Athleisure is a major contributor to U.S. apparel sales, and the coronavirus pandemic only accelerated consumers’ appetites for this apparel subcategory.
Athleisure apparel refers to clothing that is both “athletic” and for “leisure” (hence the name athleisure) that consumers can wear for sport and for everyday comfort. Research firm The NPD Group estimates that active clothing accounted for 28% of total apparel dollars spent in the 12 months ending May 2020, up 4 percentage points from 24% of the apparel market in the 12 months ending May 2018.
And many of these athleisure sales are happening online. Within the Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000, 250 merchants sell apparel. Within this group, 23 retailers primarily sell athleisure.
The 23 merchants collectively grew online sales 19.1% year over year in 2019, which is faster than the Top 1000 apparel retailers’ online collective growth of 13.7%. The 23 merchants that focus on athletic apparel include some of the largest online merchants such as Nike Inc., TheNorthFace.com (part of VF Corp.), lululemon Athletica Inc. and Under Armour, all ranked among North America’s 100 leading retailers in online sales.
Digital Commerce 360 estimates that for the 23 merchants that focus on athleisure apparel, their total web sales in 2019 generated 19.5% of the online apparel sales of the Top 1000. This means that even though these retailers only represent 9% of Top 1000 apparel merchants, they generated one-fifth of apparel sales.
What’s more, this doesn’t take into account online apparel retailers that sell athleisure as a part of their broader product mix, such as Guess Inc. (No. 254) and Ashley Stewart Inc. (No. 268). These two brands added an athleisure category on their site and have homepage navigation to it.
In total, Digital Commerce 360 counts 93 more Top 1000 apparel merchants that sell apparel in some way. This means, of the Top 250 online apparel merchants, 46.4% of them sell athletic clothing in some way. And that 20% of apparel sales just from athleisure-focused merchants is likely even higher when factoring in athleisure sales from these 93 apparel merchants.
Athleisure is a popular category because it hits on several broad trends, including a shift in the U.S. to consumers wearing more casual clothing, consumers seeking comfortable clothing, and a more health-conscious consumer engaging in more athletic activities and wanting performance clothing for these activities.
“I think there is an overall style shift toward comfort and wellness, and just in general of taking care of yourself,” says Meera Bhatia, president of expert services at women’s apparel retailer TechStyle. TechStyle is the owner of Fabletics.com, an athleisure apparel brand.
In a Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 950 online apparel shoppers, 64% bought athleisure online. Plus, 22% increased the amount of athleisure they purchased online in the past few years. Notably, only 13% of consumers don’t wear athleisure at all.
In the Digital Commerce 360 consumer survey, 15% of consumers wear athleisure for both pleasure and work, and for 12%, this kind of casual activewear is their go-to wardrobe of choice. While retailers that focus on sportswear or have athleisure as a niche product may be making gains as a result, they face significant competition from the biggest names in general U.S. retail. In the survey, Amazon, Walmart and Target were the most popular choices consumers selected for where they purchase athleisure online.
The coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. resulted in more consumers working from home than ever before. And with no need to dress up for the office, consumers were more apt to wear sweatpants, pajamas and athleisure while they worked. In the consumer survey, 14% of consumers purchased comfortable clothes, including pajama or athleisure online, since the start of COVID-19.
How Americans dress every day has been changing in a casual direction, and COVID-19 will only accelerate that trend, Bhatia says.
“Are people going to give that up and go back to wearing tight jeans and high heels?” she asks. No, is her guess.
This article is an excerpt from the 2020 Online Apparel Report. For more detailed data and analysis like this, purchase the 2020 Online Apparel Report for $399. Digital Commerce 360 Gold and Platinum members receive a complimentary copy of this report as a part of their membership.