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Designer Clothes Built for Sweat

  • The global activewear market is projected to reach nearly $440 billion by 2026.
  • High-end fashion houses are experimenting with the category.
Photo: Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada/Design: Alex Brooks

Gucci jogging pants cost $2,100, Louis Vuitton dumbbells go for $2,860, and technical Prada sneakers will set you back $950.

With the global activewear market projected to reach almost $440 billion by 2026, fashion houses are experimenting with athletic clothing and accessories more than ever.

The crossover isn’t entirely new. Ralph Lauren, Lacoste, and Fred Perry all have athletic roots. Jil Sander collaborated with Puma in 1998. Chanel released a collection in 2010 with everything from golf clubs to surfboards.

But in a world where $2000 Dior Jordans sell out in minutes, the landscape has evolved even further.

“There’s a real market for luxury brands to develop performance-driven higher-priced items,” Julie Gilhart, president of Tomorrow Consulting, told WWD. “What’s on the forefront is those luxury brands applying their luxury with the technology of a Nike or a Lululemon.”

Some have argued that top traditional sportswear brands should already be recognized as leaders in high-end categories.

“If you think about the tenets of luxury — like high-quality craftsmanship, timelessness — many performance brands fit into that,” Sarah Willersdorf, global head of luxury at Boston Consulting Group, said in an interview with Vogue. “For younger consumers, in particular, Nike is as much a luxury brand as many of the true luxury brands.”

Nike revenue fell 4% to $37.4 billion during its fiscal 2020, but digital sales increased 47%. The company says it added over 70 million customers to Nike membership programs since the beginning of the pandemic.

In December, Lululemon reported third-quarter sales of $1.1 billion, up 22% year-over-year.

“It’s not a fashion play,” CEO Calvin McDonald said about the company’s sartorial status. “Some of the fashion brands look at it as an opportunity, but I think rooted in our business is technical performance.”