For years, many people associated the term “athleisure” with Lululemon and yoga pants, and believed the entire trend would be short-lived.
Neither is the case anymore. The athleisure boom now encompasses sneakers and tops, and extends far beyond Lululemon, Nike, and Adidas to Puma, Vans, and even to fashion brands like Gucci. And it isn’t showing any signs of fading: America is still obsessed with wearing athletic gear as all-day fashion.
"We are absolutely in an athleisure cycle right now, both in apparel and footwear,” said NPD Group retail analyst Matt Powell on the Yahoo Finance Sportsbook podcast. “People are buying athletically-inspired products with no intention of actually doing sports in them... This is a fundamental shift for the industry, and it’s allowing brands that do not have a sports heritage to come in and take some share: Madden, Sperry, Ecco, and Gucci, for instance, who are all growing rapidly in the athletic shoe space.”
The trend of wearing athletic sneakers all day means that buyers no longer look only to sports brands when they want to buy sneakers. People don’t think of Steve Madden (SHOO), Sperry (WWW), Sorel (COLM), and Gucci as sports brands, but they have all seen their sneaker market share rise, and athleisure has been the entryway. Each of those brands still has less than 1% U.S. sneaker market share, according to NPD, but each has ticked up since one year ago, and Gucci’s share has doubled.
Powell adds that the mainstays of the sneaker industry have been slow and hesitant to acknowledge and adapt to this change. “The industry has not embraced this and not really responded to it,” Powell says, “and there are some real potential pitfalls to the industry if they don’t understand what has happened to the business.”
What Beyonce can do for Adidas
Another demographic that the industry leaders have been too slow to adapt to: women.
“The industry's greatest failure and its greatest opportunity is women,” says Powell.
That’s where Beyonce Knowles could be big for Adidas. The German sportswear giant signed the pop star to an extensive design partnership last month that includes Adidas relaunching the Ivy Park label.
“I think there’s an opportunity for them to get some lift out of this,” says Powell. “I don’t think everyone’s going to be wearing a Beyonce shoe. But from everything I read, her role is going to be much deeper with the company than a lot of other celebrity involvements.”
It helps that one of the biggest trends in fashion is still 90s retro, which is the tone of Beyonce’s Ivy Park label.
Performance sneakers are getting killed, especially basketball
Here’s a truly striking figure that illustrates America’s athleisure obsession: for nearly 4 years, no “performance” sneaker category (shoes made to be worn for playing sports) has seen positive growth in America.
That’s unprecedented. Performance basketball sneakers, in particular, have gotten crushed by athleisure: that category is down 20% in Q1 2019.
“For the first 40 or 50 years of what I would call the modern sneaker marketplace, we've always had at least one performance category that was in fashion,” Powell says. “Back in the 70s it was tennis. The 80s was the basketball decade. We are now close to four years of not having a single performance category in the plus column. We are in an athleisure cycle.”
As UBS analyst Jay Sole frames it, “People want to be comfortable.”
Listen to Matt Powell talk sneakers with Dan Roberts and Reggie Wade on the Yahoo Finance Sportsbook podcast:
Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.