December 4, 2022

Lululemon didn’t change activewear, it changed apparel – Retail Dive

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Lululemon is practically synonymous with athleisure. The retailer has frequently been credited with the rise of yoga pants and leggings , effectively creating a new category associated with activewear. But Lululemon didn’t just modify the athletics space by helping birth the athleisure movement, this changed clothing.

A search for “athleisure” in SEC filings yields more than 650 results going back to 2001. That includes Lululemon’s filings, as well as athletics retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Foot Locker, but the term is also listed in filings simply by a host of general apparel retailers, including PVH, Stitch Fix, Designer Brands and Iconix Brand Group. The majority (more than 450) of those references are from the last five years.

Matt Powell, senior industry adviser for sports with the particular NPD Team, pegs it at about a decade ago when athletic apparel started gaining popularity as streetwear. It was closer to five years ago, though, when the rest associated with retail “started to wake up to the potential” of athleisure. Merriam-Webster, for what it’s worth, added the term “athleisure” towards the dictionary within 2016.

“One thing I remember very vividly: We were at a company event in New Orleans and after the event was over, I was leaving through the airport and there has been a kiosk selling Mardi Gras yoga pants at the end. I said to myself, ‘If I can buy yoga exercise pants at the airport, I could buy yoga exercises pants anywhere, ’” Powell said in an interview earlier this year.

Lululemon itself was founded in 1998, nearer to the particular time people were wearing licensed sports attire as casual wear, according to Powell. But the company came about amid broader casualization trends that dated back in order to the ’70s and the aftermath of the youthquake movement, which looked to youth culture for fashion inspiration.  

Those styles accelerated throughout the ’80s , based on Shawn Grain Carter, the fashion business management professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology, as tech entrepreneurs within Silicon Valley began wearing T-shirts in order to work. Athleisure itself gained steam in the late ’90s, by her account, reaching mainstream acceptance in the particular early-to-mid 2000s.

“From the late ’90s to the early 2000s, athleisure became a phenomenon in the United States because it was a niche segment from the marketplace where you could target men and women, young plus old, to wear this kind of informal, lifestyle, multipurpose fashionable attire, ” Carter said.

Lululemon’s revenue has increased six-fold since 2010

Lululemon’s revenue, within billions, from 2002 to 2021.

And as athleisure took hold, so did Lululemon’s sales. In 2002, Lululemon made just $5. 9 million and by 2021 the retailer was making more compared to $5. nine billion . In fact , the particular retailer’s most recent annual revenue, clocking in $6. 3 billion, overtook Under Armour’s. Lululemon  IPO’d in 2007, with 59 stores and a promise in order to finally solve women’s sports wear gaps.

“Our heritage of combining performance plus style distinctly positions us to address the needs associated with female athletes as well as a growing core of consumers who desire everyday casual wear that is consistent with their active lifestyles, ” the company stated in its prospectus .

The broader clothes market would soon follow suit.

When the athleisure wave hit apparel

How did the Lululemon effect infiltrate the particular broader outfits space? Much of the shift happened thanks to changes in consumer behavior around special occasion-wear.

Take work, for example. A Levi Strauss survey found simply 7% of the workforce dressed casually within 1992, Billings noted. By 1999, that number had jumped to 75% of the workforce. Carter, who worked at Bergdorf Goodman around that time, began getting questions about how retailers were supposed to dress women for “business informal. ”

“When you think about the history of gown attire, this used to signify not only your economic status, but it signified the particular occasion, ” Billings said. “You go in order to work, you have work clothes, you have career clothes. When you’re engaging in sports activities like tennis, lacrosse or baseball, a person have your own athletic clothing, your rugby clothes. ”

Those lines blurred, causing a “sea change” in how people dressed, Carter said.

The particular barriers between occasion and everyday clothing have collapsed even further since then. Even denim — the long-time casual garment of choice — was no longer casual enough. Imports of women’s elastic knit pants exceeded blue jeans in 2017. Powell recalled one particular visit about five years ago to a trade show in Las Vegas, called Project, that illustrated the change.

“For decades, it had been a denim show. And there’s just booth after booth right after booth associated with people selling high-end denim jeans. And all of a sudden one display, everybody was selling yoga pants as well as the denim thing was completely abandoned, ” Powell mentioned.

Some financial metrics also point to the mid-2010s as a period when athleisure — plus Lululemon — really took off. Tom Nikic, older vice president of equity research from Wedbush, notes that over the past decade or so, 2014 was the lowest year of same-store sales growth for Lululemon. At the particular same time, Under Armour’s growth started to slow in regarding 2016.

Lululemon’s store footprint grew five-fold given that 2008

Lululemon’s store footprint from 2002 to 2021.

“I think if there’s probably any milestone that you would point to, it would be that moment in time when Under Armour strike the wall in their growth and things really started to sluggish there, ” Nikic said. “Because I mean, Below Armour is your prototypical on-court, on-field, performance technical product that a person wear in order to work out and you don’t wear with regard to many other occasions. ”

Sports-inspired apparel, which will be where Euromonitor International places athleisure, nearly doubled among 2011 plus 2021. Between 2016 and 2021, the market increased 42. 2%, according to Euromonitor data shared with Store Dive. That category includes both athletics retailers marketing non-performance clothing, and common apparel brands like H& M, Zara and Gap that sell sports-inspired products.

H& M and Zara are not traditional athletics players, nor is usually J. C. Penney . However the casualization from the U. S. more broadly has pushed merchants of all types toward athleisure. In the past 5 years, Lululemon has been listed as a competitor in SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION’S filings that include Levi Strauss (before its Beyond Yoga acquisition), American Eagle and some other general attire retailers.

“This was most likely one of the first manufacturers that really sort of blurred the line between fitness and not athletic clothing, ” Nikic stated.

Now, Brooks Brothers sells stretch outfit shirts plus Cole Haan offers dress shoes along with sneaker-like outsoles.

“It’s actually changed the whole industry within pretty much every way you can imagine, ” Powell mentioned, with different sides of apparel moving toward a middleground.   “It really becomes a lot more difficult in order to even talk about athleisure today because the particular boundaries are so blurry. ”

A prime example of that blurring is Lululemon’s ABC pant, which looks like a work style but advertises four-way stretch and was “designed for on the move. ” The product details furthermore say it was inspired by a classic pair of jeans.

A product detail page on Lululemon's website advertising the ABC Skinny-Fit Pant 34".

Retrieved through Lululemon on November 03, 2022

“You’re not heading to go out running in a pair of ABC pants, if you’re not going to go into the gym wearing a pair of ABC trousers, ” Nikic said. But they work regarding scenarios such as commuting and work, and are more comfortable than the traditional choices in those categories. “Rather than having to say, OK, nicely I bought my fitness center shorts with Lululemon plus then We go away, I buy my jeans to put on to work on J. Crew’ or something like that, you can basically simply have one associated with these brand names become your one-stop-shop. ”

Nikic estimates Lululemon’s men’s assortment is definitely close in order to half non-athletic clothing like the DASAR pant or even polo shirts. Up-and-comer Vuori, too, which was inspired by Lululemon’s success , offers a “Meta Pant” which usually it bills as “nice enough to decorate to the particular office, or for a game of golf. ” The pant also touts stretch fabric and “every day comfort. ” 

The ability to wear athleisure or even athletic-inspired clothes in a variety of social situations offers broadened the reach of the category, and eaten into others. Athletic footwear, for example, became the particular largest part of the footwear company in the U. S. within the last decade, Powell said.

“There are usually articles out there about, ‘Did the particular pandemic kill the men’s suit business? ’ as an example. And this didn’t, yet the men’s suit business is a lot, much smaller than it ever was, ” Powell stated. “Same with, say, men’s neckties or women’s dresses or high-heeled shoes. Plus that doesn’t mean some people aren’t buying these items, but they’re buying much less of them than they have. ”

Exactly how $100 tights have endured

Casualization was a well-timed wave Lululemon and the broader athleisure market caught, but why did the style stick?

Part associated with that answer may lay within the style of athleisure clothing. Lululemon made yoga exercise attire “kind of sexy, ” Billings said. Women could gown it up by adding accessories or put on it casually running errands and not really worry about looking “frumpy. ”

“What individuals like regarding this type of specific informal clothing is that yes, it’s multipurpose, but it’s supremely comfortable and it’s got a casual, hip, attitude about it in terms of the design, ” Carter said.  

When Title IX passed in the ’70s — more than two decades before Lululemon was started — this opened the particular floodgates intended for women to play sports plus participate a lot more in almost all kinds of exercise. Retailers that will had long focused on men began developing a strategy for women’s activewear, yet the women’s space operated differently from men’s.

Men’s offerings had been usually “all about overall performance, ” Billings noted, but women want to look good in their own activewear as well. And where other athletics brands lagged, Lululemon emphasized women from the start and went beyond functionality in its offering.  

“Traditionally the types of yoga exercises apparel you could find were strictly for you to use, but not to impress. And Lululemon made yoga clothes sexy, ” Carter mentioned. “It produced it stylish and it made people wish to wear it, whether they did yoga or not — and that was obviously a game changer. Good to get them, because they filled a market. And they were wise to do this at a time when the lifestyle was changing among Americans. ”

Within emphasizing style, Lululemon cracked the code on desirability, frequently charging upwards of $100 pertaining to a set of leggings . According in order to Statista, the particular price per unit within the tights plus leggings market has steadily increased through 2014 to 2022, and is expected in order to continue increasing through 2027.

Analytics and research firm Edited found the average advertised full price associated with men’s plus women’s leggings online at U. H. sportswear suppliers as of this November was $88. 09. That is just slightly under the average price on Nov. 1,   2018, that was $88. 91. In 2018, athleisure was already “well and truly ingrained into the fashion zeitgeist, ” according to Edited anlayst Kayla Marci. Simply by Edited’s measure, prices dropped in 2019, 2020 plus 2021, due to fast style players entering the space and taking market share, because well since impacts from COVID-19. Higher raw material and shipping costs have pushed prices back above $88 this year.


“Lululemon made yoga outfits sexy. It made it stylish and it produced people want to wear this, whether or not they did yoga or even not — and that was a game changer. ”

Shawn Feed Carter

Fashion Business Management Professor, Style Institute of Technologies


Lululemon is at the particular front of that luxury positioning. Similarly to its high-priced leggings, the company’s recently-launched footwear offering likewise hovers around $130 to $160 for most associated with its styles.  

“I think everything’s about the particular status symbol, ” Powell said. “If you are able to justify the cost of the product and have a visible logo [so] that people may see that you spent $148 on your own yoga slacks and I didn’t … conspicuous consumption provides always been a piece of the fashion side of the particular business. ”

What has allowed Lululemon to stay on top is slightly more complex than just style, though. The company has increased the assortment through its new footwear offerings (which were specifically made for a woman’s foot), expanded in to adjacent workout activities such as hiking plus golf, and importantly, never taken the foot off the gas in terms of product.

“Product innovation, first and foremost, ” Nikic said whenever asked exactly what has produced Lululemon therefore successful. “The product is great — everybody loves it, everybody who wears this loves it. They constantly refresh things: new fabrics, new designs, new patterns. ” 

In particular, Nikic highlighted Lululemon’s ability to create materials for various exercises that have distinct purposes plus distinct feelings.

“You could have the best marketing within the world, you could have the particular best website in the world, whatever, ” Nikic said. “Not going in order to matter in case your item stinks. ”

Is there any going back?

Cliches have taught us that will nothing can be forever, that all points change. Denim is the good instance: The skinny jean, which reigned supreme for so long, seems to have ceded its place to decades-old styles like mom jeans and flare-leg pants . (Lululemon itself offers caught upon, touting flared yoga trousers and oversized sweaters on its web site. ) Does that mean an eventual death meant for athleisure as well?

“Athleisure is here. It’s not heading anywhere due to the fact people are now working from home plus they’re participating in the excellent resignation, ” Carter said. “They’re not really going in order to wear a suit to do that will. ”

All the same, signature outfits like the little black outfit aren’t going anywhere either, Carter stated. People will still dress up for certain occasions, they’ll just continue to dress down too. The particular idea of healthy living has also captured on more broadly and is driving interest in activewear and athleisure, in accordance to Powell.  

The pandemic bolstered that trend as properly, with consumers more conscious of their particular health plus more interested in staying comfortable. Post-pandemic, many shoppers expressed a desire to get out in public again and gown up a lot more for events, but according to Powell that did not correspond to an overhaul associated with their closets.

“Maybe they went away and purchased a dress or two, or the suit or two, yet they did not say ‘I’m not putting on activewear anymore, ’” Powell said. “I think comfort and the particular drumbeat of casualization that will we’ve been via for the last 20 years or even longer all are part associated with this. So can there be a dressy company? Yes. Will it be small? Yes. Will athleisure be the big story? Absolutely. ”

Lululemon is still the relatively small player, revenue-wise, compared in order to the global behemoths that are Adidas and Nike. Yet even looking at those major athletics retailers, athleisure is a critical piece of growth. According to Nikic, Nike’s more fashionable sportswear business has already been one of its biggest growth drivers for years. Categories like efficiency running, upon the additional hand, possess declined as a percentage of Nike’s income.

Another method to think about athleisure’s lasting power? Look to history. Nikic, who calls athleisure a “structural mega trend, ” recalls the retail executive once telling him that casualization has been far longer than a multi-decade trend.

“It’s been a trend considering that the 1500s. We’re not really walking close to with top hats plus canes, ” Nikic mentioned. “This is certainly just the way of the world: It’s just getting more casual, we want to become more comfortable. And that’s probably not altering anytime soon. ”

Disclosure: Project and Retail Dive are both owned by Informa. Project provides no influence over Retail Dive’s coverage.

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