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From workout to wardrobe
ACTIVEWEAR as daywear is having a moment, with more Singaporeans throwing on performance leggings and mesh tanks for a coffee run instead of a half-marathon. It doesn't matter if you're out for a spot of shopping rather than circuit training - with a bit of creativity, sportsgear is leaving the confines of the gym and staking its claim on everyday wear's sartorial turf.
"I was living in my Lululemons - I even went to work in them," says Melanie Teo, a marketing communications executive. "I would wear Wunder Under leggings that can pass off as black capris if you don't look very closely, with a Cool Racerback tank top and a long-sleeved, off-shoulder top, and ballet flats."
Ms Teo was introduced to the Canadian athletic apparel brand in 2012 by a friend when she just joined a gym and started shopping for workout clothes. She became addicted to activewear because of the comfort and convenience: One could simply change a top to a sports bra and tank and pop over to the gym right after work. The avid fan of Lululemon only swapped her sporty looks for more traditional office attire to adhere to the dress code at a new job.
Last year, a parody video by Sydney comedic group Skit Box of women donning activewear to buy groceries, grab a coffee or watch a movie went viral with over 4 million views. But the idea of wearing a cropped Stella McCartney hoodie sweatshirt and Athletic Propulsion Lab mesh sneakers is the opposite of lazy girl dressing, and has become widely accepted as chic streetwear or even as Casual Friday attire.
"While activewear as part of daily wear may not be suited for every person and their corporate environment, it could easily suit others in a non-corporate landscape who might be looking more for something comfortable and fashionable," says Kenji Oh, marketing director of Asics Asia.
"I think it is not uncommon to spot someone wearing Asics Tiger limited-edition sneakers at an advertising agency or someone in retail pulling off a pair of Onitsuka Tiger handmade sneakers, a jacket from our collaboration with Andrea Pompilio, with jeans."
Even high fashion retailers such as Pedder On Scotts - better known for its vertiginous heels - has introduced extensive ranges of sports footwear from athletic wear giants such as Puma, Adidas and Nike and indie labels such as technical sneaker brand and cult favourite label Athletic Propulsion Lab to its Sports Zone. Similarly, homegrown athleisure concept boutique Seek, located at ION Orchard and Raffles City, stocks the usual suspects as well as smaller labels such as ICNY. The latter was started by its founder Mike Cherman after he was hit by a car while riding his bike home after work. He started sticking reflective fabric onto his socks, before starting an entire brand creating reflective sports apparel that look as good during a night run as they do in a nightclub.
"Our region is still enjoying the early uptrend of the athleisure wave, with brands like Lululemon, Nike and Under Armour leading the pack when they started retailing and marketing to the trendsetters and early adopters in Singapore," says Irwin Lim, a retail entrepreneur who started Seek last year, after opening lifestyle retail chain Cumulus and Nimbus.
"There is definitely a noticeable movement of 'athleisure as luxury'. We will continue to see designers across the fashion spectrum including sneakers into their collections. Even brands such as Louis Vuitton have sneakers and varsity jackets. Traditional Savile Row tailors are experimenting with grey melange, traditionally used in activewear, or styling their suits with sneakers."
Even a new outdoor lifestyle store, which stocks tents in cool prints and utilitarian mess tins is tapping the potential of their products being used in everyday life, not just for camping. Started early this year in a bid to encourage urban dwellers to head outdoors, the Terrainware boutique at Pandan Gardens looks more like a hipster lifestyle pop-up in Tokyo with gravel-filled floors and a clean layout, than a surplus and adventure shop.
"I have customers who bought the tents to use as a playpen for their kids," says Nicholas Beh, owner of Terrainware. "And Singaporeans love to secretly squeeze three adults in one hotel room during a staycation or holiday. The extra person usually covers up with a towel as requests for additional blankets might arouse the suspicion of the hotel staff. A normal sleeping bag will also do just fine, but the Napsack by a brand we carry, Poler, is a quilted sleeping bag that can be unzipped at the shoulders so you can use it as a jacket when you're watching a movie on the couch in comfort."
Tapping the trend in incorporating activewear into one's everyday wardrobe, athletic brands are certainly evolving to include multitasking apparel that caters to many occasions and purposes. Brands like Lululemon have even branched out into regular threads like its Power Date Blazer, but amped up with innovative details like sweat-wicking spacer fabric which boasts a four-way stretch for added mobility when you want to reach for that overhead handrail on the train or engage in high-speed typing on the laptop.
"We live in a summer-all-year-round country and the reality is, we do appreciate, and it only makes sense to be wearing breathable outfits; clothes that we can work in comfortably and, in some cases, party in," says Mr Oh.
"Asics Tiger is in fact positioned as a sports lifestyle brand versus Asics, the true sports performance brand, to cater to the different needs of the consumer in making activewear a daily staple. The trend of designers working with sports brands and even high-fashion brands are making sneakers these days help shift the whole sportswear culture to one that is part of mainstream fashion."
However, brands with roots in sporting wear still attempt to maintain a fine line between its status as a go-to label for serious athletes, to folk whose main form of exercise revolves around channel surfing and marathon shopping sprees.
"The athleisure wear market is definitely poised for positive growth but authenticity is key," says Adrian Chai, chief marketing officer of Triple, the distributor for US sports clothing company Under Armour.
"Under Armour's focus has always been and will continue to be on high-performance sportswear and a true innovator. The technology behind our products is crucial - our products must work to enhance the sports performance of their users and this willalso appeal to those who want to look good."
Rather than try to reinforce the divide between super-technical products that are more aerodynamic to entice the weekend sports warrior, the biggest sports brands are embracing the transition to activewear for less active pursuits.
"Today, more than ever, fashion and sportswear are merging in the gym, on the track or on the street," says Karin Baust, general manager of Running and Training at Puma.
"The lines between pure performance and lifestyle are less defined and Puma is able to provide products that have the technology to help consumers perform at their best while looking their best."
Besides, even fans of activewear cringe at wearing the same tank and tights around the clock, like Deborah Tan, director of a content marketing agency.
"I will only wear it to the office if I know I am going to work out after to save myself the effort of changing in the office or gym," says Ms Tan. "But I find the athleisure trend actually rather lame - if you don't work out at all, you shouldn't be wearing activewear.