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Increasing Flexibility: More Apparel Doing Double Duty As Lifestyle Activewear

The outfits of busy Americans are beginning to match their multi-tasking lives.

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Cotton Incorporated
Cotton Incorporated

Cotton Incorporated

Photo By Lifestyle Monitor™ Survey

The outfits of busy Americans are beginning to match their multi-tasking lives. Evidence can be seen at the home improvement and grocery stores, the children's playground, even the movie theater. The latest activewear styles are being worn everywhere—which is important when working out is just one item on a day's teeming to-do list.

So it is no surprise that the athletic apparel category continues to gravitate toward more and more "lifestyle active" looks, as opposed to highly technical, sport specific designs.

"The lifestyle activewear trend is omnipresent in the United States right now," says Mike May, director of communications for the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association. "Today's activewear is a combination of fashion, style and sophistication. It's appropriate for every day purposes, shopping at the mall, a business luncheon, a weekend seminar, church on Sunday mornings or an afternoon on the golf course."

Activewear is a $28 billion business, the SGMA reports. And these days it helps if it's a multi-functional item, given that 93% of consumers wear it for activities other than exercise. That's up significantly from 87% in 2009, according to the Cotton Incorporated Sports Apparel Survey. A good portion of consumers (85%) say they wear athletic apparel around the house, followed by "to run errands" (65%) and to shop (42%).

Under Armour knows women want pieces that can transition from the gym to the street, says Gwyn Wiadro, vice-president of women's apparel.

"We design with the athlete in mind. We know that she's bringing that athletic attitude and swagger off the field, out of the gym and it is a part of her life like never before. Inherently that attitude brings UA apparel into her day-to-day life, often 24 hours a day."
Joanne Sessler, director of design for HanesBrands, maker of Champion apparel, says women today are looking for pieces that look great in and out of the gym.

"There is an active lifestyle trend happening in the women's performance market, where her off hours uniform starts with the ubiquitous black bottom and knit jacket."

Toby Tucker, designer and owner for Toby Tucker Golf, says there are days when women just never get out of their workout clothes.

"Some days you wear yoga pants all day and don't even get to work out. The flip side is, what do you wear when you leave the gym, tennis court or golf course? I'd change into golf clothes and then change out so no one would see me in my golf clothes because they were so hideous"—which is why she started designing her own line of lifestyle golfwear.

When exercising, half of consumers wear a mixture of apparel designated as activewear and pieces that are not designated as such, the Monitor finds.

Tucker says the trick to designing lifestyle activewear is blending the two sensibilities, which allows women to get the most out of their clothes. Tucker offers a skirt that is course regulation length, but the bottom three inches can be zipped off. This makes the skirt more flattering for the woman who wants to go from the links to drinks. She also does a strong business with her wide-leg pants, jackets and tops.

"Cotton with Coolmax is my go-to fabric," she says. "Some women cover their arms no matter what, even when it's hot out. This fabric is moisture wicking. I also do an extremely breathable, button-front cotton long-sleeve top. This is a super light cotton—really soft, washable. My bottoms have two-way stretch in them for golfers because you do a lot of bending down. The stretch keeps pants where they're supposed to be."

Under Armour's Charged Cotton business continues to perform very well.

"Cotton is an important fabrication for all athletes," Wiadro says. "We will continue to expand its offerings across women's, men's and youth. Retail performance is strong. The customer has received it well and wants more. Our mission is to make all athletes better and give them that edge in performance."

Nearly all consumers (98%) say fit/comfort is an important factor in purchasing their activewear. This is followed by breathability and durability (94%), flexibility/stretch (93%), price (93%), performance features (87%) and style (84%).

Lilly Pulitzer's resort apparel is made with warm climates in mind, making it ideal for an active lifestyle, says Jane Schoenborn, fashion director.

"The new Lilly Pulitzer Island Polo with TransDRY fabric is the perfect way to look chic even when breaking a sweat," she says. "Our secret is TransDRY technology that dries in half the time and doesn't cling. Paired with our colorful, printed skorts, Lilly girls have an easy, resort-ready outfit that keeps them fashionable and dry —whether working or playing."

Lilly Pulitzer recently signed the LPGA's Morgan Pressel to be its official apparel sponsor. She will be wearing spring and summer 2012 items throughout her tour.

More than 7 of 10 consumers (72%) participate in walking on a regular basis, followed by running (43%), cardio training (43%), and weight training (38%), the Monitor finds.
"Our designs, fabrics and colors provide that "lifestyle" appeal," says Sessler, "while working hard for you during your workout."

This article is one in a series that appears weekly on WWD.com. The data contained are based on findings from the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ Survey, a consumer attitudinal study, as well as upon other of the company’s industrial indicators, including its Retail Monitor and Supply Chain Insights analyses. Additional relevant information can be found at CottonLifestyleMonitor.com.