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Athleisure Likely to See Growth Even as Jeans Sales Rise

Don’t expect athleisure to go away anytime soon.

Given that athleisure has been around for four or five years now, there’s been a natural speculation that interest in the category might be slowing. But the latest data doesn’t support that—even despite an increase in denim sales.

Companies like American Eagle Outfitters Inc. and Abercrombie & Fitch Co. have seen more jeans interest among teens in the bottoms category, and there was the successful initial public offering of Levi Strauss & Co. earlier this year.

The NPD Group said in a recent report, women in the U.S. purchased 22 million more jeans in 2018 than in 2017, with a total of 364 million pairs of jeans purchased in the 12 months ended February 2019. But the market research firm also said total U.S. men’s and women’s activewear apparel sale rose 8 percent to $47.4 billion in the 12 months ending March 2019. By segment, men’s activewear apparel sales rose 9 percent to $23.2 billion, while women’s activewear apparel sales increased 6 percent to $24.2 billion.

And a new report from on “Global Athleisure Market 2019-2023” projects the category will register a compound annual growth rate, or CAGR, of nearly 7 percent by 2023.

The ResearchAndMarkets report said millennials have had a hand in expanding the category, with high fashion brands embracing athleisure while collaborating with other prominent brands. It also concluded that the “rising adoption of athleisure wear by millennials and the working population will further boost the athleisure movement market growth in the forthcoming years.”

As the women in the NPD report expand their purchases to include jeans, brands like Lululemon and Gap Inc. are also growing sales of men’s athleisure apparel with a greater focus on technical fabric innovations designed to advance their offerings.

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Last October, Gap launched Hill City, its high performance men’s apparel brand that uses technical fabrications for apparel that transitions with the wearer throughout the day, from working out to work and to the weekend.

“Men’s lives are evolving. We no longer want to dress as either an ‘athlete’ or ‘outdoorsman’ or a ‘businessman’–we are all those, and we’re also fathers, friends, and active members of our communities. We don’t want a different look for each aspect of our lives,” Noah Palmer, the brand’s general manager said, at the time of the Hill City launch.

That kind of perspective meant rethinking what men’s apparel should be, and Palmer said the concept for the brand was about filling a man’s “entire closet with versatile, high performance pieces that can take him from a hike to a dinner out, without sacrificing a sense of style.”

Retail consultant Gabriella Santaniello, who founded research firm A-Line Partners, said, “The category as a whole is stabilizing, rather than slowing, and there is still room for growth for companies that continue to provide innovation and execute well.”

Lululemon, she said offering an example, has used innovation as a tool to grow the already established women’s line, with the introduction of new fabrics and categories like intimates, while the men’s line is slated to be the firm’s growth vehicle.

“The others who got into it just for the extra dollars and haven’t been innovating or don’t have a pricing edge are more than likely seeing that business level off or decline,” she concluded.