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Reporting on America's Attitudes and Behaviors
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The Elements That Are Keeping Activewear Hot
Active/Athleisure, Articles, Consumer, COVID-19, Featured, Fiber Preferences, Insights, Region, The Americas, Topics, Types

The Elements That Are Keeping Activewear Hot


The already healthy global activewear market is only expected to increase its muscle in the coming years, thanks to a greater interest in health and wellness, as well as a continued appreciation for comfortable athleisure and streetwear styles that are now worn for work, working out and hanging out.

"And while people still want to look fashionable, comfort and versatility remain key reasons why they make a clothing purchase for themselves. With changing economic times, versatile items that can be worn for various occasions and seasons can ease consumers into making an investment during uncertain times."

-Maria Rugolo,
Apparel Industry Analyst, NPD

The NPD Group says 44 percent of consumers care more about their health and wellness today than before COVID-19 hit, and this is leading to increased sales in active gear that is rooted in comfort and outdoor lifestyles. The Consumer Tracking Service data from NPD says activewear sales revenue increased by 39 percent from January through April 2022, when compared to 2019.

“To look their best, people must also feel their best,” said Maria Rugolo, apparel industry analyst at NPD. “And while people still want to look fashionable, comfort and versatility remain key reasons why they make a clothing purchase for themselves. With changing economic times, versatile items that can be worn for various occasions and seasons can ease consumers into making an investment during uncertain times.”

The global activewear market has grown from $342.9 billion in 2020 to $380 billion this year, according to Statista. It’s projected to reach $455.4 billion by 2027. Statista attributes this market increase to an upswing in fitness conscious consumers as well as the growth in streetwear, “which encourages consumers to incorporate activewear into their personal style.”

Streetwear’s connection to activewear is probably more natural than many realize. In a report from Hypebeast and Strategy&, PwC’s consulting firm, streetwear is defined as fashionable, casual clothes that are rooted in the countercultures of the 1980s and ‘90s, including hip-hop, skate, and surf.

Just as streetwear has flourished, so have some of the sports that helped inspire the category. And today’s athletes have preferences in what they want to wear when they’re perfecting their sport, especially some of the pros. Take the inaugural class of The Naturals: a group of female athletes in male-dominated sports who have been chosen by Cotton Incorporated to represent cotton and its natural abilities. These athletes – Leticia Bufoni, Sydney Olson, and Jasmine Moore — say cotton helps them move both physically and emotionally. More on these stellar competitors in a bit.

Because it’s not just pro athletes who are looking to better their bodies and minds. When asked about the most important things in their lives, the top response among U.S. consumers (51 percent) was health and wellness, according to Cotton Incorporated’s 2022 Coronavirus Response Consumer Survey (Wave 10, March 2022). China (49 percent) and Mexico (77 percent) also emphasized the importance of health and wellness in their lives.

This is a direct result of having lived with COVID-19 for two-and-a-half years. Many consumers (40 percent) say they’re exercising to help improve their health and wellness, according to the 2022 Coronavirus Response Survey (Wave 9, December 2021). The majority (76 percent) say they are trying to put more emphasis on improving their physical health, according to the Coronavirus Response Survey (Wave 12, July 2022).

Simultaneously, consumers are still dressing up less and want to wear the comfortable apparel they became used to during the pandemic, according to the Coronavirus Response Surveys. In December of 2021, 27 percent of U.S. consumers said they were dressing up less often, a percentage that increased to 51 percent by March 2022. And while the number of consumers who say they are wearing comfortable clothes more often has dipped slightly from 69 percent in December 2021, it’s still a majority (61 percent) who are regularly choosing comfort (Wave 10, March 2022).

The most popular garments worn in the last month are T-shirts (58 percent), activewear (31 percent), denim jeans (30 percent), athleisure (28 percent), sweatpants/sweatshirts (26 percent), and leggings/yoga pants (26 percent), according to the Coronavirus Response Surveys. And the most popular activewear purchases are shirts (72 percent), bras (63 percent), shorts/capris (62 percent), pants (56 percent), underwear (52 percent), and sweatshirts/hoodies (47 percent), according to the Cotton Council International and Cotton Incorporated’s 2022 Global Activewear Study.

Globally, the top active purchases are shorts/capris (57 percent), pants (56 percent), bras (55 percent), shirts (53 percent), sweatshirts/hoodies (51 percent), and underwear (44 percent), according to the 2022 Global Activewear Study.

Brands are recognizing the importance of merging active and street styles. Signed by McFly is a Black-owned streetwear brand that now offers cotton stretch body sets as, well as classic streetwear pieces like logo T-shirts and hoodies. The collection also includes cotton track suits, a velour hoodie and jogger, and a cotton-body/leather-sleeved varsity jacket. Signed by McFly is taking its cues from traditional streetwear that came up through the counterculture hip-hop scene.

Which brings us back to the Cotton Incorporated Naturals athletes who are excelling in counterculture, traditionally male sports like skateboarding, parkour, and roller skating. Leticia Bufoni is a professional street skateboarder and six-time X Games gold medalist. She says her sport demands she wear the most comfortable clothes. And for her, it’s cotton.

“Cotton helps me move because it’s a super light material and I feel really comfortable,” Bufoni says in the campaign. “I just feel like I’m skating without any weight, which is feeling freedom when you skate.”

Jasmine Moore is a professional roller skater and host of the IGTV series “Skate Dial” on Instagram. She says cotton helps her move because it flows with her.

“I think a lot of fabrics don’t let you breathe as much as cotton does,” she says as part of the campaign. “Roller skating has influenced my style in the sense that I find a lot more joy in expressing myself creatively and I don’t hold myself back from wanting to wear the things I want to wear.”

In both the U.S. and globally, consumers choose activewear more for its comfort (67 percent) than its function (9 percent), style (6 percent), or price (11 percent), according to the 2022 Global Activewear Study. And most consumers (69 percent in the U.S.; 63 percent globally) say activewear has become their new casualwear.

The Naturals athlete Sydney Olson, a Tempest pro team member in parkour, is also a stunt woman and actor. Her thoughts seem to sum up what most consumers want from their activewear these days.

“Parkour is a very aggressive sport, so I need something durable, as well as light and breathable,” Olson says in the campaign. “Cotton moves and breathes with me. It allows me to be comfortable and focus on my movement. It’s also very versatile much like me, so I can wear it doing just about anything. My days are physically demanding, so I kind expect the same from my clothing. I feel like parkour has influenced my style quite a lot. It’s very on-the-go and I’m just fully dressed so I can train — and then go to lunch with friends afterward.”

 

Learn more about the Cotton Incorporated “Naturals”

and shop the activewear collections.

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