ASBCI Athleisure conference finds comfort is king

The speakers at the conference

The ASBCI’s Athleisure conference on November 14 in Nottingham took the trend from the macro to the micro, examining the origins and future direction of what has become a cross-generational lifestyle shift before drilling down into the minutiae of the fibres, technologies, and testing processes required to optimise garment comfort, fit, quality, and speed to market.

A mix of cultural, social, and fashion factors led to the birth of athleisure, and these forces are still driving it. Dressing down is the new dressing up, but athleisure isn’t just about looking good while working out, it’s also about feeling good.

The importance of comfort was mentioned again and again. “Customers are not prepared to sacrifice their new-found comfort and they are willing to pay more for it,” said Jutta Vo Quang from Freudenberg as she outlined the performance characteristics she believes are here to stay, all of which are designed to enhance the comfort of the wearer.

“At what point does a polyester jersey become a running vest?” asked Helen Colebourn from Bureau Veritas. The answer is the point at which the retailer promotes it as such by highlighting its performance properties, whether these are inherent or engineered. Making technology visible through design features, co-branding, or point-of-sale marketing helps the consumer understand how a garment will enhance their life, and that’s what athleisure is all about.

But that doesn’t mean design has no place. Athleisure is where fashion and function meet and the convenience of the ‘wear anywhere’ legging is matched by the desire to buy into the latest mini trend or capsule collection. “It’s hyper consumption vs. hyper collaboration,” said Terence Senford, head of men’s athleisure for Boss Menswear. “One thing is fuelling the other.” Product cycles are shorter, production runs smaller, and product is more customised.

In such a dynamic marketplace, agility and adaptability are more important than ever, and the brands that can pivot in new directions as the opportunity arises will be the real winners. “Speed is the name of the game,” said Jovita Balseviciene from Lectra. “Being the first to market with a wide range of quality products, priced right, is the key to success.”

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