Sachs’ limited edition apparel program is just one isolated example of how technical garments have recently usurped the formal as a facet of modern luxury. From high-end fashion houses to mass-market trend-chasers, it seems that every force in the industry has been clamoring to get a slice of the sportswear market as of late. Some analysts have sought to explain the trend by referencing the extension of work hours in major cities, leading to a “day-to-night” look being less important than a “gym-to-work” one. Others cite the healthy living phenomenon that has shown no sign of slowing down – making green juice and SoulCycle branded apparel the chicest accessories around for both men and women in major cities.
Business of Fashion deemed it the “post-workout look.” Designer Alexander Wang became famous for referring to his signature combination of luxe activewear and technical performance pieces as “off-duty model.” Whatever the impetus was, high-net worth consumers have been devouring the upscale sportswear aesthetic for the last few fashion cycles. Established old-world labels like Chanel have non-ironically produced – and sold – everything from performance-focused ski and snowboarding accessories to $9,000 USD surfboards and $1,500 USD tennis racquet sets. Hermès once manufactured an ultra-premium, $13,000 USD basketball. Gucci makes a $890 USD biking helmet…and a $14,000 USD bicycle.
As with all trends, there has been a trickle-down effect, with mid-market and fast-fashion brands attempting to graft equity off of the upscale performance aesthetic and co-op some of traditional athletic apparel companies’ market share by launching sub-labels focused around sport. UNIQLO surprised many by scooping up a 5-year contract from tennis star Novak Djokovic in 2012. It has since launched a full line of sportswear under his moniker. Womenswear mogul Tory Burch has also expressed interest in breaking into the high net-worth worlds of yoga, golf and tennis – announcing that her label will expand into activewear in March of 2014. “I find a lot of women wear what they wear to go to the gym all day long,” she told Women’s Wear Daily in an interview.
H&M, presumably eager to carve out a niche that hasn’t yet been dominated by competitor Zara, launched a sportswear line at the end of 2013. The Swedish brand’s apparel was designed in-part by a slew of its home country’s 2014 Winter Olympic athletes. After H&M’s announcement, Bloomberg Businessweek noted that the margins on workout gear are attractively high, with “the materials that work well for wicking sweat… [being] relatively cheap. Such stuff as polyester, spandex, and nylon comes from factories, not from plants or animals. A lot of workout clothes these days don’t even incorporate cotton, let alone cashmere.”
UK mega-retailer Topshop has since launched Topman Sports and tapped Danish designer Astrid Andersen for an A$AP Ferg-modeled capsule collection of her signature upscale take on sportswear. Online-only retail trailblazer and technical sportswear brand ISAORA has also entered the fray with its first attempt at an explicitly gym-oriented collection called #TrainBetter.
Indeed, with so much new competition, attempting to own a slice of the sportswear market has now become a necessity rather than a strategic choice for many labels seeking to expand into a truly “lifestyle-oriented” product offering. Whether luxurious design cues, an austere aesthetic, an emphasis on technical fabrics and innovation or old-fashioned athlete endorsements will help any of the aforementioned labels outshine the competition is yet to be known.
As always, the devil is in the details.