You are now leaving this site and you'll be redirected to the Interbrand Global website.


Athleisure & the rise of wellness tribes

Last week, fitness/music/fashion-focused retailer Bandier opened a 3-story flagship store in New York’s Flatiron district. Just blocks away, Lululemon, its female youth brand ivivva, and Sweaty Betty also recently opened doors. Stroll down the block, and you’ll notice that both athletic standbys like Athleta, Gap, Nike, and Reebok and fashion stalwarts like Express, Old Navy, and Victoria’s Secret are all featuring workout gear in their windows.

Wellness is becoming pervasive as the movement from healthcare to wellcare grows. Our clothes, watches, phones, and more are allowing us to buy our own personal wellness ecosystems, and brands are jumping on this opportunity in a big way.

Assessing the Market

The massive rise of athleisure is nothing new; the trend has been steadily growing for the past decade, and the market doesn’t show signs of slowing. Global sales are projected to hit $189 billion in 2020, up from $153 billion in 2015. Stella McCartney started making activewear in 2004 and designers like Derek Lam, Tory Burch, Betsey Johnson, Trina Turk, and Rebecca Minkoff have all gotten in the game since. The variety in style and function of these lines expands the number of people who can self-identify as wellness warriors. Meanwhile, more traditional athletes and fitness fanatics can take advantage of expanded products and tech innovations from classic sports retailers like Nike and Under Armour. This growing market of consumers and competitors means wellness brands now face the challenge of developing a clear identity and unique offering in a crowded, cross-industry landscape.

Identifying the Tribes

While athletic wear options have been expanding over the past 10 years, so have fitness communities, well beyond the local gym: e.g., Soul Cycle, Class Pass, Barry’s Bootcamp, and even CrossFit. The quest for wellness has become more prominent, and people have taken more active roles in their health—from wearing a Fitbit to seeking out more personalized insurance plans. But it’s also become more popular to “show off” your healthy side and use brands to display allegiance to a community with a distinct set of values. Smart brands are taking hold of this trend and building their own communities, either within stores, in the local area, or online. Nike’s Run Clubs, Reebok’s FitHubs, and Athleta’s free mat classes are examples. Earlier this year, we saw Under Armour, whose Chicago Brand House features the first wearables bar, release HealthBox, a connected fitness system. And even sports supplements such as PERFORMIX are in the game, with apps to track performance, motivate you to workout, and encourage you to share your accomplishments.

Embracing the Opportunity

The intersection of community with products and services seems to be the sweet spots for brands playing in this space. By blending hallmarks of luxury with tech and entertainment, successful brands are creating the perfect balance of exclusivity and accessibility—and making it hard for you to quit them. Maybe you’ve never even heard of Bandier, for example, but you’ve probably heard of Beats and Madonna. The new Bandier space hosts a fitness studio that will feature classes with Madonna’s former trainer Nicole Winhoffer. And when you’re done sweating it out (in your Human Performance Engineering anti-microbial body cooling capris), you can listen to jams at the Beats station or head to the music lounge for a live show.

Maybe a celebrity-lifestyle level fitness routine is not for you, and you won’t be lounging in Bandier’s satiny couches anytime soon. But as the definition of health continues to expand and the hunger for wellness brands grows, crafting the right customer experiences will play a large role in longevity and loyalty.

If you operate in the health and wellness space, how can you build tribes amongst the people you serve? How do you create meaningful experiences that make those outside want to get in? Most importantly, how do you become relevant beyond your intended use and cultivate customers that embrace smart partnerships, adopt product extensions, and recognize differentiation in an incredibly crowded space?

As the focus on healthy living continues, wellness brands that can creatively address these questions will shore up success by garnering devoted brand ambassadors and an expanded share of the market.


Director of Marketing, InterbrandHealth