The comfortable style that accompanies athleisure is spreading to all corners of the closet.
On Saturday, Lululemon founder and former CEO Chip Wilson told Business Insider that athleisure is over. It’s being replaced by “streetnic”: apparel made with engineered fabrics that apply the stretch and performance of athletic wear to everyday clothing.
“We call it ‘streetnic’: technical, stretch, street,” said Wilson, who left Lululemon’s Board of Directors in 2015. “It’s not fashion people trying to make this stuff look athletic.”
As the athleisure market struggles with saturation, there lies a new conundrum: people may not be able to actually live in their leggings, but they’ve become accustomed to feeling comfortable throughout the day. As that behavior has shifted, more retailers that make high-performance, technical fabrics have moved to the forefront, including Kit and Ace, Wilson’s family’s retail company that invented a machine washable “technical cashmere.”
“It’s becoming less about athleisure, and more about innovation and evolution in fit,” said Tom Patterson, CEO of menswear company Tommy John. “We’ve all worn uncomfortable outfits that are stiff, and wrinkle very quickly, and it’s hard to go back to that. Once you’ve experienced a smartphone, you can’t use anything else.”
So, retailers are investing in fashionable clothing that has functionalities most commonly found in athletic apparel. According to fashion analytics company Edited, in the last three months, the 10 biggest online retailers in the U.S. (including Macy’s, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Barneys, Saks and Kohl’s) increased the number of new products described as ‘wicking,’ ‘waterproof,’ or ‘windproof’ in their inventories by 41 percent compared to the same period in 2015.
“With the proliferation of activewear on the market, we’re seeing brands invest more heavily in fabrics with technical properties,” said Edited senior analyst Katie Smith. “The added ‘science’ helps them differentiate in a flooded, but popular market segment.”
Ministry of Supply, a menswear retailer, was launched in 2012 by three MIT students. The company’s first product, a $95 “performance” dress shirt, was made with the same technology used by NASA to outfit astronauts with temperature-regulating fabrics. The line has now expanded to include shorts, pants, jackets, T-shirts and socks that are all wrinkle resistant, machine-washable, designed to stretch, and temperature-regulating.
“Technology plays a large role in the fabrics and the manufacturing process of our clothing,” said co-founder Kit Hickey. “Given that people are used to technology in their performance clothing, [which they wear] outside of the gym, the obvious next step is integrating technology into work clothing. We’ve already seen a huge shift in the last four years — people expect their clothing to do more.”
Hickey said that to educate its customers about the quality of its products, it stays close to them. The company sells only direct to consumer through its website and in two showrooms, one in Boston and one in San Francisco.
Legacy brands not born four years ago out of MIT are turning to outside companies to improve the performance of their apparel. Nanotex, a fabric technology company, has helped design garments for about 100 retailers including Macy’s, Target, Nordstrom, JCPenney, Banana Republic, Calvin Klein, Gap and Van Heusen. Items made with Nanotex technology are spill, stain, water and wrinkle resistant, as well as moisture-wicking.
Randy Rubin, CEO of Nanotex and parent company The Crypton Companies, said that it was in the fall of 2015 that non-athletic retail companies, like Macy’s, began showing serious interest in performance fabric for all types of apparel.
“The athleisure movement gave us a time where we got used to a certain functionality — it kept us cool, dry, with all the other various bells and whistles that go with that type of clothing,” said Rubin. “Now, when we go back to ‘regular’ clothes, we still want those properties.”
Rubin said that garments made with Nanotex fabrics can be thrown in a suitcase without wrinkling, and are resistant to sweat stains on a hot summer day. Each item is accompanied by a hanging tag that details the properties, and, according to Rubin, the change in pricing from a comparable item not made with the fabric is “just a few dollars.”
Smith, at Edited, said that the impact from athleisure fit and comfort is hitting on multiple retail sectors.
“[It’s] resonating with consumers. After all, we’re all embracing more functional forms of dress that’s still being seen in popular trends in both men’s and womenswear,” Smith said. “The impact is far reaching: we’re even seeing denim retailers seeking more comfortable fits and technical fabrics.”