Denim Is Out and ‘Athleisure’ Is In

(Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage)
(Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage)
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Photo Credit:

Business Insider published an article about the decline of denim among female teens in the US in favor of more casual, and comfortable, activewear.  According to the Spring 2015 Piper Jaffray survey on teen spending, “athletic-leisure, preppy, legging and jogging pants are among the top teen fashion trends.”

It’s no surprise.  Industry experts have been aware of the trend for quite some time.  Major retail brands have been responding to the demand by offering leggings, yoga pants and activewear.  For example, Gap acquired  Athleta (a less expensive activewear alternative to Lululemon) in 2008.  BuzzFeed discusses Athleta and the apparel trend here.


The popularity of yoga pants, running tights, and other athletic gear is relatively new in the grand scheme of how American women dress. Lululemon, which was founded in 1998 and greatly helped fuel the trend, only went public in 2007. At that point, the company had 59 stores and close to $150 million in annual sales. Today, its yearly revenue has ballooned to $1.8 billion and it has 302 stores — and that’s despite the fierce, escalating competition from Athleta and other corporate behemoths like Under Armour and Nike, as well as upstarts like Sweaty Betty and Fabletics.

BuzzFeed News
BuzzFeed News

Lululemon’s number of stores and sales have exploded over the last eight years and Athleta has been on the rise for the last five years, while, Bloomberg reports, denim has essentially been in free fall.


By the summer of 2014, with sales of athletic pants rising 62 percent from 2010—and athleisure apparel looking less like a fad and more like a permanent addition to women’s closets—retail journalists began writing obituaries for women’s denim.

So who is benefiting from the “athlesiure” trend?  Nike is the preferred provider of athleticwear followed by Under Armour, Lululemon and Adidas.

Regardless of whether consumers are driven by function, fashion, or a combination of the two, it looks like ladies denim is on its way out and athleticwear is here to stay.  This is good news for athletic lifestyle brands but bad news for those in the jean business.  Is denim done-im or can the Levi’s of the world reinvent the wheel and get ladies to jump back into jeans?

Under Armour is Making Moves

Back in April, the Portland Business Journal reported Under Armour’s plans to grow its footwear and innovation operations in Portland.  They purchased the 70,000 square foot former YMCA building, just south of the city, off of Barbur Blvd.  Under Armour, who has been quietly operating in Portland in an office at the North Park Blocks since 2013, is expecting the new space to be operational in 2016.  Portland, which is home to Nike, Columbia and Adidas, could give them the access to the talent they need to make a meaningful push into the footwear market.

Speaking of footwear, according to Forbes, 60% of Nike’s sales are from shoes compared to 12.5% for Under Armour.  Nike also holds 60% overall market share for US footwear and 96% in basketball. This means there is huge potential for Under Armour to claim footwear market share, specifically in basketball.  The company’s CEO, Kevin Plank, couldn’t have written a better narrative than the NBA Finals this year.  Under Armour went head-to-head with Nike and won.  That is, Under Armour’s leading man, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, took down Nike’s golden boy, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, to become an NBA Champion.  With the win, sales of the CurryOne increased to a 1% market share of basketball shoes.  UA is hoping to take a bigger piece of the pie with the CurryTwo, which is set to release late October in the US.

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In an industry where endorsements are everything, having Stephen Curry (NBA MVP and Champ), Tom Brady (Super Bowl Champ), Jordan Spieth (#1 ranked golfer) and Misty Copeland (leading ballet dancer and one of the most influential people in the world) should bode well for UA’s top and bottom lines.  Additionally, Under Armour’s partnership with NBA’s youth program, Jr. NBA, and the NBA Draft Combine starting in 2018 and their “Rule Yourself” campaign should make significant impacts as well.

It looks like the overlooked stars, with chips on their shoulders, could be aligning for Under Armour.  Strike while the iron is hot.