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The Big Business of Athleisure

Last Updated: December 25, 2021
In the wake of the pandemic, athleisure has become big business. As the industry expands, athletes have optimized new opportunities.

Athleisure is defined by the intersection of fashion and function — the perfect piece to help you jump right from your Zoom room to a quick outdoor adventure on your lunch hour.

As the pandemic shut down offices around the country, the notion of what constituted commonly accepted work apparel changed wildly. From joggers to leggings, t-shirts to hoodies, as workplaces moved into the home, professional apparel got a lot cozier.

And as a result, the market surged.

A recent report estimates that athleisure orders have increased over 80% since the pandemic began, netting a market valuation of $284.73 billion. Across the board, companies and their sponsored athletes have cashed in. From signature lines to emerging names, it’s been a season of unparalleled growth for the athleisure industry. It has also contributed to the diversification of the industry, allowing athletes to have greater creative visioning and expanding the target market.

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Expanding the Endorsement

With athleisure sales on the rise, some of the biggest names in sports have reassessed their endorsement deals and made dramatic leaps. Perhaps the most notable example came earlier this year when Simone Biles announced that she was leaving Nike for Athleta.

Prior to the announcement, Biles became the most recent athlete to capitalize on her brand development via personalized channels, such as Instagram and Twitter. She represents a new generation of athletes who no longer rely exclusively on the clout of a major logo to accelerate their place in the market.

As Biles built her own brand outside of the Swoosh, she saw opportunities elsewhere. For Biles, the Gap Inc.-owned, women’s apparel company opened up the opportunity for the most decorated gymnast of all time to launch her own line under its umbrella. Plus, she found herself among elite company: the most decorated American track star, Allyson Felix.

But even at legacy brands like Nike, there has been exciting evidence of the expansion of athleisure offerings over the last several years.

The most recent evidence of this came this week as Megan Rapinoe teased her new line with the Beaverton-based brand. Rapinoe, who has been with Nike since 2013, unveiled the upcoming line, which features a custom logo. At the heart of the collaboration is Rapinoe’s commitment to diversity.

Long gone are the days of athleisure’s exclusive affiliation with the yoga-obsessed. At the heart of Rapinoe’s line is an expanded array of offerings.

“Being a bit more expansive in the way that women are allowed to be — it’s just opened up the door for everyone,” Rapinoe said in a release.

Even Beyoncé has seized the moment to get into the athleisure game with her Ivy Park Collaboration with Adidas. For its most recent drop earlier this month, the Queen Bee tapped James Harden, Jalen Green, Natalia Bryant, and many more to star in its epic video teaser.

The Rise of the Private Label

But the evolving world of athlete endorsements isn’t the only example of how the market has responded to the astronomical athleisure numbers. Across the country, sporting goods retailers, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Foot Locker, have seized the chance to launch their own lines, driving their own earnings with them.

Dick’s tapped Eagles first-round draft pick, wide receiver DeVonta Smith, to serve as the face of its new private label, VRST. Although a closer look at the Dick’s strategy reveals that the move was well-timed, in 2017 it had committed to a 20% decrease in external goods.

Similarly, Foot Locker released its women’s-only line Cozi earlier this week. The news comes just three months after the brand released its first private label line LCKR earlier this year.

And there is no sign of things slowing down. Market projections estimate an 8.5% growth rate through 2028, making athleisure on track to become a $549.41 billion dollar business.

However, the future is bound to look extravagantly different.

Nike and Adidas have already teased ways that their apparel development will translate into the metaverse. Adidas revealed that its first NFT drop will unlock early access to gear in both the physical and digital worlds. And Nike purchased virtual sneaker company RTFKT, meaning apparel is probably shortly behind.

Regardless of what’s next for athleisure, it will help even the most casual athlete transition from the couch to their favorite physical activity in record time.

About The Author
Bernadette Doykos
Bernadette Doykos
Bernadette Doykos is the Senior Director of Editorial Strategy at Boardroom. Before joining the team, her work appeared in ELLE. She previously served as the head of evaluation for a nonprofit where she became obsessed with systems and strategy and served as the curator of vibes and extinguisher of fires for the design thinking firm Stoked. She is constantly plotting a perfect tunnel ‘fit and a playlist for all occasions.