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When the nationwide lockdown was first imposed, the fashion industry was pegging loungewear as the next big trend. Then came a new category, “work-from-home" wear. Along with these, and sometimes surpassing them in popularity, is a category that feels like it was created for stay-at-home days: athleisure, or athletic wear that doubles up as a leisure outfit. While all these categories embody comfort, the staple choice at the moment, each is distinct. A baggy T-shirt and tracksuit can be comfortable for lounging or work from home but you can also exercise in it, run errands or do household chores. And as the lockdown eases, athleisure-wear is a stepping stone to resuming a more normal, familiar life that blurs the line between sportswear and lifestyle.

On 21 May, the shares of American activewear brand Lululemon Athletica Inc. climbed 92% from a low in March thanks to its e-commerce business. In April, tracking firm EDITED said activewear sell-outs shot up by 40% in the US and 97% in the UK year-on-year during the first week of April. It noted that tracksuit sell-through rate was up 36% this year through March, compared to the same period last year.

In India, too, athlesiure is seen as a growth story. In a 20 May Mint story, Ankur Bisen, vice-president, retail and consumer products, at management consulting firm Technopak, noted that while sales of outerwear and office shirts might drop, athleisure wear, or what he called comfort wear, would grow as work-from-home remained in vogue for a while. Myntra CEO Amar Nagaram too has said they will be “focusing on athleisure to stay relevant".

Internationally, hoodies are a popular sub-category in athleisure but given the Indian climate, brands have opted for boxy and baggy T-shirts, shorts, tracksuits, crop-tops, cargo trousers and leggings. The staple fabrics include cotton-based textiles like French terry (it doesn’t crinkle easily) or cotton jersey (for a looser, more relaxed fit). There are also stretch denims and lightweight poly-blends with lycra and elastane for sturdier, more training-based products. All these come with graphics and prints.

The trend has taken on an indigenous hue, with brands and independent labels experimenting with techniques and styles that reflect a modern take on Indian crafts and sensibilities.


For when you want to name-drop

Big logos in athleisure are no longer a micro trend but FILA’s blue, white and red logo is an exception. There was a time when the name-dropping trend could be seen all over apparel and accessories, either as part of a brand’s singular identity or as the outcome of high-flying collaborations between them.

The trend died out, however, and may not see a resurrection as consumer tastes become more subtle. Nevertheless, brands such as FILA, which considers the futuristic logo an intrinsic part of the brand’s DNA, may continue to push the heritage branding.

FILA India’s creative director Abdon Lepcha says: “The logo has always been loud and in-your-face because it has never gone out of style. The colour combination, font and design are a classic." In India, the brand’s aesthetic reflects the strong retro influence of sportswear from the 1980s, as well as local influences of bright primary and neon colours and patchwork surfaces.

Such clothes become multi-purpose to the extent that people can carry out most activities without having to change—particularly useful at a time when personal comfort scores over everything else.

Apart from urban-inspired streetwear, designer Abhishek Paatni of NoughtOne and ZeroDotZero has been creating athleisure made locally from Khadi or block-printed by craftspersons
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Apart from urban-inspired streetwear, designer Abhishek Paatni of NoughtOne and ZeroDotZero has been creating athleisure made locally from Khadi or block-printed by craftspersons


For those who want a mix of the old and new

Luxury athleisure label HUEMN’s co-founder Pranav Misra says: “Athleisure is a connecting point between the way of dressing that was and the way of dressing that will be. The moment anything becomes mainstream, it becomes uninspiring to deal with creatively." It’s why he believes athleisure-wear will take a maximal turn in the future. “After a trough, there’s a crest, and that’s what fashion will follow." HUEMN’S clothes have detailed embroidery executed by craftspersons, with inspiration ranging from Kashmir’s street-side scenes to Western art. Misra believes this aesthetic is trans-seasonal.

Apart from urban-inspired streetwear, designer Abhishek Paatni of NoughtOne and ZeroDotZero has been creating athleisure made locally from Khadi or block-printed by craftspersons. “We are working on a very simple line for the suture because clothes at the moment are all about assurance to generate emotional value and being empathetic to the current situation," he says.

Athleisure-wear in India but it’s showing steady growth
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Athleisure-wear in India but it’s showing steady growth


For when swag is a visual statement

Athleisure-wear is still a small part of streetwear in India but it’s showing steady growth. The up-and-coming brand SIX5SIX STREET, for instance, exemplifies the streetwear influence. Its co-founder, Avni Aneja, says, “It’s because of a lot of young social media influencers that athleisure-wear is a legitimate concept." SIX5SIX STREET’s interpretation of athleisure is a combination of playfulness and irreverence.

Aneja says: “Each collection is designed with a pressing theme in mind which resonates with youth culture. For example, our first collection, Global Traveller (2019), was inspired from the current generation’s disregard for political borders, while the second one, Humanity In The Digital Age (2019), was a play on how stuck we are in our virtual world—though the idea isn’t to preach, just to spark a subversive, satirical conversation." These themes manifest through pop-artsy captions and trippy graphics, juxtaposed with craft techniques such as tie-and-dye, quilting and patchwork.

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