Sweat and sparkles: Who's hot in activewear?

  • Opinion
  • April 28, 2016
  • Juanita Neville-Te Rito
Sweat and sparkles: Who's hot in activewear?

I’ve had the recent good pleasure to need to acquire some activewear. Due to an overwhelming desire to get back to my retail roots, I’ve taken it upon myself to inject a little more balance in my life (and I don’t mean Body Balance classes). What I have discovered with my change in lifestyle, is that there is truly a uniform to be worn in the suburbs on a weekday morning. It tends to be quite put together. Stretchy.

Often the latest colour’s with matching shoes. One can wear it walking the kids to school, over coffee with friends, in the supermarket, doctor’s surgery, practically anywhere - and it can even be worn until school pick-up, which seems quite unhygienic to me. This uniform is one of the key drivers to the cool and ever growing category of Athleisure.

Yes, the parody on YouTube might cut a bit close to the bone (I did go grocery shopping in my activewear), but the burgeoning Athleisure category is hot with everyone from Kmart to Louis Vuitton wanting a piece of the action.

Elly Strang from The Register wrote a great piece covering some of the driving factors around the category which has driven the likes of Lululemon’s share up 20% in the last few months and spawn collaborations such as Beyonce and Topshop.

But who are the rising retail stars here and abroad beyond lululemon?


Owned by Gap Inc, Athleta is one of my “go to” retailers whenever I am in the US. Athleta has been about since 1998 and was acquired by Gap in 2008 and have been delivering clothes that are versatile and fashionable for a “life in motion.” Gap, which has been struggling with sales for some time, has high hopes for Athleta with over 120 stores throughout the US and more to open this fiscal year.

Athleta stores are not dissimilar to the layout of a lululemon, but I find the functionality and depth and breadth of range far more extensive, with team members who are a little more real and less “chi” than their lululemon counterparts. On a recent trip to the US, I was delighted to see that whatever your size or shape, you could easily access cool, functional athlesiure wear at about 2/3 of what you would pay at lululemon.

Image: Fillmore Street, San Francisco

They also recognize that often your shopping partner might need a rest and have created a seated area adjacent to a community area. A place where you can find out everything you need to know about activities and lifestyle related stuff in your area.

Image: Fillmore Street, San Francisco

Athleta has also recently hitched its brand to the girl power bandwagon. Called “The Power of She,” the campaign includes a 15-second TV spot, a longer version for digital, as well as display, mobile and social. “The frenemy is finished. Undermining is over,” which is such a lovely now message to engage your brand with, as it shows girls and women swimming, surfing, fencing, kickboxing, dancing and running. It also coincides with the launch of its Athleta Girls range which promotes activity for pre-tweens to teens.

The Power of She

Stirling Sports Woman

Image: Inside Retail

A little closer to home Stirling Sports have recently launched a flagship women’s store at Sylvia Park. And I have to admit, on every visit I have purchased something. What I think this store has been able to do is curate a tight, well presented range of product which is on-trend and is not too expensive.

The beauty of the selected range are you aren’t going to see everyone else wearing your look and the stories are brought together well in-store to take the guess work out of creating “your look”. As well as your typical Nike and Adidas, there is a great selection of Under Armour, Lorna Jane and Adidas StellaSport.

I do hope they open more of these store. Located in a mall or a high street it is such a pleasurable experience to wander a dedicated woman’s section that looks, feels and smells better than your standard sports store. It’s no Lorna Jane (I’ll cover that another blog), but it is a great start. My one criticism. They do need to start building their community however, sooner rather than later.


Founded in 2012, Stylerunner has shown triple-digit year-on-year growth and has managed to firmly establish itself in the highly competitive activewear market. 

Australian-based, this business is a pure-play retailer selling brands from 2XU to Camilla & Marc. What drives the Stylerunner business is they’re  adept at understanding their audience and as such, connect incredibly via digital media. 

There is not a morning I open my Instagram, that I’m not lured to purchasing another cool product that will make me look the part or feel like a supermodel athlete.

Image: Stylerunner

Stylerunner has also adopted a cult following, who purchase purely off the Insta posts. Again women like me with a dream or hard out Aussie chicks who actually look amazing in the product (I’m not the latter).

Wouldn’t I look this amazing and cool if I had these shoes?

Stylerunner co-founder Julie Stevanja was just last week named Young Retail Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2016 World Retail Congress in Dubai. The award recognises young retail entrepreneurs who have seized the potential of new technology to be able to question existing retail sectors and products, and to re-think ways of delivering to customers or opening up new niches. Testament to the powerful retail offering.

Kit and Ace

In a league all of it’s own, Kit and Ace, the technical luxury apparel retailer that has its roots in Lululemon, is on it’s way to New Zealand.

Image: Kit and Ace, Lolita

A Canadian apparel brand, Kit and Ace was founded in 2014 by the former lead designer of lululemon, Shannon Wilson and her stepson JJ Wilson. Their inspiration….after spending years dressed head to toe in stretchy performance wear, they were looking for clothing that offered the same functionality but met their desire for sophistication, style and luxury. Since they couldn’t find what they were looking for, they created it.

This isn’t gear you would really want to work a sweat up in. These products are like being placed into a cocoon of silk to simply exist. Wax-lyrical I may, but until you try these products, you have no idea what you are missing out on. Kit and Ace is based on the idea of comfort, but takes it out of the gym.

Image: Kit and Ace, Melbourne

This brand lives and breathes its spirit and culture. On a visit to the Melbourne outpost of Kit and Ace I was escorted on a journey by the Junior Shop Director Kate. She knew the technical detail of every product and how it would make my life just that little bit better.

The store fit-out was clean, sharp, well curated and easy to navigate, with stories of inspiration and art throughout.

Image: Local art you could purchase from the Kit and Ace store, Melbourne

More recently Kit and Ace have introduced pop-up shoes in chic hotels across the globe. Called The Carry-on, and being open for just a few days in San Francisco, L.A, Melbourne, London, Sydney and New York, offering a pared-down collection of the company’s travel-friendly clothes. Based on feedback from shoppers on just how amazing the clothes are to travel in, the idea became a reality.

Kit and Ace have now more than 60 stores and growing with NZ on the cards soon. They focus on building local communities and where possible the store fit-out is both designed and made locally, crediting each artisan’s work.

Image: Local artisan craftsmanship credited - truely hyper local

Each store compiles something called The List, which might include anything from restaurant and club ideas from its influencers, to cool hotels in the area. In Melbourne we found a couple of retailers we may not have trudged further up the road to find nor the hole in the wall amazing coffee.

Their content play; The Brief, are well curated editions of important, need to know stuff as part of this tight knit community. Everything from health, culture, lifestyle and wellbeing and how to make it a part of your daily life.

What each of these retailers have done, which makes them worth mentioning, is they have gone beyond the act of simply stocking product to appeal to woman who want to work out or be comfortable within their active leisure.

Yes, retailing is about selling goods. However, these brands have built an art around the offer. A balancing act and perfect combination of:

  • Giving you reasons to believe: product delivering what it proclaims - and that can be making you simply fit in with the mummy-brigade
  • Telling you those stories with authenticity: being curated and presented in a way that actually appeals and propels you to covet - a picture tells a thousand-words; and
  • Making you feel like a part of a community: a special group of you who know better than anyone else what this brand/product does for your wellbeing. Sometimes simply mental wellbeing.

This was republished from Neville-Te Rito's blog, Retail Geek.

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