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Brief Published: 15 Jun 2016

Athleisure Trends: BOW Summit 2016

BOW Summit

The inaugural Business of Wellness Summit (BOW) took place in London on June 4 2016. A mix of wellness-focused start-ups, investors, brand leaders and experts discussed current trends and future opportunities before a 500-strong crowd of attendees.

Covering product innovation and brand building, we spotlight key insights from the panel discussion: What’s Next for the Athleisure Sector? 

Top Three Drivers Behind the Rise of Athleisure

The rise of athleisure in Europe was heavily attributed to three key areas. Firstly, selfie culture, and a generation of image-obsessed social media users. Exposure to aspirational online content generated by brands and ‘conscious living’ bloggers in the sunshine climates of the US and Australia has inspired a wave of European counterparts, posting images of their healthy eating and activewear-clad workout habits.

Secondly, the casualisation of fashion (see Fashion’s New Comfort Zone) is having an impact. This forms part of a rising new feminist attitude where comfort and positive, inclusive messages around body image are deemed highly liberating factors in the quest for female empowerment.

Thirdly, the panel discussed a key shift in consumer culture concerning the desire for experiences, including the “experience of health”, rather than possessions. “Having a fit and healthy body is the new Celine handbag,” said Sam Gibson, owner/designer of new London-based female activewear brand Gibson Girl (launched April 2016). This growing consumer mentality has prompted a trend for boutique fitness studios such as 1Rebel and Frame along with niche activewear brands like Gibson Girl and A-Day across the globe.  

For more on the experiential economy, see also Active Flagships

Fitness Selfies
Australian Fitness Blogger
1Rebel London
Frame London

Material Innovations Drive Product Development

From products such as ‘technical cashmere’ (a term coined by Canadian brand Kit & Ace) to intelligent yarns and organic moisture-wicking cotton, enhanced materials were another key topic.

“Wearable tech is often considered essentially about fit bands, but there’s far more to come,” said Katie Baron, head of Retail at Stylus. “As intelligent textiles evolve they’ll become more comfortable, allowing them to get closer to our skin and give us much more accurate data on performance – making them a far more logical choice than strapping something clunky to yourself, which most consumers ditch within weeks.”

Baron believes these developments will fuel the existing predilection for consumers to become personal trainers in their own right, via initiatives like Under Amour’s Healthbox (see The Supportive Sell). “It’s entirely feasible that this kind of invisible magic will feed into the products we wear.” See Supermesh for more.

Technical Cashmere
Moisture Wicking Cotton
UA HealthBox

Humanised Wellness & Capturing Niches & Spin-Offs

To avoid becoming trapped in a tsunami of fruitless athleisure concepts as the market becomes more saturated, the panel suggested brands focus on niche or spin-off tribes. Marketing messages should similarly emphasise more than the standard ‘higher, stronger, harder’ mentality of traditional sports advertising.

Baron cited Stylus’ report Fitspo Tumblr Tribes ­– which earmarked the five groups Strong-Body-Strong-Mind, Barre Beautiful, Active Adventurer, Green Goddess and Health Goths as prevalent spin-offs from the original sector hub.

Gibson also pinpointed the value of creating different kit and aesthetic approaches for an increasingly diverse range of sports. “There are a million new fitness things coming out and you don't need the same outfit for hot yoga as you do for Tough Mudder, so there is a need and end use for new projects,” she said.

Baron also highlighted Selfridges’ Body Studio – a new area launched at the British department store in April 2016 – as a key initiative to watch, thanks to its humanised and inclusive approach. The brand’s ‘Everybody’ campaign emphasises its non-elitist, diversity-based stance on exercise and health, as seen in its 10-week-long in-store events calendar. Covering themes like Empowerment and Individuality, it included discussions such as: ‘Is the cult of wellness unhealthy?’

For more, see Athleisure Engagement Strategies, Brands Behaving Authentically and The Business of Wellbeing.

The next BOW Summit will take place in New York in January 2017.

Health Goth
Green Godess
Barre Beautiful
Tough Mudder
Selfridges Body Studio