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Fashion and Fabrics: The Rise of Athleisure and Why You’ll Love this Trend

We head out to Barcelona to attend the P&G Future Fabrics summit which brings together powerhouses in the fashion world, including blogger Susie Bubble and designer Giles Deacon, to explore the recent trend of 'athleisure' and how it is shaking up the industry and impacting people worldwide...

Morning has broken; it is cold and windy in Barcelona as we sit in the conference room of the delicious Hotel Arts, facing the Mediterranean Sea. On stage is fashion designer Giles Deacon, invited by fabric care brands Ariel and Downy to explain the trend that has been taking the runways by storm, from Beyonce’s Topshop collection, to Ted Baker and Nike: athleisure aka the art of wearing athletic clothes in a non-athletic setting.

“Comfort and style have not always been a match but we are working towards a world where that synergy can happen, where an outfit can look good and feel good,” says Deacon, renowned around the world for his playful, show-stopping designs. The summit, entitled ‘P&G Future Fabrics’, was organised by P&G fabric care brands Ariel and Downy, who joined forces with the iconic designer to explore the trend and the fabrics associated with it, launching an exclusive limited-edition capsule collection consisting of sleek, washable garments.

Deacon’s words would materialise as soon as we stepped outside the hotel a few hours later, as the streets of Barcelona seemed like a real-life runway reflecting the trend we had just heard about: yoga pants paired with black leather jackets, sneakers matched with classy coats, and sporty jackets perching on smart trousers. But Athleisure is also big business, says Boutique One’s legendary expert Paula Reed. The trend, exploring new frontiers in the fashion experience, is on its path to establish itself as one of the fastest-growing fashion segments by 2020. “The 2015 athleisure market is said to be worth an estimated £32 billion a year globally, including trainers. It used to be that only sportswear brands like Nike and Adidas were popular but now we are finding consumers are willing to buy from fashion brands doing sportswear,” Reed says.

The athleisure boom, she explains, is driven by an increased interest in fitness, but also sustained by the development of comfortable and hi-tech materials that offer peak performance and also look good, placing sartorial value on the same level as style.

With the advent of wearable tech and James-Bond-like garments incorporating sensors, clothing care becomes an increasingly important sector. From reflective fabrics, once worn by construction workers, to neoprene and wearable sensors, the fabrics being used are increasingly diversifying, posing the challenge of fabric care in a world that spins too fast for us to stop and ponder the importance of adequately caring for your clothes. “I like this idea of an analogy between skincare or hair care and clothes care, using three-step processes like clean, protect, and enhance,” says top fashion blogger Susie Bubble.

Susie Bubble speaking about Fashion in Motion at the Future Fabrics Summit. 

According to P&G fabric care brands Ariel and Downy, 60% of the garments we wear today contain material other than cotton, such as knitted fabrics, polyester, Lycra, new wools, and many other fabrics. So what would become of comfortable clothes without fabric quality, ask global brands Ariel and Downy, as they delve into the future of fashion through this massive conference where fashion designers, fabric scientists, and industry leaders discuss the paths taking the apparel industry into an exciting and whole new direction; a trend that, according to many, signals a cultural and lifestyle shift related to our newfound mania with healthier lifestyles and wellbeing.

“The idea of Fashion in Motion is a lifestyle shift towards integrating fabrics and silhouettes once strictly categorised as sportswear, into our everyday attire because our lives are ultimately speeding up – working harder has made us think harder about what it’s doing to our bodies,” says Bubble. 

“Our lifestyles are changing,” she explains. “We care about what we eat. How many images of ‘avotoast’, ‘green juice’ and ‘kale salad’ have popped up on your feed recently?” she asks, noting the increasing fitness options as a social phenomenon. “Look at Nike Training Club’s 70 million strong following,” she continues. “We’re also in more flexible working environments that allow us to be casual. The office dress code is shifting to accommodate athleisure wear. We have Mark Zuckerberg to thank for thinking that a hoodie and jeans will aid innovation.”

According to a recent global survey commissioned by P&G Fabric Care, 71% of consumers consider active-inspired clothes as part of their “normal” everyday clothes. “There’s also a whole host of brands that cater specifically to this Athleisure category, so much so that Net-a-Porter has created a Net-a-Sporter section,” Bubble notes.

Associated with the influence of pop and street culture, including musicians, sportsmen and celebrities, the trend finds its grounds in what experts call the psychology of clothing. "Clothes cognition works in unconscious ways, and influences us even without the social feedback we get from wearing them,” says Dr. Lawrence Rosemblum, author of the book See What I’m Saying: The Extraordinary Powers of Our Five Senses. “Athleisure has an implicit association that boosts our energy without us being aware."

Ariel's fibre scientists explaining participants how fabric care products make a difference in activewear comfort.  

The psychologist partnered with Ariel and Downy to embark on a series of studies on the phenomenon of ‘Enclothed Cognition,’ a term which describes the subconscious effects of our clothes on the way we perceive ourselves, the way we think, our moods and behaviour. “There are definitely cognitive consequences of wearing formal clothes versus casual clothes. Our clothing changes the way we perceive ourselves, but also the way the brain works, how it forms concepts, and the kind of decisions we make as a result. Our clothes affect us on an entirely different level that exists without other people telling us how we look and feel.” Indeed, a massive 70% of people claim wearing fresh, active-inspired clothing can make them feel more energetic, and 62% say it increases confidence, according to a global study conducted by P&G.

Meanwhile, at the demo labs held at the event, P&G Future Fabrics’ scientists meticulously show the science of clothing care, as they reveal an upsetting statistic: we spend 80% of our time wearing 20% of our clothes, and a big portion of those new ones we buy – a surprising 80%-are “someday clothes,” bound to sit in our closet unworn. The reason? Scientists refer to it as “wash anxiety,” an often overlooked phenomenon that prompts us to keep those clothes we cherish unworn out of fear of consuming them in the repetitive washing process.

“It is now really up to people like the P&G experts here to seize the opportunity to provide the new fashion consumers with ways to care for these clothes. The clothes that are part of the ahtleisure trend are all about a low maintenance lifestyle and specialist dry cleaning has no part in that,” says Reed.

The day is coming to an end as Giles Deacon presents his washable capsule collection conceived in collaboration with P&G, crafting a fashion show dominated by polka dots, geometric patterns, and super stretch fabrics that all have a common quality: celebrating the best of both worlds: body-aware but not constricting; high stretch and comfort, washable and versatile, stylish and casual.

You can find out more on their Instagram account @pgfuturefabrics.
All images courtesy of P&G.