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Yoga pants made from car seats? ‘Athleisure’ innovates to stay relevant

Nicole Goodkind
Nicole Goodkind

Athleisure, the fashion trend that swept the nation and hurt jeans retailers nationwide (just ask the CEO of Levi Strauss), is still chugging along. The fad, where teens wear active wear as everyday clothing, now comprises 14.4% of their purchases.  

But what do these “athleisure” companies like Lululemon (LULU) and Nike (NKE) do when teens already own their products? According to an article featured in The New York Times this morning, they innovate. High-tech athleisure is now all the rage, and companies are racing to find the next big thing.

From anti-sweat and anti-odor to shorts made of Cordura - a material found in suitcases and car seats -  you name it and athletic wear companies are trying it. “Every season now, or at least two or three times a year, they’re looking for some new story,” Bob Kirkwood, executive vice president for technology and marketing for Invista Apparel told The Times. “Whether it’s the way they’ve constructed the fabric, whether it’s a new fiber or it’s a new treatment on the fabric, that’s the expectation they’ve set.”

“What do you buy after you have 10 pairs of black yoga pants?” asks Yahoo Finance’s Rick Newman. “This is not surprising. It shows there's innovation in the clothing industry… apparel makers are saying ‘how can we use this in clothing to spruce up our offerings so we’re not just selling people the same stuff year after year?’”

The question is if new athletic technologies like Lycra made of corn or sweatpants made with Kevlar (a protective fiber that goes into rubber tires and helmets) are innovate or gimmicky.

In the past, companies like Skechers have had to pay out $40 million in refunds because of false claims about products such as "shape-up sneakers" and the toning results they provide to users.

“This reminds me of the SUV craze that started in the 1990s,” says Newman. “Almost nobody needs a big, rough, four-wheel drive vehicle but people bought them anyway because it makes them feel like the rugged individualist. I think something similar is going on here.”

In a way, this cutting-edge athletic wear is aspirational, even if it doesn’t get people to the gym. “If you’re appealing to the way people want to seem themselves, which is athletic, pumped up, and cutting-edge, this will work,” says Newman.

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