Wade Eyerly got an invitation to the New York Stock Exchange, telling him to come dressed in “business professional" garb. He decided to break the rules. The 39-year-old executive put on a pair of stretch fabric pants that look like slacks but feel like yoga wear. “I was, like, ‘This is amazing,’" he said. “I immediately ordered two more pairs."
The pants, sold by athletic-wear label Rhone Apparel Inc., are technically made for commuting. Eyerly, who lives in New Canaan, Connecticut, does a lot of that, given his regular 90-minute trips to Manhattan. The pants are also perfect for flying. “They are just so comfortable," he said. “They don’t stick to your calf; they aren’t too tight. They look pressed every morning. You could work out in these pants."
As office environments open up to more casual dress, companies are looking for ways to sell less formal clothing to the working masses. Marketed as “commuter-wear", brands hope to convince workers they need clothing specific to the trials of getting to and from work. These new clothes come in all kinds of old forms: blazers, chinos, button-down shirts—you name it—but in fabrics and cuts that can survive increasingly long and gruelling trips to the office.
“We see work-wear as an opportunity," said Sun Choe, senior vice-president of global merchandising at Lululemon Athletica Inc. Companies such as hers fully own the weekend wardrobe. Now they want the remaining five days, too.
The cubicle may seem an, um, stretch for a company known for yoga wear and leggings, but Lululemon’s labs are working on anti-wrinkle, anti-stink, anti-stain fabrics.
Fabric is the key: It is constructed to look like normal woven pants, but it’s a knit that allows for more comfort. The back has a zippered pocket to store a phone, too, just in case you’re hopping on a bicycle to get to work.
“It was definitely built with the commuter in mind," said Choe. Lululemon plans to start selling a version for women in the fall.
Pure athletic clothing developed by firms like Nike Inc. and Under Armour Inc. isn’t a viable solution because it’s developed for intense use over short periods. Ministry of Supply, a men’s work-wear company that infuses tech in all its items, is trying to ease commuter stress with gear that can adapt to different environments.
Gihan Amarasiriwardena, its co-founder and president, is focused on managing comfort through the day. There’s much more moisture involved when you’re running on a treadmill or kicking around a soccer ball, than when you’re waiting for a subway train or walking to a car. If you’re on a work trip, you spend hours on a plane, but then have to hustle through the airport and still look good when you get to the big meeting.
Clothing that can help you acclimate to the different environments we travel through every day, while remaining comfortable and office-presentable, is the niche commuter wear is aiming to fill.
And demand for it is growing. “When you’re in commuting situations, you get on the subway—it’s hot down there. The last thing you want is your pants to be retaining heat," said Nate Checketts, Rhone’s co-founder and CEO.
He admits, however, that comfort—not commuting—is the main reason shoppers gravitate to the pants. “Men in particular crave that comfort," he said. “If we can give that to them without letting them look like a slouch, I think that’s the real benefit."