The Battle of the Athleisure Brands — Top Brands & Those Growing Fastest

The Battle of the Athleisure Brands — Top Brands & Those Growing Fastest

retail data study

Who are the top and growing athleisure brands in the U.S.? Since 2016, demand for athleisure wear has been exploding with endless brands and styles from which to choose. Using a multi-prong approach, we conducted a meta-analysis of popular press articles covering athleisure and gathered Google Trends data. Then, we polled the public on their favorite athleisure brands. This article will examine the top athleisure brands, growing market competition, and athleisure consumers’ demographics. 

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Our Most Interesting Findings

    1. With fierce competition and marketing strategies, today’s top brands may not be tomorrow’s.
    2. Quality is king, according to our survey, proving why premium brands continue to lead the market.
    3. More retail locations, experiential shopping, and building a brand culture are common tactics among the leaders.
    4. There’s a battle within demographics—Nike wins age 45-54, Athleta and Lululemon are fighting over age 35-44, and Alo Yoga has its sights set on the youth market.
    5. Some brands are getting more media mentions than their current market share, an optimistic sign for growth.
    6. Only ~7% of American athleisure wear shoppers are loyal to only one brand.
    7. Wearing athleisure wear for both exercise and leisure is more common for younger age 18-24 consumers.

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We analyzed popular press articles and Google Trends data, then surveyed 347 athleisure enthusiasts to find the top and growing athleisure brands in the U.S. Our analysis reveals tighter than expected competition between athleisure lines, a lack of brand loyalty and unique marketing approaches from developing brands. 

Top Athleisure Brands

Lululemon is the preferred brand in the U.S., with 27.09% of total respondents selecting, according to our survey results. We can project with 95% confidence that 22.41% to 31.77% of the general adult U.S. population interested in athleisure products prefer Lululemon as their favorite brand. Lululemon’s recent second-quarter financial summary backs the alleged hype; the company reports a 61% increase in net revenue over Q2 2020. Lululemon also opened 11 new stores in Q2 alone, bringing the international total to 534 stores. 

There is potential that Nike is the true favorite; 21.04% of total respondents selected Nike, and we project that 16.75% to 25.33% of the general U.S. population interested in athleisure products prefer Nike as their favorite brand. If the proper preference for Lululemon is ~22% and Nike is ~25%, then Nike wins.

Although in second place overall, Nike is a top favorite among those ages 45-54, with 28% of respondents in this age group selecting Nike. 

A Google Trends analysis of the top four brands in our survey results reveals that searches for Brand X + Athleisure rank closer in distribution than searches for a brand name alone. For example, pulling Google Trends data for the top four survey brands: Lululemon, Nike, Athleta and Adidas, show a ranking distribution that puts Nike as a clear leader, Lululemon close behind with Athleta and Adidas tailing. When searching for these four brands plus the keyword athleisure, results tell a different story. Over the past five years, Google search rankings in the U.S. for Lululemon, Nike, Athleta and Adidas athleisure distributed tightly with no natural leader between the top four. This finding is critical because it shows that leading brands are still scrapping for market share with no defined leader based on Google Trends popularity for the specific athleisure market.

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Growing Athleisure Brands

Sweaty Betty came in the top five athleisure brands, according to our recent survey. The ranking they earned is evident of brand preference growth in the U.S. 3.75% of survey respondents selected the brand as their favorite. We project with 95% confidence that 1.75% to 5.75% of the general U.S. adult population interested in athleisure products prefer Sweaty Betty as their preferred brand.

Founded the same year (1998) as Lululemon, Sweaty Betty brands itself as a boutique. Initially founded as a competitor to Lululemon, Sweaty Betty’s growth has been slower. However, the brand niches itself among celebrity favorites like Jennifer Aniston and Halle Berry. Headquartered in London, Sweaty Betty previously focused on U.K. markets. Still, a recent acquisition of the company by US-based Wolverine World Wide Inc. for nearly $410 million could boost the brand’s market potential in the States if they decide to focus more on American markets.  

Athleta is in a solid third place according to our survey results. Athleta was also founded in 1998 and later acquired by Gap in 2008. Based on the empowering message, “The Power of She,” Athleta initially struggled for market share in the late 20th century. As women empowerment, comfortable women’s clothing and inclusiveness became part of the mainstream, Athleta’s original mission aligns with what athleisure consumers want in company culture. Out of our total respondents, 17.8% love Athleta the most, correlating with a projected 13.84% to 21.90% of interested U.S. adults preferring Athleta over all other brands.

Demand for Athleta is booming, evident in Gap’s recent Q2 earnings report, with net sales for Athleta up 35% over Q2 2019. The company aims to earn $2 billion in net sales by 2023. They are setting the track to meet this goal — Athleta and REI announced a partnership this month, bringing a curated selection of Athleta products to over 135 REI stores nationwide.

Those ages 35-44 likely prefer Athleta as much as Lululemon due to overlapping statistical confidence intervals. We project that 14.69% to 29.75% of the general population ages 35-44 interested in athleisure prefer Athleta. Compared with Lululemon’s projected preferences in this age group — 16.12% to 31.66% — Athleta is likely just as loved as Lululemon by those in their early middle ages.

Alo Yoga is a younger brand than many of its competitors. Founded in 2007, Alo Yoga has witnessed tremendous growth in the last 14 years. The company ranked second in our meta-analysis and placed tenth in our survey results. Alo Yoga is clever in its approach to gaining market share; it is as if the company is trying a flanking maneuver to gain ground in the athleisure realm. While everything is going online, Alo Yoga continues to open experiential retail locations — they call sanctuaries — promising the experience of a like-minded community, complete with kombucha on tap and classes. Even more unique is Alo Yoga’s approach to target children — the future yogis.

According to Grand View Research, the children’s yoga clothing market is expected to grow the fastest through 2025, with a compound growth rate of 7.5%. Alo Yoga is attempting a marketing strategy that worked wonders for Apple, building brand loyalty in youth translating into lifelong loyal customers. The company launched a non-profit foundation, Alo Gives, that encourages children to take up yoga, fitness and mindfulness practices. The company is more than just making high-end athleisure; they are trying to create a community and culture — Apple doesn’t have the largest market cap in the world from just selling computers, after all!

Consumer Preferences

Athleisure is about quality of life and balance. Athleisure consumers are in tune with this sentiment from the overarching idea of athleisure to the threads in their fabrics. A whopping 41.5% of survey respondents said quality is the most influential factor for why they love their chosen favorite brand. This factoid drowns out the 8.9% of respondents who said they lead with price when purchasing athleisure wear. Athleisure can be expensive, but consumers are not balking at higher athleisure prices because they find value in the high-line products they select.

Comfort is also a crucial deciding factor for many athleisure consumers. 100% of respondents who selected the following brands as their favorite listed comfort as their number one reason for preferring that brand: 

  • Bally Total Fitness
  • Beyond Yoga
  • Brooks Sports
  • Gaiam
  • MPG Sport
  • Outdoor Voices
  • PUMA
  • Victoria’s Secret

How much leisure is actually involved in athleisure? It turns out quite a lot! Nearly two-thirds of all survey respondents indicated that they wear their athleisure products equally between workouts and leisure. This figure breaks down when examining the results by age bracket. Split use for athleisure peaks for 18–24-year-olds at 69% and drops steadily, reaching only 45.5% of those 55+. After age 25, as people get older, they wear athleisure products less and less for both exercise and leisure and more for only relaxation. 35-44-year-olds use athleisure products solely for workouts more than any other age group.

Let’s look at how sticky consumers are with their brand preferences. We polled our survey respondents on whether they own more than one brand of athleisure wear. The resounding response is YES — 95% of respondents said they own more than one brand of athleisure wear, indicating leaders in the market are not as solidified as one might expect. Growing brands like Alo Yoga have tremendous potential to upend market trailblazers. Even with a 92.83% to 97.37% confidence interval, at best only, ~7% of the general U.S. adult population is loyal to only one brand of athleisure wear.

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Dive In

The table below breaks down our athleisure survey results where you can search and compare total brand preferences or break down preference by age or purchase reason.

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This article’s visualizations and analysis were created from three separate data sources. We analyzed ten popular press articles written in 2021 to scrape lists of leading U.S. athleisure brands. We then examined the frequency of brand mentions to rank the top 10 brands’ popularity by mentions. Next, we used Google Trends to test the strength of the top 10 brands from our meta-analysis. Each brand was assigned two ranking values based on the meta-analysis and the Google Trends analysis. We combined the rankings to arrive at a top 10 list utilizing multiple data sources.

While two data sources provide better results, we thought we would go another step further and poll the public on their favorite athleisure brands. We built the survey in Google Forms. See a complete list of the survey questions here. This survey is a non-probability, online, opt-in poll with no random selection from the entire sample population; every respondent is used. Our population size is all U.S. adults interested in athleisure wear, estimated at the total U.S. adult population. We selected a 95% confidence interval and a desired 6% margin of error, calculating a need for 267 respondents. We secured 347 respondents, and after duplicates were removed, we arrived at 364 individual survey responses. Our survey was promoted on the Wishlisted website, Facebook and Pinterest accounts. The survey ran from 8/24/21 1:00 PM EST to 9/11/21 1:00 PM EST.

Confidence intervals for the top athleisure brands overlap slightly, indicating a potential for variances in the total population of athleisure enthusiasts. Confidence intervals only overlap so much that results could shift up or down one ranking, but typically no more than that. For example, the confidence interval for our fourth-place brand, Adidas, in our top brands ranking results is 7.66% to 14.24%, and for our third-place brand, Athleta, 13.84% to 21.90%. The interval overlap means there is a slight chance that Adidas is the actual third place brand and Athleta is our fourth place. The confidence intervals are not so large that there is a chance of shifting up or down multiple rankings. We do not claim statistical significance for our brand vs. age analysis as our sample size was not large enough. 

Download the survey results and Google Trends analysis in its entirety (.xlsx format) here.

Excel, Flourish, Google Trends and Octoparse are the tools used to analyze and create data visualizations for this article.

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