeau is also exploring adding antimicrobial finishes to items in its fall collection. Factory partners have been leveraging these coatings with success in the athletic apparel space, said Hoover, who hopes to bring the benefits to lounge wear in the coming months.
Fabric coatings with different purposes are growing in popularity across the board, said senior advanced materials analyst Anthony Schiavo of Lux Research. These additives can manipulate the feel of a garment, giving it a silky-soft finish, or even add shed-resistance. A number of startups are creating earth-friendly replacements for durable, water-repellent coatings, he said.
Synthetic-based fabrics, like Vuori’s polyester Halo or Bobeau’s Cozy rayon fabric, will continue to play a large role in the athleisure and lounge apparel sectors for the foreseeable future, said Schiavo, who researches the development of new and innovative materials across the apparel space.
“Those materials are foundational to the garments we’re used to wearing in our society,” he said.
“You have a lot of built-up capacity and investment in polymer based materials, and I don’t think there’s necessarily a desire to replace them,” he added. It’s achievable to create sustainable fabrics from them, if companies choose to invest.
While Schiavo worries that the coronavirus outbreak could delay brands’ adoption of sustainable solutions, he has seen a general trend in the active wear space toward the exploration of new fibers and fabrics with a smaller carbon footprint.
“There is a huge push toward textile recycling, both with natural fibers like cotton, as well as recycling of polymer fabrics like nylons and polyesters,” he said. “There’s a lot of interest here, and a lot of technology that’s able to return a much higher-quality textile back.”
New textile alternatives like hemp may also become important in the lounge and athleisure space, though Schiavo said the timeline could be long due to the lack of an American supply chain.
“There are agricultural processes that need to be developed, and infrastructure and knowledge that is still very much in the early stages,” he said. Still, a lot could happen over the next five years, he added, as the downsides of synthetics and even cotton continue to raise environmental alarm bells.