Why is athleisure so damn expensive?
Your workout clothes are usually, by their very nature, your grossest clothes. After running or doing yoga or flinging your body around on an elliptical, your pants are soaked with sweat. The same probably goes for the T-shirt or workout top that you wear too.
Because of that, maybe you think it’s nonsensical for yoga pants to cost more than, say, $20. What are you doing in them, anyway? Sweating right through, yeah? And who’s seeing them? The nice people at your gym, a judgement-free zone, or strangers outside, whose memory of you will vanish in seconds.
But if you’ve ever shopped for workout clothes — or athleisure, which most define as workout clothes that you can feasibly walk around in post-workout without feeling weird — you know that that shit is expensive.
Studio to street. Office to Crossfit. Meetings to mat. That’s the mantra of Ardy Raminfar, the president of the luxe fitness fashion brand Vimmia, which started making athletic clothing in 2012. “I strongly believe that athleisure involves clothing that is versatile, and is not limited to one particular activity,” Raminfar said in an interview. “A piece of clothing that you cannot wait to put on and hate to take off. A legging that makes you feel sexy at the office or out on the town, but can withstand the most strenuous workout. A T-shirt that looks like something you see on the cover of a magazine but is perfect for Barre.”
Yoga pants at the very popular athletic brand Lululemon can be as much as $118, with sports bras alone going for around $100. All that money, for clothes that are made for you to sweat right through, peel off your skin and then rewear if you’re brave enough.
According to a number of brands we talked to though, between the production of this athleisure, the technology that goes into it and the fabrics, the price adds up.
“So we have probably more of a complex process than even a ready-to-wear collection,” Nadine-Isabelle Baier, the co-founder of athletic fashion brand Aeance, said in an interview. “We have to invest a lot in development. We have to research the textiles and it has to be absolutely functional in every aspect. It has to be functional in every situation of the day. We have a very versatile product, and complex in the requirement of the textile.”
For Baier, she got into this business to fill this void in truly fashionable and high-quality athletic gear. “You go running, you go to Whole Foods. You don’t want to look like RoboCop,” Baier said. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable in my sportswear, and I would go to Whole Foods and think i wasn’t comfortable. I wanted to look dressed. I didn’t want to have this feeling that I was naked, or that I smelled.”
Aeance’s athletic tights, which are minimal and indeed fashionable, go for $160 or more, and one jacket they sell is $535. But that being said, that jacket is made from fabric described as: “Ultra-light, four-way stretchable and breathable three-layer schoeller-WB fabric (made in Switzerland) with industry-leading, waterproof bionic c_change membrane technology. The fabric bionically adapts the breathability of the fabric in response to weather conditions and body temperature, assuring a consistently ideal body climate. Water column >10.000 mm. Bluesign and Oeko-tex certified.”
Not exactly “just cotton” or “just spandex.”
It’s a similar story for Vimmia, which has its own Vimmia X collection that combines technology and fabric. Vimmia X leggings go for $180 and the top is $156. Vimmia’s leggings that are not part of its X collection hover around $100.
But Vimmia X’s styles promote things like “thermoregulation,” which is what allows the human body to “maintain its core internal temperature by balancing both heat gain and heat loss.” According to the website, each piece is made with “state-of-the-art technological yarn that has been proven to show higher thermal efficiency and better thermal homogenization than garments made with polyester or nylon, helping an individual avoid the pitfalls stated above.” The website goes on to claim that the fabrics they use have proven to increase blood circulation, improve blood flow to muscles, increase recovery speed and reduce muscle vibration.
Again, it’s not just a cotton or spandex garment we’re talking about.
What both of these brands stressed too is that they don’t produce in areas that are cheaper for production and fabrics. Aeance produces in Europe. Vimmia produces in the United States. They’re not using the cheapest labor on earth, and so therefore the prices are higher, but you are — according to them — getting a more pristine, quality product.
However, there are of course cheaper athleisure options out there. Kate Hudson’s Fabletics, for example, is a subscription-style athleisure brand that has succeeded because of its low costs. And that has been possible, according to Felix del Toro, the senior vice president and chief merchandise and design officer at Fabletics, because of its no-waste model that pays close attention to actual demand.
“Because our members share their style and size preferences and agree to visit us monthly to preview new collections, we can predict demand with 95% accuracy, allowing us to eliminate waste,” del Toro said in an email. “This approach reduces our overhead as much as 50% compared to traditional retailers. These savings are given back to our customers by giving them high-quality, on-trend styles that typically would retail for twice the price. Many of our competitors are required to mark up merchandise to compensate for leftover product, while we are able to keep our prices low.”
But then there is also an argument that athleisure and workout clothes aren’t ones you should pay the fewest dollars for, given what you’re asking from these garments. If you are a highly active person, then you probably want clothing that isn’t going to fail you.
“For some reason, people think sports clothing should be in a certain price range,” Arendt van Deyk, the co-founder of Aeance, said in an interview. “Would you rather buy one great product than wear three pairs of Asia-made things that will far apart? It’s a matter of perspective and it’s not wrong if you decide to go to a cheaper product, if it’s not your priority. But if someone cares, then you would always buy the better product that will last your entire life.”
Different strokes for different kinds of athletic folks, we suppose.