The Pandemic made loungewear exclusive for elites

By Camryn Ciancia, Correspondent

Since the pandemic began in March of last year, our time has been consumed by WiFi and computer screens due to the nature of remote living. Suddenly, people who worked nine to five corporate jobs are rolling out of bed to join Zoom in their pajamas or loungewear. Gone are the days of blazers and heels, considering that your boss now only sees your clothing from the shoulders up. 

With this shift in workplace fashion, clothing companies are recognizing the appeal of lounge or “athleisure” wear— and they continue to maintain their hefty price points that carry the success of the clothing industry. If there was ever a time I could justify purchasing a pricey, velvet lounge set, now is a better time than ever. 

Now that “Zoom University” is in session, walking through my dorm building is like attending an athleisure fashion show. There are people in workout gear preparing for their at-home workouts, students in dresses layered over sweatpants for virtual sorority recruitment, and of course, people sporting sweatshirts and sweatpants with a classic messy bun. 

The athleisure industry has become one of the most lucrative sectors of the fashion world as companies such as Lululemon, Alo Yoga, and Athleta have risen in popularity. Allied Market Research collected a series of data, noting that in 2018, the athleisure market was valued at $155.2 billion, but is expected to reach $257.1 billion by the year 2026. CNBC reported in November that, “Lululemon shares are up 54 [percent] since the start of the year [2020], bringing its market value to $46.6 billion. Nike shares are up nearly 34 [percent], with a market cap swelling to $212.8 billion.” 

This makes sense, considering that instead of buying new pairs of jeans, people are now on the hunt for comfortable clothing. Moreover, the American consumer will stop at nothing to purchase what is trendy and popular at the moment, whether that be a $98 pair of leggings to workout in or a $165 sweatshirt to never leave the house in. Dressing in high-end athleisure wear has become attractive to the consumer. When people notice the Lululemon or Champion logo, it suddenly becomes a symbol of wealth or privilege. These brands are manufacturing high-quality products that help consumers find a way to feel put together, while still being incredibly comfortable. But despite the high quality of these expensive brands, the extravagant price points are too far fetched for low-income individuals and people living on a budget who just do not have hundreds of dollars to spend on a hoodie. 

Many fashion brands have capitalized off of the pandemic, formulating an elitist industry defined by a uniform of sweat pants, leggings, and sweatshirts— outfits that, despite their inconceivable price tag,  could be recreated at Walmart for $20. Sure, brands like Aritzia are using higher quality fabric for their hoodies, yet when compared to materials used by Gildan, the 78% cotton, 22% polyester used by the European brand differs only slightly from the 60/40 blend of a Gildan sweatshirt. 

Pre-pandemic, however, the growing exclusivity of the athleisure industry had already begun. Consumers saw a rise of high-end leisure and athleisure wear from many brands, including Justin Bieber’s Drew House. 

From the late 1990’s into the early 2000’s, Champion, a popular jersey-turned sportswear company, was primarily being produced for less expensive stores like Walmart and Target. Now, the brand is typically regarded as exclusive and expensive, since it was popularized again in 2010 when Champion (and their parent company, HanesBrands Inc.) made a deal with the skateboarding lifestyle brand Supreme. 

Since the brand’s collaboration with Supreme, Champion became highly sought after and features a number of reimagined designs— at an elevated price point. 

Champion’s sales have since skyrocketed, and they are just getting started. In 2017, their sales grew 33 percent, and were up by another 7 percent in 2018, achieving nearly $1.4 billion dollars in sales that year. The brand is set to achieve $2 billion in sales by 2022, due to the growing desire for athleisure in 2020 and 2021. 

This rise in popularity can be attributed to the revival of thrift and vintage shops and the attraction to the “dad look” for people of all ages and backgrounds. High schoolers and Kardashians alike rushed to purchase the now-pricey Champion merchandise, that sells for upwards of $70 from high-end stores like Urban Outfitters and Nordstrom. 

And now with COVID-19, consumers are quick to purchase new loungewear for their Zoom calls. Perhaps they are less concerned with the price because they are left in the comfort of their own homes for long enough to let boredom get the best of them. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that the pandemic has contributed to the increasing revenue of athleisure and loungewear brands.

There is now a brand image behind wearing certain hoodies or joggers, which of course, was exaggerated by the pandemic. When someone puts on a sweatshirt from Champion, or the “optimist lifestyle label” Madhappy (who are selling their sweatshirts for at least $165, behind the company mission of “mak[ing] the world a more optimistic place by driving conversation about mental health”), it projects a certain image, and one that is often elitist. 

Those who are fortunate enough to afford these brands have flocked to Lululemon for leggings and Urban Outfitters for a Champion sweatsuit, maintaining the elitist exclusivity of the industry.

Considering the high demand of loungewear and athleisure, these industries are going to fuel retailers, continuing to increase their sales. And while the industry is still packed with pricey leggings and sweatshirts, more affordable options from brands like Target’s Wild Fable have emerged to satisfy consumers with trendy loungewear that won’t break the bank. 

If you are looking to splurge on well-made, comfortable pieces that will keep you feeling put together, now is the perfect time to invest in a sweatshirt from Madhappy (and maybe the matching sweatpants.)