The term athleisure is typically associated with women’s yoga pants, tank tops and tees. But men looking to upgrade from messy sweats are getting in on the action, too. And retailers are jumping on board.
One of those retailers is J.C. Penney Co. JCP, -2.38% , which launched a new line of “active lifestyle apparel for men” with “Good Morning America” host Michael Strahan on May 21. MSX by Michael Strahan includes polo shirts, jogging pants and chinos, and merchandise made with quick-drying, stretch fabrics, a departure from Strahan’s more tailored first J.C. Penney line, Collection by Michael Strahan. MSX by Michael Strahan is available in about 500 stores and online.
“MSX by Michael Strahan is more than just sweats and hoodies,” said Strahan in a statement emailed to MarketWatch. “This line differs from what is considered women’s athleisure as its fit compliments a man’s body and the materials give him flexibility and range without the spandex typically found in women’s athleisure apparel.”
With few hot fashion trends right now, athleisure has been a bright spot in a dreary apparel landscape. Designers on the high end, like Tory Burch, who introduced Tory Burch Sport last year, as well as traditional athletic fashion brands like Nike Inc. NKE, -0.41% , have beefed up their offerings for women looking for outfits that say, “I’m active … but stylish.”
Men want their wardrobes to make that same statement. According to research conducted by Mintel, 66% of men say they are stylish, and 52% are dressing for comfort ahead of style.
“Men are embracing a cross between style and comfort and are stepping up their casual wear to accomplish more formal looks,” said Rupa Ghosh, travel, leisure and retail analyst at Mintel, in a statement on a recent release focused on the “casualization” of the men’s fashion market.
The men’s clothing market reached $67.1 billion in 2015, according to Mintel. A third of men plan to spend more on clothing in 2016 than they did last year.
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“A number of retailers now have some representation of athleisure lines in their inventory/merchandise, and many use celebrity endorsements to market this product to men,” Ghosh said in a separate report.
J.C. Penney’s new line with NFL Hall of Famer Strahan hits both of those trends.
“The MSX by Michael Strahan tag line is ‘everywear for everywhere,’ ” Strahan said. “You can truly wear it from your house to lunch to see your friends, to pick up your kids, to the gym — and never look out of place in any of those settings.”
A capacity to make an easy transition from one venue to another — “performance features, more refined, keeping up with a busy lifestyle,” according to James Starke, senior vice president of men’s apparel at J.C. Penney — is a hallmark of athleisure fashion.
“The men’s business is very broad, and we have strengths and opportunities,” said Starke. “Activewear is a big opportunity.”
Lululemon Athletica Inc. LULU, -1.73% , probably the brand most associated with athleisure wear for women, has also been capitalizing on male interest in the trend. The company reported 24% growth in the men’s category for the fourth quarter, said Chief Executive Laurent Potdevin, according to a FactSet transcript of the company’s March 30 earnings call. Lululemon “is only getting started in the men’s category,” Potdevin said.
Opportunity also exists for smaller companies like American Giant, which sells hoodies, T-shirts and joggers for both men and women directly from the company’s website. According to Chief Executive Bayard Winthrop, that company is focused on quality clothing that has good styling and fit and is “in-law appropriate.”
“You can wear it and not feel like a schlub,” Winthrop said.
This clothing is also for more than just the weekend.
“There are a lot of young, entrepreneurial people who aren’t wearing button-ups and khakis,” he said.
So, like many things, this is a trend that has strong support among millennials.
“Fashion-focused millennials and a general societal shift toward healthier living appear to be two factors driving growth in the men’s athleisure category,” said Jared Wiesel, partner at the pricing and revenue-management consulting firm Revenue Analytics. “Set against a backdrop of floundering apparel sales, this category is likely to grow increasingly competitive as new players enter and fight for share of wallet.”
Mintel’s Men’s Clothing U.S. 2016 report found that 80% of 25- to 34-year-old men had purchased athletic clothing worn both in and out of the gym.
“While ‘stylishness’ in the past had a specific mainstream formula, in today’s society, a hoodie, T-shirt and jeans combined with a carefully selected carry-all bag may be considered ‘stylish’ by some men in a particular setting,” said Ghosh.