The first sign that the sportswear market was going to someday consist of more than just giants like Adidas and Nike was when Under Armour broke onto the scene with their adrenaline-packed “We must protect this house” ad back in 2005. Adidas and Nike had been around in some form since the early 1950s and 1970s respectively, and then out of nowhere this small unknown company was cutting into their market thanks to a new clingy and sweat-wicking fabric. It was cool, it was futuristic, and people wanted it.
Now, over a decade since Under Armour began to try and stake its claim in the world of sportswear there are an increasing number of small athletic brands catering to a new market. From companies with their feet firmly planted in the fashion world to those who have sustainable and humanitarian missions, there seems to be a company out there for every niche. While we doubt any one of these individually will disrupt the market, as a whole these new brands are changing the dynamic and forcing gigantic companies to innovate in new ways. We sifted through a large number of those brands and built out a list of what we think are some of the most interesting and unique activewear brands for men.
Take notice of runners next time you drive to work early in the morning or go for a walk in the park. For the most part, their outfits will either consist of baggy t-shirts from high school or college, or absurdly bright and tight clothes. That is what the husband and wife team based in West London hoped to change with Iffley Road. The athletic wear company’s mission is to provide something more refined, but just as technically capable as other running apparel out there. So far, we think they’re doing a stellar job at it.
Like so many good things, Isaora was the result of real frustration. Specifically, frustration at the lack of attention to style in everyday athletic apparel. Why was it, co-founders Marc Daniels and Rick Hendry thought, that so many sportswear and outerwear companies seemed to treat warmth, fashion, and versatility as mutually exclusive qualities? Acting on intuition, the two founded the company in 2009 and since it has become a well established and respected brand for those who like a well-cut pair of shorts as much as they like good athletic clothes.
Men’s basics are anything but. The number of poorly fitting t-shirts and uncomfortable shorts out there is evidence of that fact. A brand like Myles, however, understands what it takes to build out a solid line of simple but functional clothes for men. Just as suited for the gym as they are for a walk about town or in the woods, the brand’s limited but quality line of clothes are a perfect pick for the active guy who wants the simple things done right.
Founded in San Francisco without venture capital. That isn’t something you hear very often, but it is exactly how Olivers got their start. Fed up with poorly made and unattractive gym shorts, a small group of guys managed to produce a set of basic tees and shirts that garnered a whole lot of praise from the outset. Since then, the brand has been expanding their line and offering more and more every year.
We mentioned Under Armour’s aggressive style earlier in this post. This brand is the opposite. Unconcerned with the chest thumping that is so often associated with athletics, Outdoor Voices focuses on and caters to the guy who is looking more to have fun and stay fit rather than wrinkle pavement with his sprints or get biology-defying gains. Their clothes all feature a simple but attractive cut with comfortable and breathable fabrics.
Transition times. That is what the team at Rhone calls those moments between your workout and the time you get home when you are running errands, shooting back to the office, or grabbing some food to refuel. They wanted to make athletic apparel exclusively for men that could stand up to the toughest of workouts while still being stuff you’d want to wear outside of the gym. Take a look at their large line of clothing – from hoodies to compression shorts and socks, and you’ll see for yourself that they’ve achieved just that.
RYU, which may or may not be named for the Street Fighter character (we’d like to think they are, but in fact RYU stands for “Respect Your Universe”), is a brand that is dedicated to engineering gear for the mobile athlete. Made by and for athletes whose day-to-day activities consist of everything from spending time in the box to running obstacle courses, their apparel is designed to be incredibly versatile, sweat wicking, and comfortable.
As you’ve seen so far, most of the new athletic apparel brands out there come from a more fashion or technical oriented background. The team that runs Tasc Performance, on the other hand, has a background based firmly in textile development – and it shows. The brand has created an entirely new type of proprietary fabric from bamboo that both feels good and performs extremely well. This makes the brand ideal for those who want to cut back on petroleum based products, or just don’t like the plastic and fake feel so many athletic brands have decided is ok. Based in New Orleans and run by a family with 70 years of experience, we’re guessing they’re going to go far.
This brand doesn’t just say that their shirt and shorts are the only pair you’ll ever need – they’re banking on it. They literally carry nothing other than just their shorts and a shirt. Crazy? Maybe, but so far it has seemed to work pretty well for them. They’ve teamed up with the bougie gym Equinox, and are widely regarded as one of the best go-to workout outfits out there thanks to their distilled and simple design.
One of the first steps any company needs to take in order to build great athletic apparel is to really understand the sport or activity they are making their clothes for. Tracksmith, like few others, really understands running. Their clothing is infused with a classic heritage style that doesn’t compromise on comfort or breathability. From their simple shorts to merino base layers, they have just about everything covered when it comes to cross country running. Forget the swoosh, go for the rabbit.
What would your workout clothes look like if the gym you went to was on the beach (or was the beach)? Look through Vuori’s offerings and you can see for yourself. Based in Encinitas, the small athletic apparel brand was founded by a couple of friends who couldn’t find workout clothes they actually wanted to wear. Now they have their own line that caters to the yoga-going, beach running, early-morning-swimming constituency of the sports world.
Zanerobe is by no means new, they’ve been around for nearly 15 years at this point, but their perspective on athletic wear is unique. Based in Sydney, the brand has always had its feet more firmly planted in streetwear and sneaker culture than anything else. While they’ve been far away from the main European, Asian, and North American hubs of that culture – they’ve benefitted from following the simple philosophy of “design what you want to wear.” They’ve taken that same approach to their line of sportswear to great effect. Their pieces are both incredibly functional, versatile, comfortable and well worth having in your wardrobe.