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‘Athleisure’ fashion spares women the choice between style and comfort

With boutique fitness studios, healthy restaurants, detox progammes, supplement stores and personal trainers now a dime a dozen in the city, it’s obvious that Hong Kong is in a “healthy lifestyle” craze. And the trend for stylish sportswear is shooting skyward.

The growing demand from women for functional and fashionable athletic apparel has created a new segment in the sportswear industry dubbed “athleisure” and traditional sportswear brands are vying for a piece of the pie.

Just as fashion designers Tory Burch and Alexander Wang have entered the activewear sector, traditional activewear brands are moving into the fashion sector. Online retailers are following suit: Net-a-Porter has more than 65 brands in the sports section of its site and ShopBop has over 45 brands in its activewear section.

Nike, Adidas and Lululemon are three brands spearheading the trend.

Nike has been the most successful with the move from the gym to the catwalk. There’s been a visible strategic merging of fashion and sportswear since October 2014, when the brand held a catwalk show as part of its “Women’s Innovation Summit” featuring fashion models Joan Smalls and Karlie Kloss as well as professional athletes and ambassadors.

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At the end of that year, Nike opened a women-only store in Shanghai, the first of its kind in Asia. The reason for the added focus on the female market was revealed in late October 2015 when chief executive officer Mark Parker said that the company expected revenue from women’s fitness to nearly double in the next five years from US$5.7 billion to more than US$11 billion.

Adidas has long experience of collaborating with high-fashion designers, a strategy that works very well for both the brand and the designer. Partners include Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Jeremy Scott, Stella McCartney, Mary Katrantzou, and Yohji Yamamoto, among others, as well as high-street retailer Topshop. New products drop weekly to satiate customers’ appetites and the brand’s Stan Smith trainers are a fashion-week wardrobe staple.

And of course there’s Lululemon, who traditionally focused on yoga leggings and tops but now offer premium apparel and accessories for “yoga, running, activewear and other sweaty pursuits”; they even sell underwear and cardigans. So what sparked all the diversification? According to Amanda Casgar, director, brand and community, for Lululemon Asia, it’s due to blurred lines between work and leisure time.

“The world is changing,” she says. “People travel more and clothing needs to be functional and comfortable enough go from 6am to 10pm. Boutique gym memberships and healthy food is expensive, which makes an active lifestyle aspirational, which in turn fuels the demand for fashionable sportswear. It’s not enough for activewear just to be functional, it needs to be fashionable too so that

it looks just as good inside the gym as on the city sidewalk.”

Nike, Adidas and Lululemon are not the only brands filling fit women’s closets in Hong Kong. Under Armour set up a large shop in SoHo and is slowly growing a fan club thanks to its bright neon collections. Lorna Jane is stocked in boutique fitness studios and stores around Hong Kong Island and 2xU is often seen on the BikiniFit Mafia (Hong Kong’s leading female-only boot camp). Bespoke yoga

brands like A Day with Fé, Rumi, Easy Yoga and hu.nu are also carving out tidy niches in studios around Hong Kong, and Aeance recently entered the Hong Kong market with collections featuring wool and synthetic fibres to ensure optimum comfort and performance. Even gyms like Pure, have started their own lines in stylish sportswear, selling them at their outlets. Fast-fashion retailers Cotton On, H&M and GAP are also cashing in on the trend.

As a fitness (and fashion) fanatic I’ve embraced the sportswear surge with open arms. The lines in my wardrobe are now hugely blurred and my friends and I happily spend weekends in our very fashionable fitness gear. Would I wear any of these items if they didn’t look good? Probably not, but thankfully women now don’t have to decide between functionality and being fashionable because the best of both worlds is available everywhere, in as many colours and styles as you could want.

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