The size of your sweatpants isn’t just ballooning in this pandemic—the number of stores selling fashion-forward comfy clothing like an elastic waistband is on the rise.
When millions of office-dwellers went to work from home in the early days of the pandemic, it also changed fashion trends, as people no longer needed the same clothing for the same activities they were used to.
Men who usually wore classic suits and ties to the office, found themselves tucking oxford shirts and three-pieces into the back of the closet, and grabbed a few low ladders for their phalanx of Zoom meetings.
And women who usually dressed to impress with blouses and slacks or pencil skirts were now wearing something a little more casual to work.
It also forced clothing retailers to change what they did.
Overall apparel sales in Canada declined in 2020, but have risen 20 percent so far this year, according to Tamara Zames, industry consultant for fashion and retail with research firm NPD Group.
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Using industry portmanteau for clothing designed for both athletic activity and everyday life, she said in an interview, “It’s athleisure and those comfort categories that are leading the way.”
Two years ago, such “active” clothing made up about 25 percent of the apparel Canadians buy. Now that’s more than a third — and sales are growing twice as fast as in other forms of clothing, Szems said.
No wonder retailers are trying to capitalize on the trend. Denim pioneer Levi Strauss announced earlier this month that it would Buy Beyond Yoga Brand for an undisclosed amount, citing the need to “diversify his business” beyond his coveted jeans.
Gap, along with its flanker brands Old Navy and Banana Republic, is also reinventing itself on the fly, Store closures and accelerate your online operations.
It’s a painful transition that has led the ubiquitous retail chain to close more than 200 Gap stores in North America since 2019. But now its athletic brand, Athleta, has nearly as many physical stores as well.
Athleta is opening two new major Canadian stores—in Toronto and Vancouver—as they believe power remains in the athletic trend.
“We know the Canadian client is super active…she’s hiking, she’s swimming, and our performance lifestyle product allows her to do all those activities in really comfortable activewear with performance qualities offers,” said Jennifer Steichen, the chain’s vice president of North America — president for stores and operations.
Currently with 199 stores, Stitcher said the company expects the athletic category to double by 2023.
Athleta is targeting people who want to be stylish and comfortable while active – not necessarily sitting in their home offices all day.
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And while the company is banking on the fact that the sweaty trend is here to stay, that doesn’t mean Scholar is in.
far from it.
Michelle Watson is the founder and creative director of Michi, an ethically created clothing label that describes itself as a “maker of active lifestyle clothing that combines high performance and high fashion.”
She dreamed up the idea of comfortable, well-built, and stylish workout gear while living in New York more than a decade ago. After some positive initial reviews for her handmade prototypes, she took the company back to her homeland of Canada in 2012 to try to expand.
Today, her clothes are sold in stores around the world, including major department stores such as The Bay, Holt Renfrew and Selfridges.
While the pandemic made things difficult in many ways, Watson said it helped current trends in other ways by promoting more online shopping and the desire for more versatile and comfortable clothing.
“I’ve always believed in creating products that can be worn to the gym for your most intense workouts, but are also included in your standard wardrobe,” she said. “I’ve worn the product to work every day, worked out really long hours, and I can’t go back to anything else.”
She is not alone.
At Toronto’s Yorkdale Mall, where Athleta is set to open next month, shopper Sarah Mohveer said casual clothing has become her “go to” while working from home in the pandemic.
“I don’t even know if I can go back to wearing dress pants,” she joked.
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Fashion is always reinventing itself, and Szems said the new consumer push to demand comfort and style in office wear is just an extension of what it was before.
“We saw that trend start with people wearing Lululemons to the grocery store or on the weekends — and it really evolved and became entrenched in our everyday closets,” she said.
“Now we are taking more athleisure to a different segment of the market and we are starting to see it going out and even in work wear,” she said.
Wherever the urge for stylish comfort goes, Watson calls it an idea whose time has come.
“Comfort is a movement…not a trend,” she quips. “It’s here to stay.”
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