She explains that lululemon is not alone in benefiting from growth in the yoga business. “It's not just the big players like adidas, Under Armour and Nike that have grown with yoga,” Karmitz says. '“There's a plethora of smaller companies that have ...
Mika Yoga Wear ProductCourtesy Mika Yoga Wear
It’s been about 20 years since lululemon first introduced what are now known as “yoga pants.” Although yoga is ancient, today it seems inconceivable that yoga would be practiced without the relevant apparel. Active bottoms and leggings alone are now a $1 billion industry according to NPD Group analyst Marshal Cohen. But lululemon and other makers of yoga-related fashion aren’t limited to yoga, they've expanded well beyond that and most of what they now make isn’t used for yoga at all. For tapping into that trend and expanding it, lululemon has a total company value of about $15 billion.
I recently caught up with my colleague Kim Karmitz who has been doing work with related companies. She explains that lululemon is not alone in benefiting from growth in the yoga business. “It’s not just the big players like adidas, Under Armour and Nike that have grown with yoga,” Karmitz says. ‘“There’s a plethora of smaller companies that have grown up in the same market. They have spawned a much bigger industry than just yoga pants and that’s what we now call ‘athleisure’.”
Karmitz says the athleisure market is different from almost anything that has come before it. Often in the fashion business, when a new product class is created it explodes with growth. That goes on for a while and eventually the market becomes saturated. Then growth slows, competition becomes tougher, prices and profits feel pressure and competitors combine to become more efficient. We’ve seen this pattern over and over in the fashion business. But Karmitz says that’s not happening in the athleisure market, “This market hasn’t slowed. Even after all this time, the big players and the smaller ones continue to expand.”
Karmitz told me, “there’s one word that explains the continued growth of athleisure: wellness.” She explains that wellness isn’t about your health in a strictly medical way, although it’s related. Wellness is more about your state of mind. Wellness products like yoga pants give the wearer an association with a healthy activity, whether they’re actually doing the activity or not. It’s a look that expresses an aspiration for health and positive thinking. Wellness is a very broad term and its definition is expanding all the time as more products and services become associated with wellness or try to. There are juices of course, and now there are “ingestibles,” products that aren’t medicine but something you drink, eat or apply to make you feel better and strengthen your confidence, particularly about how you look. Companies like Goop, Moon Juice, Keeps and Dirty Lemon have grown rapidly selling just such wellness products.
“A large part of the big beauty companies like L’Oreal, Estee Lauder, Revlon, Shiseido and others are very focused on the wellness business,” Karmitz told me. She explains that they’ve been selling products for a century that are focused on giving consumers confidence that flows from looking healthy. So far, they have stayed in the traditional boundaries of the beauty industry and don’t describe themselves in wellness terms. They aren’t expanding into ingestibles, fashion products and travel experiences that relate to wellness the way other non-beauty companies are. Karmitz is not expecting the big beauty companies to move more deeply into wellness than they already have with their existing products. But if growth in the beauty business ever slows, Karmitz thinks they will have to take another look at it because the strategic similarities are so strong.
What does the growth in wellness that is driving the athleisure business mean for the future? Karmitz brought me into conversations with some impressive founders. Here are some interesting ones:
WONE ProductCourtesy Luke Wooden
WONE (pronounced “one”) – WONE was founded by Kristin Hildebrand, a Nike alumnus who wanted to use better fabrications than a big company like Nike could permit. Their leggings sell for $350 and according to Hildebrand, “are the best athletic apparel on the planet…it does more, it breathes better, it doesn’t pill and it’s good through 50,000 washes.” They have had only one collection so far, sold only online. It wasn’t just a big hit, you had to apply to the company to buy it and not every application was accepted. Their second collection is coming out soon and will be available online and at high-end retailers including Barneys.
Onzie ProductCourtesy Onzie
Kimberly Swarth, the founder of Onzie (pronounced OWN-zee), told me, “there’s a feeling when a great [athleisure product] or color or fabric comes on your body and that is part of wellness. I feel healthy, alive, powerful, that’s especially important for women.” Onzie is sold in Nordstrom, Neiman-Marcus, Equinox and Dick’s, but it’s also sold in almost 2,000 boutique work out studios for yoga, spin, and all creative workouts. “That’s how we started and how we stay connected to our core customer through her workout …where [our customer] is in her body…The enthusiasts and instructors are the evangelists for our product.”
Glyder ProductCourtesy Glyder
Glyder founder Stuart Solkow says his business is “seasonless.” Their key demographic is 28-34 year olds and they are growing through multiple channels including online, subscription businesses, gyms, studios boutiques and resorts. That works because they say their business is “all-around health and wellness.” They are being asked to do men’s all the time and the demand there is substantial but there’s so much opportunity for them in women’s that they’re not up to doing men’s right now. Their focus is on the quality of their product, fabric innovation sets them apart. They “try to set a high bar with our fabrics and design while keeping the value equation right for our customer. Every customer, large or small, retail or wholesale, gets 100% of our attention.”
Tasc Performance ProductCourtesy Tasc Performance
Tasc Performance is focused on “the modern lifestyle.” Founder Todd Andrews told me they believe their “consumer is looking for clothes that do more for them, that aren’t just single-purpose products and are wearing across [activities] as we have busier lives…and they’re looking for technology and expect [it] in everything they do.” Their differentiating factor is their fabrics. They say they deliver “natural performance without using chemicals and not just using synthetics to get performance.” We are about “comfort with performance.” They are now developing fabrics using cotton and bamboo. Tasc opened their own store in New Orleans in 2017 and have targeted other cities for future retail expansion.
Girlfriend Collective ProductCourtesy Felisha Tolentino / Girlfriend Collective
Girlfriend Collective is about sustainability. Founder Quang Dinh saw other brands making products that are petroleum-based and set out to make a product that is socially and environmentally impactful out of post-consumer plastic. Girlfriend Collective is the only non-major athleisure producer that chips down its own plastic bottles and makes its own yarn. Its imagery is focused on inclusivity. The product is primarily available online and recently at Nordstrom and Reformation. The founder told me that with consumers getting health, food and lifestyle information on their mobile device constantly, they need athleisure product with comparable social values to the vitamins and beauty products they are buying.
Mika Yoga Wear ProductCourtesy Mika Yoga Wear
Mika Yoga Wear was an early entrant to the athleisure market. But the market is competitive and to remain successful founder Laura Costa says they can never rest on their quality/value equation. They are focused on designs and the trends they’re seeing are mesh products, high waists, crop tops, biker shorts that are longer and layered, off-the-shoulder tops. Most of their business is online direct-to-consumer and their largest marketing channels are Facebook and Instagram. They have over 250,000 Facebook followers.
Terez ProductCourtesy Terez
Terez is hyper focused on wellness. Founder Zara Terez Tisch told me that as a society, “we spend on health and wellness more than ever… people want to feel that they’re a part of a…community because we’re [driven] apart from each other with screens and politics…we are here to help women and girls stand for themselves and uncover their joy of empowering their self-expression… we happen to use athleisure…[but] we care about them as people and we are about what they care about.” She acknowledges that with its philosophy, Terez can be more than products and can expand into a “multitude of different divisions.”
Where This Goes
Karmitz says the growth in wellness shows no signs of abating and that's supporting continued growth in athleisure. It's that growth that's attracting entrepreneurs to create a constant stream of new companies without the pressure on margins that usually occurs after a product class has been in the market as long as athleisure has. She thinks that will provide a platform for expansion into related products that can be sold as wellness-related alongside athleisure products. Because each of the companies above and the many others in the athleisure business are each so different, Karmitz believes they will each find different ways to grow into other product lines. As long as wellness continues to be an interesting state of mind for consumers to aspire to, athleisure and other related businesses are going to continue their growth.
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