portswear, activewear, athleisure wear… Whatever you want to call it, in the keep-fit-and-post-a-selfie-while-you’re-doing-it age, what we wear to the gym – and the café and the shops and the supermarket – has become big business.
Big enough to make a billionaire of the 27-year-old founder of Gymshark. Big enough to make Lululemon one of the unicorns of modern fashion (current market value, more than £6.5 billion).
Into this sweat-drenched, macro-obsessed space has stepped a surfeit of nylon-loving, moisture-wicking gym-get-up brands. Each promises to carry us from the squat rack to Joe & The Juice – because, surely, no single artefact serves to capture the pursuit of the influencer lifestyle better than the green-and-creamy ‘Tunacado’ – sharply-sportswear-attired and stink-free.
Drawing on an analogous palette of blacks, blues, greys and olive greens (mostly) in breathable, space-age materials, these zeitgeisty lifestyle brands have not just read the Peloton-loving room, but kitted-out everyone in it in stealthy, muscle-fit tops and smartphone-pocketed shorts.
These are the coolest activewear brands to sweat-and-be-seen-in.
Figuring that too much of life now happens indoors, Adidas’ Outdoor division aims to improve our physical and mental health by getting us outside. In summer 2019, the department debuted the MYSHELTER collection, a range of technical jackets designed for navigating urban environments during changeable weather conditions. The collection returns for a second season, fronted by England and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Deli Alli. This knee-length RAIN.RDY Parka, inspired by a traditional trench coat, contains a ventilated, three-layer waterproof construction that blocks the wind and rain while keeping the wearer, in this case Alli, warm and dry.
Autumn 2020 saw Anthony Joshua’s label, AJBXNG, launch its first athleisure collection with BOSS. Acting as the face – and body – of BOSS’s Stretch Tailoring campaigns since 2018, last year’s 10-piece capsule collection of easy-wear garments fuses Joshua’s laidback aesthetic with BOSS’ signature sharp tailoring. T-shirts, sweatshirts, trousers, knitted jumpers and a hooded jacket make up the line. Each piece features a curved interpretation of the BOSS logo in gold (Joshua’s favourite colour), either as a signature detail or in oversized form across the chest or upper back. Each piece also features Joshua’s motto: “One more hour, one more day. Never let success get to your head, or failure to your heart.”
When brothers and former athletes, Tom and Phil Beahon, identified a gap in the market for a high-quality, high-performance sportswear brand in 2015, they decided to fill it. Thanks to its innovative use of state-of-the-art materials, Castore quickly grabbed the attention of top athletes. Andy Murray became a shareholder and collaborator in 2019. Most recently the brand has partnered with McLaren Automotive on a range of technical sportswear inspired by the marque’s use of lightweight materials. The limited edition collection of T-shirts, polo shirts and jackets has been ergonomically cut for ease of movement and comfort, and made using materials that are stretchable, odour-resistant and increase airflow and ventilation.
Nine years ago, Bromsgrove-born Ben Francis was delivering Pizza Hut by night and hand-sewing fitted gym clothes by day. He’d print and stick his own labels, hand-pack the trickle of orders he was receiving through his fledgling website before taking them to his local post office. In August 2020, Francis, then aged 27, sold a 21 per cent stake his company, Gymshark, to America’s General Atlantic in a deal that valued the company at around £1 billion. Not bad for a lad for asked his nan to teach him how to sew. Gymshark has since segued from flattering exercise kit to relax-at-home loungewear, muscling in on another mushrooming area of menswear.
Named after the Oxford track on which Robert Bannister ran the world’s first sub four-minute mile, Iffley Road is a running brand that marries retro style with high performance fit. Founded by a husband-and-wife team who met through their love of running, the brand offers a wide range of running gear, from leggings to shorts and waterproofs. With sustainability at the core of the brand, each piece is made in primarily Portuguese and British factories, with recycled and organic yarns and fabrics sourced in Europe. If you’re looking for something to carry you from winter into spring, check out the brand’s Thorpe merino half-zip top, a breathable long-sleeved base layer made from 100 per cent Italian merino wool.
Last year, as Covid-19 decimated the high street and forced the fashion industry to fundamentally rethink how and what it sold, Lululemon’s share price rose to an all-time high. As the market leader in flattering comfort clothes and high-end gymwear that doubles as daywear, the brand was well placed to benefit as populations across the globe pivoted towards working – and working out – from home. As well as its bread-and-butter collections of seven-inch shorts and ventilated T-shirts, Lululemon’s product offering now stretches to smart down jackets, tailored chinos – and for sleeveless-loving finance-bro – stretch-fabric gilets. Buy, buy, buy.
Specifically designed for the gym and sports studio, the Nike Training collection caters to a range of workouts and fitness regimes. Twinned with the Nike Training Club, a subscription-based app that gives you access to a host of virtual workout sessions, with five Nike Trainers focusing on five different themes, the range of clothing, shoes and accessories is ideal for those looking to revitalise their fitness game. The latest launch is the Nike Air Zoom SuperRep 2, a sneaker with a chunky cushioned sole designed to aid fast-paced exercises such as circuit training, HIIT and sprints.
There’s little question that Reebok’s association with CrossFit – the sportswear manufacturer was licenced to sell apparel branded apparel for the functional fitness company for the best part of a decade – helped re-energise the Adidas-owned, Anglo-American activewear brand. Owing to controversial tweets by the now-former CrossFit CEO, Reebok announced that it would be cutting those ties from the beginning of 2021. The brand continues to work with CrossFit champion Rich Froning, however. Reebok’s latest collaboration with the four-time winner of the CrossFit games – the ‘Fittest Man of Earth’, as the victor is described – is the Reebok NANO X Froning training shoe. A forefoot strap keeps wearers locked in, while an innovative, three-string rope-lacing system provides added security. A traction sole helps ensure grip, even through heavily-loaded exercises. Who better to build the ultimate training shoe?
It all started with a T-shirt. In 1995, Kevin Plank, then a 23-year-old special teams captain of the University of Maryland’s football team, decided to design a T-shirt to rule them all. From his grandmother’s basement in Washington DC, he created a soft, streamlined top with super speedy sweat-wicking properties. Fast forward 26 years and Under Armour is one of the world’s leading sportswear brands, made all the more popular thanks to a catalogue of athlete endorsements that includes everyone from Anthony Joshua and Tom Brady to, most recently, Liverpool FC’s Trent Alexander Arnold, seen here. Under Amour also owns the MapMyRun app, to which you can connect the brand’s UA HOVR running shoes to get real-time tips on how to improve your running form.
At £85, Vollebak’s Ceramic T-shirt might be priced above what you’d usually permit yourself to splash on a T-shirt, but Vollebak’s Ceramic T-shirt isn’t your run-of-the-mill tee (the clue’s in the name). In fact, given that its part-forged in a space-age material-technology facility in the mountains of Switzerland, and that it’s the first T-shirt ever to be made using ceramic – more than 100,000 particles of the stuff are embedded within it – £85 is actually something of a steal. Vollebak was founded by two British twins in 2015, and has since built a reputation as a pioneering adventure-sportswear specialist. As well as coats that conduct electricity, the British brand manufacturers jackets that reflect every colour in the visible spectrum and a biodegradable T-shirt that worms can eat once you’re done with it. This ceramic tee promises to last a little longer.
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