FASHION MEETS FUNCTION: The rise & rise of Athleisure

Amidst fluctuating sales in the Performance Sportswear market over recent years, the category of Athleisure, has emerged as an anomalous beacon of consistent growth. Going beyond sales figures and market-share, Athleisure also represents a defining cultural trend – where fashion meets function – born from the converging demands of the fast-paced, style-conscious consumers of today. Looking the part has become as important as leading an active lifestyle, particularly for younger generations, and sporting apparel brands are doubling down on this sustained market movement that has proven to be far from the fad it was once thought to be.

Although the precise origins of ‘sport-casual’ apparel remain hotly contested, it’s worth noting the contribution of brands that served as the vanguard in tapping the burgeoning trend and seeding it’s phenomenal expansion. Nearly 20 years ago, Lululemon hit the market with ‘yoga pants’ – the first product of it’s kind to merge technical sportswear with a comfortable, aesthetic appeal; clothing that is as suited to the gym as it is the street. Since its inception, popularity and prominence of this product category exploded, with today’s market for activewear leggings alone in the tens of billions globally. Catalysed by – at least in part – Lululemon’s innovation in the space, this approach to clothing design spread beyond the female-focus to men’s sportswear and athletically-inspired footwear – both subcategories experiencing similar atypical growth rates. Athleisure has rapidly become a distinct category unto itself, with its recent inclusion as an official dictionary term cementing it’s proliferation and profundity in the sportswear space. The Australian Athleisure market has eagerly followed the lead of global brands (including Nike, Adidas and Under Armour) and their capitalisation in the United States, and much can be learned from the drivers behind the stalwart shift in buyer preferences;

Active Lifestyles
Across the globe, the last decade has seen a spike in the promotion of the fitness industry – particularly across social media – leading to a greater focus on healthy living. Athleisure products have carved out a unique niche in this cultural space, allowing consumers to both participate in sporting activities and portray their identities as active individuals; using clothing as a social statement.

Formal Fashion Pushback
Not only has Athleisure apparel pervaded fitness and casual settings as the clothing of choice, it has even become increasingly acceptable as a fashionable form of work attire. Many progressive workplaces – particularly within creative fields largely comprised of millennial professionals – welcome comfortable sportswear as an appropriate alternative to formal business wear.

Strategic Partnerships
Leading Athleisure brands are increasingly leveraging fitness and fashion influencers to boost the cultural clout of the category, and building loyalty through the follower bases of these social ambassadors. Celebrity endorsements of the Athleisure movement not only inspire consumers to participate in an active lifestyle, but also feel part of the community through the products that represent it.

These factors, among others, have seen many Australian brands make bold moves to secure a slice of the growing Activewear market pie – as predictions for further expansion show promise exceeding that of the more mature categories in the active apparel sector. And for those brands looking to break out from conventional performance sportswear and take a punt on Athleisure, a swap from technical runners to running-inspired sneakers might be all that’s needed to get a foot in the door.

Making the Impossible Do’able

The practical approach to steep objectives

Growing up in the 90’s in the Adelaide Hills the rest of the world felt a long way away. New discoveries, geniuses, and game-changing breakthroughs seemed to always happen in exotic places a long way away. Nothing of gravity seemed to come from anywhere near me. Layer with this the apathy that came with being a teenager during the Grunge movement and the result was an attitude of impossible. When I grew up and travelled around the world, I quickly realised that people everywhere were normal people like us. They were not extra special, more talented, or cleverer.

It was an eye opener – I have the right to do brilliant things as much as anyone from Geneva, New York, or Oslo.

Grunge – full of angst and apathy

She had no right 1

We have recently seen countless examples of people achieving the seemingly impossible. Since writing about Ash Barty’s amazing major win (Ash the quitter), she has gone to number one in the world! We all thought it was impossible that any Aussie would climb to the peak of the mountain. Our tennis system that was apparently devoid of talent, money, and unity – Ash made a mockery of this assumption.

Ash wins the Birmingham Classic to become the World’s Number 1 Female Tennis Player

She had no right 2

Hannah Green, ranked 114th in the world, rolled up to Hazeltine (Minnesota USA), for the PGA Championship Major Tournament. Green went wire-to-wire (led all the way through the tournament) to win one of the toughest tournaments in the year. Green had no right to win in the minds of the “experts”. But she did. Game changing.

Sitting outside the top 100 ranked players, Hannah Green had no right to win a major tournament

They had no right

Leicester City captain Wes Morgan and manager Claudio Ranieri lift the trophy as the team celebrate winning the Barclays Premier League

In 2016, Leicester City Football Club (soccer) did the un-do’able. They won the Premier League. In an era where only the richest clubs win, this little club won matches. And kept winning. And won until there were no games left. It will always go down as one of the biggest anomalies ever seen in world sport. They were 5000-1 odds (NBC, In a league of their own). I am not a betting man, but I know that these are some of the longest odds in a comparable situation.

Still hard to believe. They didn’t have the resources, the squad, or the pedigree. But they did it. They achieved the impossible.
Still hard to believe. They didn’t have the resources, the squad, or the pedigree. But they did it. They achieved the impossible.

I could write for pages about such stories. And I draw on sport, because it is such a transparent workplace. Everything the leaders, players, and communities do is on show. We get great coverage and insights into what people are doing and how they do it. I feel that sporting stories relate directly to our own lives and workplaces where clear learnings we can be practically used.

This week, I shared an article by Francesco Gino on LinkedIn, written for Harvard Business Review (why curiosity matters). I am a big fan of Gino’s work on Rule Breaking. One statistic from Gino’s HBR article smacked me in the face:

70% of people she surveyed were scared to ask more questions in their workplace.

This is an alarmingly high number, but one I can understand. I am seen as an extravert with a big mouth, but I can often find myself afraid of asking questions from fear of looking dumb, even within a trusted environment of people. So, if we are afraid of asking questions, then it is no wonder that when faced with steep objectives we immediately feel they are unobtainable. How dare we question our assumptions that it is too hard?

Business Battle Lines have been drawn. Higher Up’s have laid out their strategies and they are dealing out the numbers they want to see achieved. Clients and competitors have done the same. If you are saying to yourself “that’s impossible”, then you are not alone (see my previous article on this; Tell em their dreaming). It is a natural response. But, you are also wrong. It is incorrect that ‘unrealistic targets’ are not achievable. They are. It just takes asking a few extra questions.

Starting with the mindset that your objectives are achievable is the first step.

Secondly, throw out the rule book. We discuss Audacity as one of the critical Behaviours That Matter in my programs. A part of this is separating ourselves from what we did. The controversial author, Jordan Peterson writes “the past is dead” in his book The 12 Rules of Life. Peterson is referring to the fact that what has happened cannot be changed as opposed to the future, which is still completely malleable.

The third step is implementation. What are the habitual behaviours you can set in motion now? The first one I would suggest is to set yourself to ask more questions. Inspired by Gino’s work, we can take that extra moment to discuss, question, and go deeper into what is happening, why it is happening, and how can it happen better?

Along with remembering the feats of Barty, Green, and Leicester City we can set ourselves up to not only achieve the impossible but set ourselves up to establish a new benchmark that could not have been imagined.

Healthy Habits: Small Steps To Staying Active

The benefits of physical activity are undeniable, yet many of us still struggle to find the time and motivation to incorporate exercise into our busy routines. Even as a nation known for its love of sports, less than a third of Australians reach the minimum recommended activity levels for maintaining physical and mental health, as well as preventing chronic diseases caused by sedentary lifestyles. Hitting the gym or joining a local sports team are perfect choices to get moving, but there’s plenty of ways to incorporate sustainable physical activity throughout the day. The list below outlines the low-hanging fruit for incremental improvement for health and happiness through movement;

Feet First
When it comes to low-effort, low-impact, low-cost activity – walking is hard to beat. There’s no better way to get the blood flowing and the heart beating than a brisk walk, and everyday is full of opportunities to up your step count. Starting in the morning – you could opt to jump off the train one stop early, or park your car a few minutes from the office to easily fit in a pre-work stroll. Taking the stairs as much as possible and putting your runners on for an active lunchtime are also simple ways of destroying desk-induced sluggishness. If you want to get even more physical bang for your buck, try out a ‘walk and talk’ meeting for your next work-related phone call – you might as well chew the fat while you’re burning it.

Burn Breaks
Long periods of stationary sitting aren’t good for your health, or part of an active lifestyle, so why not split them up with bursts of movement at regular intervals? If you don’t have access to standing desk, all you need to do is set a timer for 30-45 minutes increments as a reminder to stretch your legs and do some light activity. Some basic stretches, a walk to the water cooler, or even a few squats (without scaring your colleagues) adds a bonus calorie burn to your breaks and gives you a burst of energy for the next work session. The same rules apply for watching TV at the end of the day; ad-breaks make a perfect opportunity to jump off the couch for a quick set of push-ups, sit-ups or burpees.

Friendly Competition
There are few things more motivating than pitting yourself against others in a physical challenge. It doesn’t have to be serious, even a light-hearted competition between co-workers or friends can provide a real boost for achieving your daily activity goals with a social twist. If you have a pedometer, fitbit or health app on your phone – you can track your steps and compete with others to see who can reach the chosen step count first or who takes the most steps in a day. A little healthy competition never hurt anyone, and if the game is movement – everybody wins just by playing.

Get Creative
Once you’ve started to build in a few – or all – of these active habits into your day-to-day life, you’ll begin to see even more chances to squeeze in some extra movement. And when it comes to health and fitness, remember that small steps can lead to big benefits in the long run.

The 3 questions to be answered

Clarity and acceleration are on the other side

Competing priorities are a part of our lives. Time pressure from “other’s emergencies” seems to be a constant. Complexity of our working lives is increasing and does not look like stopping.

These are all statements that came from my last group discussion with a brand’s business leaders. All are sobering statements by themselves, and down right confronting as a trio.

So how can we tackle this? What are the practical ways to bring calm and control back into our workflows?

Matt Church, the Australian Motivational Speaker, speaks of “activity before clarity”. The message being to just go and do a lot of work and through lots of discussions, marketing, selling, and delivering, we will gain more and more clarity about our product, the market’s needs, and our value proposition. This makes sense to me. When I first started in field sales for Aveda in the UK as an Account Manager, I was told to make at least 10 client approaches a week to gain new business. This was not always easy, and at the time it was just as much about hitting the weekly KPI in my report as it was about winning business (we’ve all been there, right!?!)

But what happened was I became a lot clearer about my brand’s value, what problems we solved, where we had competitive advantage, and what I was looking for (ie. The type of client, the size of client, the state of a client, and the attitude of a client). Before I knew it, I was hitting the right prospects at the right time and exceeding targets without needing to do anywhere near 10 approaches a week. My weekly report didn’t have the required 10 filled in, but the boss didn’t seem to mind.

What I didn’t realise was that I was going through a long and painful process to answer three questions I didn’t even realise needed answering:

1.       What am I trying to achieve?

If there is one question that smashes professionals in the face and sits them on their back side, it is this. A succinct answer that feels right is hard to nail. It’s like your own mini Mission or Vision Statement. So many organisations have meaningless Mission Statements and vague Vision Statements, so it’s not hard to see why most of us as individuals can’t answer what seems to be such a simple answer. By the way, if your answer this question is “earn $X”, or “sell X units”, you are not even trying…

2.       Why am I doing what I am doing?

 As an Account Manager I used to drive for hours to client’s I knew would waste my time. Yet, I would waste several hours driving and meeting with them. Why? Because I was following the rules I had set up in my mind that didn’t exist. Because I didn’t realise how precious my time was. Because, I wasn’t engaged in my role. Sometimes there is politics involved, or circumstance, or we are being nice. By asking why I am doing the cycles of work I am doing, a lot of unproductive nonsense can be cut out.

3.       What do I need to do next?

The only thing we can do is the next thing. It may be to stop doing something that is not serving us. In my case, I needed to stop driving to client’s hours away that were not going to grow my business. Gary Vanderchuk talks about not wasting time as one of his key sales tactics. “When I know they don’t want to buy from me, I’ll cut the meeting short”, he says. That is one of his key actions that works for him. Consciously asking, ‘what needs to be done next?’ cuts through the aimlessness that causes ineffectual and wasteful workflows.

By asking these questions often, daily if needed, there is a powerful habit that forms to create clarity, purpose, and ongoing rhythm in our workflows.

When to reflect

A story of quitting on the way to the top

Ipswich, Queensland – 1996. Ashleigh Barty is born to an indigenous dad and a mother with English descendancy. Humble beginnings served Ash well, and her attitude was old school right from the start. She opted for tennis instead of netball as a child because, in her words “netball is a girls sport”. Ash rapidly became a gun tennis player winning the Wimbledon Juniors title at age 15.

Next step – the Pro’s. Ash would spend the next two years earning every start to every tournament she played in. Eventually Ash would experience some success in the doubles game more than singles. Ranked outside the top 200 in the world, Ash then made a decision… she quit.

“it was too much too quickly for me as I’ve been travelling from quite a young age… I wanted to experience life as a normal teenaged girl and have some normal experiences.”

Ash had a chat to some cricket administrators about trialling for a new WBBL (Womens Big Bash League) concept. Unlike others that tried to cross over from different sports, Ash had the goods and was signed up for the Brisbane Heat’s inaugural season.

Playing Twenty20 cricket fro Brisbane - taking a break

After two years hiatus, Ash decided to return to tennis in 2016. Starting from the bottom again, she would compete well straight away. Ash was now ready to take on the challenge of the Pro Tour. In 2017, The Malaysian Open becomes her first Top Tier (WTA) Singles Title, followed by a string of successes in the doubles game.

In a world of big personalities and brands like Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, Ash is unnoticeable. Almost invisible on the world stage. In Australia, the antics of Nick Kyrios get 100 times more column space in the papers than Ash. But like a skilled ninja she operates in the shadows slowly but surely working her way up the world rankings.

As Ernest Hemmingway once said, “everything in life happens gradually, and then suddenly”.

Boom – Ash Barty is the 2019 French Open Singles Champion. Ash Barty is the world ranked number two player in the world. Aged 23 years old. But she is not just a Major Winner. She is a force to be reckoned with. Her game is tight. She is strong, skillful, and strategic.

What a story.

The girl has come a long way

But, for me, this is a story of quitting. Ash taught us that we are all allowed to quit, but we can never give up on our ultimate goal. Ash never stopped being a professional tennis player, she just took some time out from playing tennis.

Angela Duckworth writes about the power of ‘never giving up’ in her book Grit.

ne of the building blocks of grit, or Tenacity as I put it, is the practice of committing to something hard. Duckworth’s rules are:

  1. You need to have one hard thing to practice regularly.
  2. You can quit, but only at a natural stopping point that is designated at the start.
  3. You choose your own.

Thank you Ashleigh Barty for teaching us about the power of quitting while never giving up.   

This article first appeared on https://www.paulfarina.com.au