How Demi Lovato, Zayn and More Are Cashing In On The Athleisure Market

Courtesy of Fabletics
Lovato’s Fabletics pieces feature bold colors and edgy cut-out designs.

Athleisure -- high-aesthetic activewear that goes from the gym to running errands to the club -- is scaling new heights, growing into a stadium-sized industry populated by musical talent.

In the last year, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato and Zayn Malik have all inked activewear design/collaboration deals with Puma, Fabletics and Versus Versace, respectively. Pharrell Williams, who has worked with Adidas on sneaker collaborations since 2014, this year extended his influence to a new line of tennis wear-inspired looks with shorts retailing for $75 and jackets for $110. This season’s Ivy Park line from Beyoncé, whose first collection sold out within days of its debut in 2016, again will be available through mass retailers (though a $35 baseball hat designed for curly hair has already sold out).

Carrie Underwood’s Calia collection, which the singer launched with Dick’s Sporting Goods in 2014, is the third-largest athletic women’s label that the company sells, and will expand into outerwear in 2018. “This is a longer-term play [for us],” explained the retailer’s chairman/CEO Edward Stack during the company’s second-quarter conference call in September.

The stars and the companies that love them are onto something: Despite an overall retail slowdown, activewear continues to swell, according to real-time retail data research firm Edited. In 2017, women’s luxury activewear experienced growth of 149 percent compared with 2015, highlighting the opportunities for product expansion, including menswear. For these companies, music stars with their millions of fans, wide-reaching social influence and allegiance to the aesthetic onstage and off -- Williams in track jackets and shorts, Lovato in sports bras and leggings -- make sense as brand ambassadors.

“Global superstars drive trends, and global fashion companies look to them for inspiration,” says Mat Vlasic, CEO of Universal Music Group’s Bravado, which produces streetwear merchandise (including athleisure-inspired designs, also known as street-leisure) for artists including Kanye West and Justin Bieber. Bravado’s revenue quadrupled during the past nine years, Billboard reported in 2016.

“Collaborations like Rihanna and Puma with Fenty are working. Rihanna wears her own clothes and it’s cool and relevant,” says Marc Beckman, CEO of New York-based advertising/representation agency DMA United. “Why not go deeper into it?” Which is exactly what companies like Puma (which in April reported a net income increase of 92 percent in the first quarter) are doing by adding new artists to their rosters -- Gomez’s boyfriend The Weeknd also has a sneaker/denim deal with the brand -- while others like Fabletics and Dick’s Sporting Goods have doubled down on their current talent. Lovato created two collections for the former in 2017, including a full performance line. Approximately 700 people lined up outside Fabletics’ Plano, Texas, store in August to meet the star. Her third collaboration is already in the works. Dick’s Sporting Goods’ Calia by Carrie Underwood offerings, which are in 679 stores nationwide with tops selling for $30 and leggings for $60, follows the traditional fashion calendar. The company and star are now experimenting with capsules between seasons and in August launched the eight-piece, limited-edition Fleuria Collection.

“Working on Calia has allowed me to channel my passions for sports, fitness and fashion,” says Underwood, who has an equity stake in the line. ”Designing clothes was not something I thought about at the beginning of my career, but I love it.”

“It’s a new canvas and a new focus,” says Vlasic of the growing athleisure market and artist influence. “It’s not just the best basketball player ever or baseball’s MVP [who can do this] -- now it can be a musician.” 

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 28 issue of Billboard.