New Delhi: Srishty Chawla, 24, is sold on athleisure wear. “I have just two formal pants for office. Rest of my wardrobe is sweatpants, yoga pants and t-shirts," says the Mumbai-based communications professional.

Chawla, who prefers athleisure wear to casual or formal while going to malls, movies and even restaurants, is not an odd case. After casual wear, experts peg athleisure wear or active-wear as the next big thing in apparel, growing on the back of increasing health and fitness awareness.

Companies like Arvind Lifestyle Brands, Adidas, Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Ltd (ABFRL) and even the online fashion retailer Myntra are increasingly trying to cash in and grow the estimated $3.5 billion segment by introducing new sub-brands, scaling their product offerings and expanding their footprint across the country.

Athleisure wear or active-wear is defined (by industry executives and experts) as sportswear which can be worn casually, outside of gymnasiums.

“It’s not gym wear; it’s gym-to-street. The segment bridges the gap between casual wear and sportswear and is gradually becoming the fastest growing category within apparel," said Rajat Wahi, partner (management consulting) at consulting firm Deloitte India.

According to industry estimates, athleisure wear as a category is growing at a rate faster than the rest of apparel categories. Athleisure is growing at a rate of 20-25% annually; menswear is growing at a rate of 8-10%, while women’s and kids’ apparel segment is growing at 11-15%.

“Athleisure is on a much higher side when it comes to growth. While sportswear brands are expanding with new products, international and home-grown apparel companies are increasingly entering the segment," said Wahi.

For instance, textile maker Arvind Lifestyle Brands is planning to launch a new active-wear range under US Polo Association, titled USPA Active. “We are planning a full-fledged launch this year. We had test-marketed the range last season. We will be offering all workout and running gear including track pants, shorts, performance t-shirts at a starting price of Rs1,499. It’s in fashion," said Alok Dubey, chief executive officer, lifestyle brands at Arvind Lifestyle Brands Ltd.

Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Ltd (ABFRL), in September 2016, had forayed into athleisure wear with its menswear brand Van Heusen. Later in October, Aditya Birla group-owned online fashion store abof had also partnered (an exclusive tie-up) with actor Shahid Kapoor to launch athleisure fashion brand Skult.

“The Van Heusen collection has done really well in the last nine months. The products have been well received. So far, we were focusing on South India, but now we are looking at a national rollout. The target is to have 7,000 sales points by the end of this year," said Puneet Kumar Malik, chief operating officer, innerwear business, ABFRL, adding that the company currently operates close to 2,000 sales points across the country.

Executives in the business attribute the rise in health awareness, and hence, growth in athleisure segment to evolving lifestyle traits among millennial population and increase in the number of yoga centres, gyms and fitness centres across the country.

“There is a global fitness trend where people are wearing athleisure to workplaces. That’s where India is also headed. We have had a phenomenal response to our athleisure rages. Over the past four months, we have seen a 110% growth in our sales (compared with year-ago period). Athleisure as a segment has seen 1.5x growth, compared to rest of the portfolio," said Vibin Prabhakaran, brand head, HRX at Myntra.

In 2016, Myntra had acquired a 51% stake in actor Hrithik Roshan’s lifestyle brand HRX, which primarily operates in active-wear and casual wear space.

Agreed Sean Van Wyk, senior marketing director at Adidas India. “We are looking at a continued and increasing consumer demand for athleisure in the foreseeable future. Athleisure is an ever growing category for Adidas," he said.

While Wahi of Deloitte believes that the challenge for the companies is to remain relevant with more and more brands entering this space, Prabhakaran (of Myntra) is sure that growth of athleisure as a lifestyle will only fuel the industry further. “It is not a fashion trend. It is a way of life and it is here to stay," he adds.