How the $31 Billion Athleisure Industry Influenced Music's Newest Tour Merch for Good

FKA twigs in a commercial for Nike.
Courtesy of Nike

FKA twigs in a commercial for Nike.

Leggings, the elastic waist and spandex-centric pants. All were once relegated to the gym, yoga studio or spin class, but have stretched to encompass a whole new audience: concert goers.

Bands and artists like Phantogram, Linkin Park, Zedd, Slayer, AC/DC and KISS have begun selling leggings at their shows and on their websites. Licensing merchandising companies like Epic Rights and Araca Group work with their clients to create special patterns, delving deeper into design.


Warm up in the most -- hoodie on --

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“Nobody is going to wear t-shirt design on legging,” Lisa Streff, EVP of Global Licensing for Epic Rights told Billboard. “We need a smart design that feels sporty and fashionable and pulls artistic qualities out of the assets.”

Streff calls the inclusion of leggings “a natural extension” for bands and notes that all of her core artists have athleisure or legging deals. “There is that whole weekend women are just wearing leggings,” she adds, “why shouldn’t they be from our apparel partners?”

Overall global sales of licensed products for fashion (the category that includes active wear and athleisure) was $31.1 billion in 2016, according to the Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association.

While it used to be common for deals to be negotiated on the golf course, now lucrative athleisure contracts are being inked between dance classes and major musician and industry-leading company collaborations finalized in hotel gyms.

Nike sought out FKA Twigs, who’s been taking dance classes since she was three, to create a campaign around its "Spring Zonal" strength tights. She enlisted many of her longtime dance partners and muses to create a two-minute video and visual assets for her “do you believe in more?” campaign. The collection sold out and Nike gained entrée into a previously untapped audience: FKA Twigs’ fan base.

“Activewear as a means of expression” is a new business model for traditional brands like Nike and Dick’s Sporting Goods, says Katie Smith, a senior retail analyst with real-time retail data research firm Edited. In Q1 2017, the number of athleisure items in the US online retail increased by 58%; most popular are leggings which have grown by 38% according to Edited data.

Dick’s launched Calia by Carrie Underwood two years ago. It’s now available at the 679 stores nationwide. Underwood has an equity stake in her line, unlike FKA Twigs, who served as a guest designer.

“I’m wearing Calia every day, whether to work out, run errands, at the studio, and at rehearsals,” says Underwood of her design collaboration. “It’s a part of everything I do.”

Active wear and athleisure are no longer simply items for exercise but big business, and musicians across genres are happy to capitalize on the opportunity to merge their brand with a likeminded one.


Confident -- #Demi4Fabletics. Grab this outfit from the link in my bio

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Demi Lovato and Kate Hudson met coincidentally at a hotel gym. Both were on the road, both committed to starting their day sweating. The result: two Fabletics collaborations, the latest of which is being touted as a full performance collection, complete with roughly 26 items, including leggings, which is scheduled for an August release. Hudson serves as the creative director and co-founder of Fabletics, a subscription-based line of workout wear. 

“We’re excited to be reaching a younger demographic and to really dig into what inspires them and how they shop for active wear,” says Kristen Dykstra, CMO of Fabletics. “Demi’s music and message are all about being confident and empowered, which she wanted to express in every element of the collection. The fact that she also has a strong creative vision that resonates across various mediums, like music and TV, is an added benefit.”

In addition to being saluted as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People earlier this year, Lovato, a first-time Grammy nominee, also counts 59.1 million Instagram followers as engaged fans.

“Celebrities have always had a huge effect on fashion trends, but the rise of social media in the last few years – with celebrities being followed by thousands, if not millions, of fans – has meant that brands and retailers have turned towards these “influencers” as major marketing channels,” says Smith.