Ask The Experts: 5 Designers On The Fate Of Athleisure

In 1999, a man named by the name of Stewart Brand was stuck at a large desk in San Francisco trying to put his finger on how to best show the pace at which the world changes. The former merry prankster, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, and creator of one of the earliest online communities eventually came up with a simple drawing consisting of just 6 layers. On the bottom he put nature, the slowest, then culture, governance, infrastructure, commerce, and at the very top – fashion. Fashion, unlike all the other lines twisted and turned, went forward and back. It was wild, unpredictable.

The insight Brand’s pace layers provided wasn’t that trends in fashion or art are hard to track. What the sketch did was put all of these different parts of our life in context. Doing so illustrated his point that the world around us moves all together, but at different speeds. Given this context, it also highlighted the difficulty of trying to predict the beginning or end of any trend on the top end of those layers.

Is the trend dying, or is it being subsumed into the broader cultural palate? Is there even a difference?

Of course, that hasn’t dissuaded anyone. Almost as if by reflex, people will predict the death of a trend as soon as it begins to take shape. This tendency can at times feel less like an attempt to provide insight and more a race to have ‘called it’ first. The style of clothing that seems to have been on the receiving end of this type of prediction has been technical apparel, or ‘athleisure’.

Characterized by the use of synthetic fabrics cut into clothing with an athletic fit and stylish look, these are the clothes that you’d be just as happy to wear in the gym as at a cafe. Yet, despite literally years of eulogizing – there has yet to be a funeral. If anything, it seems like the techniques developed by these designers are becoming increasingly mainstream. So which is it? Is the trend dying, or is it being subsumed into the broader cultural palate? Is there even a difference? We got tired of reading half-baked predictions and armchair opinions, so we reached out to some of the biggest and most interesting players in the world of technical apparel to try and get their perspective on the fate of technical wear.

Taka Kasuga

Design Director at Arc'teryx

When did you realize you wanted to design clothing?

I started to think about what I wanted to be from an early age. I decided to become a designer when I was 14. I wasn’t good at expressing ideas in words, but I could visually. I went to a fashion college in Tokyo and became a designer. However it never felt quite right to me to be called a “fashion” designer. I’ve found a perfect home at Arc’teryx where the primary goal is to design something that enhances ones life experience.

Who or what do you look to for inspiration for your clothing?

Everything influences me: economic trends, cultural phenomenon. The main inspiration at Arc’teryx Veilance comes from the technical innovations happening on the Arc’teryx design floor. It’s quite exciting to approach design the way our products and equipment are R&D’ed.

Why do you think the market for well designed athletic apparel has grown so much?

If you look at what people wear today, you see jeans, t-shirt, sneakers and so on. All of them were invented for an extreme functionality needed for a particular purpose and have evolved into something that’s perfectly wearable day-to-day. The true appeal of athletic apparel is that it is much more than just aesthetics—it’s about enhancing performance and comfort.

What do people who are predicting the end of athleisure not understand about the market? What do they get right?

That prediction has been around for several years now. It has become the norm to wear athletic products. I wouldn’t be able to give up wearing sneakers for leather shoes. No going back. I think athletic products continue to improve both technically and aesthetically. The question here is how the trend will evolve in the future.

What projects are you most excited about in the coming year?

We work three years in advance of the market calendar and continue to adopt new technologies. We will be introducing a new category next year – stay tuned. The idea of Veilance can be applied to many things in life.

Visit: Arc'teryx Veilance

Ben Stubbington

Senior Vice President, Mens' Design Lululemon

When did you realize you wanted to design clothing?

I have always been interested in art and design—it’s in my blood; my father is an artist. I considered many facets of art and design to concentrate in, including architecture, graphic design and fine art, but ultimately decided to specialize in Fashion Design with a Print minor at the University of Brighton, UK.

Who or what do you look to for inspiration for your clothing?

For me, a lot of inspiration comes subliminally. As a creative person, I am never not looking and soaking things up in my subconscious. Inspiration can come from a gig I attend, a building I walk past, a trash can, another artist’s/designer’s work, or the color of the sky. I also inspire myself by creating solutions and challenging aesthetics.   

Why do you think the market for well designed athletic apparel has grown so much?

Designers are working with more technology and are taking a considered, minimalistic approach, which creates aesthetically-pleasing athletic apparel. This market growth also goes hand in hand with the way people are living today; there is less of a divide between end use and specificity; athletic apparel is carrying people seamlessly from day to night. Fashion and sport-specific clothing have blended and fashion designers are now excited by the sports world and the sports world’s concentration in technology is influencing fashion.   

What do people who are predicting the end of athleisure not understand about the market? What do they get right?

Athleisure is not a term I use; combining function and fashion, however, has become the norm. What I see is athleticism influencing fashion—it is all about comfort, ease, style, technology and solving for problems; this part of living will not change.

What projects are you most excited about in the coming year?

Working with lululemon’s Ambassadors has been an amazing practice in investigating, challenging and validating our product. This collaboration with our ambassadors coupled with diving deeper into how our guests are living today, is forcing us to be razor-focused on minimizing through function which leads to creating solves for our guests.

Visit: lululemon men

Thomas Moon

Chief Creative Office and Co-Founder at Onu

When did you realize you wanted to design clothing?

It’s less about designing clothing and more of an overall desire to create things. I realize that might come across as arrogant but then maybe as creatives we have a certain ego about us. I used to think I was going to be an artist but then realized I had no talent at it. So I transitioned to using computers and it seemed to work out. Though somehow when working in a digital medium there is an element that feels like cheating. I’m not saying it’s any more or less difficult to design using a computer than a more traditional method but I doubt there are many people today is as skilled as Giotto di Bondone who was known for being able to draw a perfect circle freehand.

Who or what do you look to for inspiration for your clothing?

Inspiration comes from everyday life. From catching a shadow in a certain way, conversations with new and familiar people, singing in the shower…etc. Everything can inspire you depending on how you interact with your environment and keeping an open mind. Since I focus my life around sports, most of the design elements I want are utilitarian inspired versus fashionable. But this is why we bring in experienced designers to make sure our garments have more appeal than a white wall.

Why do you think the market for well designed athletic apparel has grown so much?

I think as time goes on we are becoming lazy and timid with the idea behind being fashionable. When I say fashionable I mean wearing clothing as a means of personal expression. We want to be comfortable in our clothing and I don’t just mean physically. We mentally need to feel confident with what we wear. Athletic apparel does this for people by fulfilling a certain aspirational quality through the use of technology. Though they might not understand it, when the technology is specialized people feel special wearing it. And who doesn’t want to feel special? The only thing is technology is

slowly beginning to supersede fashion. How many garments that are performance provide a well rounded enough appearance to wear beyond just exercise?

What we are trying to bring to the market is a new category of clothing that we’ve coined “every wear.” An equal combination of technology and fashion for both genders. It’s about experimentation and that is how we believe you truly innovate. Not being afraid of failure but understanding that it is inevitable and doing what you want anyways.

What do people who are predicting the end of athleisure not understand about the market? What do they get right?

End of athleisure? Probably not. Things don’t just end, they shift, evolve and ultimately change.

What the predictions do is force companies who only produce athleisure to evolve and this becomes a space for innovation. To create something new. It’s the same with technology, version 1 of a particular product might have been garbage but 2 or 3 revisions later and you have something rad.

What projects are you most excited about in the coming year?

We are launching some interesting things next year that are oriented around more than just creating garments.

Visit: Onu

Juliet Korver

Product Design Director at RYU

When did you realize you wanted to design clothing?

I started by sewing my own clothing when I was about 12 years old. I was a snowboarder in the late ’80s. Snowboard clothing was scarce with a limited selection, so I started designing and sewing my own, as well as creating it for some of my friends. That led me to design school and selling snowboard pants out of resort parking lots. I followed my passions and my love of gear, and worked in the action-sports category for over 20 years. More recently, I have incorporated more athletic activities into my life, and continuing to follow my passion led me to RYU and the athletic- apparel industry. 

Who or what do you look to for inspiration for your clothing?

Life inspires me – what I am up to, the people I am with and what they’re up to. I am blessed to train and hang out with a lot of great and dedicated athletes. What they need and do provides plenty of inspiration. 

Why do you think the market for well designed athletic apparel has grown so much?

Health, wellness and simplifying life have all been top-of-mind and trending for years now. So we need clothing that matches that and meets consumers’ needs. Work environments have become more casual, allowing us to wear the same clothing in which we train to our places of work, making life easier.

What do people who are predicting the end of athleisure not understand about the market? What do they get right?

I don’t make athleisure product. There is nothing leisure about what we do at RYU. We are passionate about gear that works. We build functional, problem-solving gear that looks great in an urban environment. When I look at the athleisure market, I am confused. It is not functional. I can’t train in it, and it looks too athletic for me to want to wear for non-athletic activities.

What projects are you most excited about in the coming year?

I am really excited about some additions to our Carry System collection. The team at RYU has developed an urban-athlete-friendly duffle program. It is perfect for organizing your belongings for the day or for travel. It’s durable with all the features an athlete would need: shoe compartments, anti-bacterial properties, organizing pockets, easy care…the list goes on.

Visit: Ryu

Emma Herweijer

Head of Design at Ten Thousand

When did you realize you wanted to design clothing?

I trained as a ballerina from age 5 until my late teens and used to compete most weekends. I used to design and sometimes also make my own costumes. I grew up having clothes handmade for me by my mother and her mother and we would regularly go out shopping for Butterick patterns and fabrics, which I just loved. So there was always a sewing machine in our house and plenty of materials lying around for me to play with. Craft in general was a family thing, so looking back, I think it was quite natural for me to carve out a career in the rag trade!!

Who or what do you look to for inspiration for your clothing?

In terms of functional inspiration, I travel to technical fabric shows year-round to stay on top of latest innovations. But then there is also my styling inspiration, which truly comes from everywhere. I love all things Scandi, contemporary style, interior design, architecture, objects, typography and of course nature… I am such a visual person so everything I see throughout my life inspires me – which is probably why I travel so much. Working at Rapha was of course an incredible experience that brought so much to my process and continues to inspire me in everything I do.

Why do you think the market for well designed athletic apparel has grown so much?

Health is our most important wealth of today and exercise has become such a necessity with balancing and providing relief to hectic modern day life. More people are working out and also generally more educated on performance clothing so are therefore prepared to spend on it. For sure, there is more emphasis on fashion in the gym scenario – but it makes sense that looking and feeling great go hand in hand, so a good looking kit is now super important!

What do people who are predicting the end of athleisure not understand about the market? What do they get right?

Comfort and versatility are real customer demands which are the major reasons (more so than trend) why the women’s leggings category, and athleisure in general, has been growing.  That said, many athleisure lines will fizzle out because actually a lot of product out there now just doesn’t work. It’s not truly functional and leans more on the aesthetic trends as seen in “sportswear”. True performance clothing however is here to stay and for sure will evolve as technology continues to drive the whole movement forward… Be it fabric innovation, wearable technology, 3D printing, construction methodology, customization… Truly technical, performance clothing considers comfort, durability, easy care – these things are for many people compulsory to guarantee purchases. Functional clothing is just so much nicer to wear.

What projects are you most excited about in the coming year?

At Ten Thousand we are working on a significant expansion of our current offer, which includes many new pieces we are really excited about! We’re also ramping up our Field Test programme, with special edition, limited run products. This programme will enable our customer to become fully integrated into our product development process and in turn help us launch in full, amazing, thoughtful products that really answer real-scenario demands.

Visit: Ten Thousand

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