Athleisure: At the intersection of fashion and fitness

First there were casual Fridays. Then every day became casual day. Today it’s hard to tell if people are headed to the gym, to run errands or to the office—and often it’s because the answer is yes to all three. “Casual and ‘athleisure’ have taken on a life of their own,” says Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group, Inc., a global information company. “This is no longer a trend—it is now a lifestyle that is too comfortable, for consumers of all ages, for it to go away anytime soon.”

Now, with one stylish and stretchy ensemble you can be dressed for the whole day—yoga class, work (depending on your industry), lunch, drinks and dinner out. Even guys are pulling off wearing fitness pants to their mobile offices at Starbucks or to hang with the crowd for Thursday night drinks. No wonder people have been ditching their denim in recent years. Who wants to snap a snap or zip a zipper when you can just pull on some snuggly, soft fitness pants and call it a day?

The numbers bear out the trend toward a market preference for fitness apparel, with NDP’s data showing U.S. retail activewear market sales increasing by seven percent for the year ending in October 2014 and U.S. jeans sales dropping eight percent, with activewear comprising 17 percent of the total clothing sales. “Consumers are drawn to its comfort and versatility, and the fact that it still makes a fashion statement. Activewear, by nature, also evokes a sense of athleticism and well-being, which only adds to its appeal,” says Cohen.

To capitalize on the athleisure trend, wholesale manufacturers are introducing more fashion-forward styles that are innovative, colorful and unique, and worthy of being not just seen but also admired outside the gym. With the media saturated with ultra-toned celebrities such as Carrie Underwood and Beyoncé touting athleisure brands of their own, promotional apparel is sure to follow along. It won’t be long before companies offer athleisure Thursdays or workout wear Wednesdays, providing plenty of opportunity for promotional apparel.

High Tech Togs

OMNi Apparel Inc.’s Zorrel brand has positioned itself perfectly for the athleisure trend, with its spot-on tagline, “Performance wear for anywhere!” Its innovative SmartBlenz™ fabrics have helped the manufacturer’s products become a top choice for companies wanting promotional apparel that goes the extra mile.

Z101 Tee webThe Z100 Dri Balance™ Tee was the company’s first product in 2005 and offered “performance before performance was ‘cool’,” says OMNi Apparel Inc.’s Business Development Manager Craig Wallace. With 100-percent moisture-wicking polyester against the skin and naturally anti-microbial 100-percent combed cotton on the fabric’s surface, the fabric is engineered with an elaborate knit structure to provide UPF 30+ sun protection and optimize the moisture transport dispersion in the cotton layer, allowing air to move inward to cool the wearer. It’s a workhorse, which is why major airlines outfit baggage handlers in the shirts and disaster relief organizations use the same shirt with Insect Shield® to keep aid workers comfortable and protected from insects.

While the Z100 is still popular, the athleisure trend influenced the next generation of the shirt. “These days everyone offers 100-percent polyester t-shirts. They’ve become like the cotton t-shirt. But not everyone wants to wear polyester,” says Wallace. “Now I’m seeing that people want something different. They want lightweight with the warmth and feel of cotton but with all the performance aspects of polyester. They want to be able to go to a picnic and throw the football around, or go sit at the ballgame and not be soaked in their heavy cotton t-shirt.”

Enter Zorrel’s Z101 Light Weight Dri-Balance Tee, a 4.7-ounce happy marriage of comfort and performance with a more fitted style and a stretch microfiber yarn, perfect for that dad at the ballgame who wants to feel cool, comfortable and fashionable.

Name Dropping

The term sportswear, also referred to as activewear, was created by American designers in response to the needs of emancipated women in the 1920s and 1930s who needed functional, easy-care clothing to live their active lives. New terms have cropped up to describe today’s clamored-for fitness apparel, but it appears that athleisure has won out over the others.

athleisure2Athleisure – a more mainstream evolution of the 2013 “cozy boy” trend that described the anti-menswear, comfortable loungewear type of clothing that became acceptable for guys to roll out of the house in.

Yoga-wear – Yoga pants and fitted tanks and other pieces that are equally at home in the yoga studio or at Sunday brunch. This term is more specifically yoga-oriented than athleisure implies, so it doesn’t represent the whole category.

SportsCore – Introduced by GC magazine in 2015 as the fashion trend of its target audience, described on GC’s website: “Modern man is in a state of perpetual motion and his clothes should never slow him down … It’s time to start thinking of the clothes you wear not as fashion but as tech: They are intuitive, modular, and way-outside-the-cubicle tools that keep you moving on a frictionless path forward.” This one hasn’t caught on.

Soft Dressing – coined by former Gap CEO Glenn Murphy on a 2014 earnings call to describe the way people are ditching jeans for fitness pants, which is why he said that Gap’s Athleta workout wear store chains were the company’s most promising in sales. While consumer choice at retail has increasing influence on promotional wear, the term soft dressing seems to have lost out to athleisure. It just goes to show, one word is always better than two.

Your Brain On Spandex

labcoatAccording to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, the clothes you wear influence your psychological processes, a term researchers coined “enclothed cognition.” The Northwestern University researchers found that people wearing lab coats that were described to them as a doctor’s coat exhibited increased performance on attention-related tasks compared to when they wore what was described to them as a painter’s coat. It stands to reason that the same principle applies to fitness apparel, with wearers being inclined to move more. With the Centers for Disease Control reporting that more than 30 percent of U.S. adults are considered obese, fashion that can influence people to be more active is a trend worth getting behind.

These Great Finds Combine Style and Comfort

North End® Motion Interactive Color-Block Performance Fleece Jacket

Contrast zippers provide a pop of color, while moisture-wicking properties keep you cool and comfortable. Reflective asymmetric piping and print at the center back offer 360˚ visibility. Available in three crossover colors (black/Olympic red, black/carbon and Night/Olympic blue). Available in men’s sizes S-3XL and women’s sizes XS-3XL.

alphabroder (UPIC: BRODER)

Alphabroder Fleece Jacket web

BELLA + CANVAS Nylon Spandex Sports Bra

The most basic and most important piece of any women’s fitness ensemble is the sports bra. With a racerback construction and double layered binding at the neck and armhole, this one fits the bill. Available in black or white in sizes S, M and L.

Heritage Sportswear (UPIC: HERI0002)

Heritage sportswear sports bra web

AF200 Tempo Sports Fitness Belt

Races and other sports-oriented promotions are a perfect place to feature this useful belt. The sleek, expandable zipper pouch holds a phone, keys and energy bars while still fitting securely against the body to eliminate bouncing and shifting. Two reflective strips add visibility and an adjustable elastic belt with clip closure ensures a comfortable fit.

Starline USA, Inc. (UPIC: STAR0009)

Sunrise running woman

Runner’s Cap

A unique side zipper pocket holds your key or ID and a fabric strap with two-piece Velcro closure keeps the wind from blowing it off your head. Available in black/stone, navy/stone, stone/black and white/black.

Cap America (UPIC: CAPAMRCA)

Cap America Runners low profile cap web

ZEN Fleece Zip Hood and Pant

Fashion meets karma and comfort in this duo, constructed of a 55-percent cotton/45-percent polyester acid-washed burnout fleece fabric with a silicone finish, dyed-to-match drawcords, raw edges on all seams, brushed nickel concealed double zipper, extra long cuff length and front pouch pocket. Ladies sizes XS-2XL in Dark Smoke, Cement, Wildberry (pink), Oceanberry and Very Berry (purple).

J. America Wholesale Blanks (UPIC: blanks)

JAmericabanks Zen Fleece web

Cooling Scarf/Bandana

Your client’s message will be front and center however this item is worn. Cooling crystals in the cotton/poly blend fabric absorb hundreds of times their weight in liquid and cool through evaporation. Non-toxic, non-flammable and reusable thousands of times, the scarf (or bandana) is perfect for outdoor activities, events (golf tournaments, picnics), fundraising (walkathons, pep rallies), and sports and leisure activities (concerts, gardening). One size fits all necks, heads or wrists.


Superex Cooling Scarf web

Xpression Yoga Pants

These made-in-the-USA stretchy poly/spandex pants offer a unique way to show off a brand with full coverage Xpression sublimation—any logo and unlimited colors. You can even add a screen print or embroidery. Size S-2XL.

FPS Apparel (UPIC: FPSAp664)

Xpression yoga pants web


Performance T

This new four-ounce performance t-shirt features moisture-wicking polyester microfiber with no tag and an athletic fit. Double stitching makes it extra durable. Available in sizes S-XL.

ADG Promotional Products (UPIC: ADGPROMO)

Happy young man standing with arms crossed

Pizzazz Victory V-Notch Skirt

Whether on the tennis court, in the Pilates class, on the lacrosse field or on the dance floor, this stretchy skirt has what it takes. With built-in boy-cut briefs for full coverage, the skirt looks equally good and performs equally well running errands as it does on the court or field. Available in black, red, royal, navy, athletic grey, purple, forest, maroon and hot pink in adult sizes S-2XL and youth sizes XS-L.

Pizzazz Performance Wear (UPIC:Pizzazz1)



Men’s Lifestyle Short

Moisture wicking: Check. Breathable and easy care: Check. Side-seam pockets: Check. These nine-inch inseam 100-percent microfiber sphere shorts have it all. Available in black, navy and charcoal in men’s sizes S-3X.

Expert Brand UPIC: Exper698

Mens Lifestyle Short web