First, in the early days of the 20th century, there was only leisure.
Then, as the decades progressed, came athletics. Then, in the ?70s and early ?80s, the rise in popularity of sports like tennis and jogging birthed a new style that combined the best qualities of both styles of clothing ? bolstered by aspirational notions of middle-class chic and opulence that followed those activities.
Gradually a style of clothing that would come to be known as ?athleisure? was born.
But that was just the beginning; when athleisure first came into existence, its name was quite literal; this was athletic clothing to be worn at leisure.
Fast-forward to 2017, and sportswear as fashion clothing is interwoven with cultures around the world.
I always remember the commonly-touted statistic that something like 90% of all performance footwear that is sold is never even used for the activity for which it was designed. In this environment, does athleisure even still really exist?
As a matter of fact, yes, it does. Granted, you?re less likely to come across those archetypal athleisure silhouettes that defined the ?80s like velour tracksuits, crisp white running shoes, and terrycloth sweatbands ? well, unless you?re looking through one of Palace?s latest collections ? but performance apparel that looks good still exists.
One of the problems of the market is that it?s been pretty much tied up by those six or seven heavyweight sportswear brands that need no introduction; when multinationals who turn over millions of dollars are already competing fiercely with each other to dominate the market, how does the little guy find space?
The answer?s actually similar to most industries. Get smarter. The most successful independent athleisure brands are usually the ones who focus less on sportswear as technical apparel, and more as a lifestyle.
Take Lululemon, the original yoga brand, which started by identifying an archetypal customer ? covering everything from her favorite music to the type of car she drives ? and then created the product to fit the customer.
Lifestyle is now the king of product, and athleisure is ripe territory for young brands that understand this. Here?s a guide to some of the best athleisure labels on the market today, but with the following disclaimer; we?re talking contemporary cuts. We?re leaving the Ellesse and Fila on the rail? for now.
When talking about contemporary athleisure brands, where better to start than with a collaborative range that basically set the bar in the modern age?
The brainchild of a collaboration between adidas Originals and legendary Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto, Y-3 is everything you should be thinking of when you hear the words ?sportswear with style?.
As I already explained in our feature on Japanese brands, Yohji Yamamoto has helped to define much of what we now consider mainstream style in 2017, and he was doing it years, sometimes decades before. Most famous of his creations with Y-3 is the Qasa footwear silhouette.
A reinterpretation of adidas? Tubular silhouettes of the early 90s, the Qasa not only inspired adidas to create the contemporary Tubular footwear range, it arguably taught the Three Stripes a new way to take inspiration from their past to inform their future.
Kanye might be the guy getting adidas in the headlines, but they?d be nowhere if it wasn?t for Y-3. No exaggeration.
First launched in 2010, Gyakusou is a collaboration between Nike and Jun Takahashi, founder of the iconic Japanese fashion label Undercover, and it speaks to the power of a collaboration done well.
For performance, Gyakusou offers all of Nike?s best technologies including Dri-FIT, Flyknit, and Lunarlon, but all of this is channeled through Takahashi?s unparalleled design perspective to create running gear that looks so sharp you feel like you could cut yourself putting it on.
Asymmetric designs, geometric paneling, beautiful graphic prints and tasteful branding details all combine to create clothing you want to be seen running in.
Keeping fit is much easier when you can use it as an excuse to look good, and I personally swear by the fact that my Gyakusou leggings make me run faster. Honest.
Nike Sportswear (NSW)
More sportswear than style-oriented, NSW is the pinnacle of Nike?s performance apparel offer, with just enough tweaks to make it accessible for everyday wear.
A cut above the brand?s mainline offer, each piece is loaded with technical considerations and calculated details that make it ready to perform, but it only takes a glance at their stripped-back color scheme of black, blue, heather grays and the occasional pattern to know that this stuff?s still designed to look good.
F.C. Real Bristol
Arguably best known for his Japanese menswear label SOPHNET., Hirofumi Kiyonaga created F.C. Real Bristol in 1999 and quickly established a collaboration with Nike on subsequent collections.
As the brand?s name suggests, F.C. Real Bristol is the official uniform of the Real Bristol football club, a fictional team who are claimed to be the undefeated champions of every tournament they compete in.
Beyond the impressive backstory, the brand is Kiyonaga?s opportunity to create clean, contemporary takes on classic football apparel from pitch uniforms to training gear like track jackets and varsities. Expect plenty of Kiyonaga?s signature motifs such as stars, stripes, and camo.
Launched only back in 2014, Tyler Haney?s Outdoor Voices is a breath of fresh air from the hyper-competitive, hyper-athletic identity of many of the bigger athleisure brands out there.
Driven by a desire to celebrate active lifestyles of all different backgrounds, Outdoor Voices is fundamentally about ?Doing Things? ? getting involved in recreational activities, whatever they are, and being active.
Though this laid back, bubbly attitude might seem a bit fluffy at first, it?s working; the brand is quickly gaining traction with both men and women who want to break a sweat at their own pace. Oh, and it’s got the backing of menswear titan A.P.C.
Founded a few years back by Stanley Cheung, EYSOM is an LA-based athleisure brand that makes clean, stylish workout gear that?s fit for purpose and just looks good.
In all honesty, it?s a very ?LA? brand ? their name is an acronym for ?Exercise Your State Of Mind?, and the website is plastered with ripped dudes who only seem to wear t-shirts if they absolutely have to ? but the product?s been really well received in both the performance and fashion spheres, for its great fit and accessible style.
And even then, I guess one of the aspirations of working out is to look so good that you can walk around topless all day long, so more power to them.
Founded in 2013 in Connecticut, Rhone is a fledgling sportswear brand creating premium athletic apparel for the modern man.
The brand takes its name from the Rhone river in Europe which was an important trade route during ancient civilizations ? as well as being aesthetically beautiful.
With basic t-shirts starting around $70 and track pants crossing the $100 mark, Rhone lives up to its premium label, but the product has a number of technical elements which justify the price such as four-way stretch fabrics and seamless constructions.
Not only that, product is produced within the United States, wherever possible.
Under Armour?s rise to success over the past decade has been well documented; having launched only in 1996, the American sportswear label is a baby compared to most of its competitors, but its rapid seizure of market share in the US in recent years has left a lot of the heavyweight athleisure brands shaken.
Toward the end of 2016, the brand showed further intentions of claiming space from its competitors with the announcement of UAS, a premium athleisure range designed by Belgian designer Tim Coppens which brings an elevated sartorial touch to Under Armour?s proven track record of solid, functional sportswear designs.
To be sure, the prices are high and the lifestyle elements are brought to the fore, but it all looks very, very good.
Founded in 2015 by Eugenio Labadie and Keith Nowak, Ten Thousand entered the game with a decidedly different approach to the ?all things for all men? mentality of many of the larger athleisure brands.
They kept it simple, offering only a training shirt and a pair of shorts. As time has gone on, they?ve gradually expanded their offer to include a half-zip top and several short silhouettes, but things remain very straightforward.
Prices are mid-range, sitting around the $50 mark for basic pieces, but their minimal branding and clean, accessible design make them a solid option for anyone who doesn?t necessarily want to be a walking billboard when they?re working out.
With two decades? experience in the performance scene, BrandBlack founder David Raysse is no stranger to the world of sportswear, working as a designer for brands including adidas, FILA, and Skechers where he was VP of Performance Design.
After creating numerous successful designs for these brands, Raysse went off to do his own thing, creating BrandBlack.
Though footwear is obviously the brand?s forte, their athleisure apparel offer has expanded impressively over the seasons, adding subtle stylistic touches to classic sportswear designs like track jackets, sweats and training tees.
Well, of course, you know Lululemon, one of the original athleisure brands and spiritual home of the suburban yoga mom. But did you know they have a men’s range as well?
The company actually offers a comprehensive range of training gear from tanks
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