At the Association of Suppliers to the British Clothing Industry’s (ASBCI) athleisure conference in November, the importance of comfort was raised time and again.
“Customers are not prepared to sacrifice their new-found comfort and they are willing to pay more for it,” said Jutta Vo Quang from global technology group Freudenberg, as she outlined the performance characteristics she believes are here to stay, all of which are designed to enhance the comfort of the wearer. And it is in functionality that one of the great opportunities of athleisure lies, both in communication and innovation, says the association.
“At what point does a polyester jersey become a running vest?” asked Helen Colebourn from Bureau Veritas. The answer, says the ASBCI, is the point at which the retailer promotes it as such by highlighting its performance properties, whether these are inherent or engineered. “Making technology visible through design features, co-branding, or point-of-sale marketing helps the consumer understand how a garment will enhance their life, and that’s what athleisure is all about,” it added.
But that doesn’t mean design has no place, the association asserted: athleisure is where fashion and function meet and the convenience of the ‘wear anywhere’ legging is matched by the desire to buy into the latest mini trend or capsule collection. “It’s hyper consumption v hyper collaboration,” said Terence Senford, head of men’s athleisure for Boss Menswear. “One thing is fuelling the other.” Product cycles are shorter, production runs smaller and product is more customised.
In such a dynamic marketplace, agility and adaptability are more important than ever, says the ASBCI, and the brands that can pivot in new directions as the opportunity arises will be the real winners. “Speed is the name of the game,” concluded Jovita Balseviciene from technology company Lectra. “Being the first to market with a wide range of quality products, priced right, is the key to success.”