How Indian Athleisure Brands Redefined Style... And Helped Us 'Serve Lewks'
Remember Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’s colourful windcheaters, DKNY tracksuits, and the notorious neon and mesh Polo tees that spawned a thousand rip-offs? As the fashion cycle retreats to the Y2K era, we’re witnessing a revival of the evergreen sporty looks made famous by KKHH. During the film’s OTT first half, all the characters looked like they’d just gotten off the sports field, but were chic enough to attend classes and go about their day in the same clothes. That is the essence of athleisure – it’s so much more than workout clothes.
In recent years, the global fashion landscape has seen a sharp shift towards athleisure, a trend that seamlessly marries athletic wear with casual everyday clothing. Think of functional celebrity outings featuring Kendall Jenner, the Hadid Sisters and other bigwigs. Closer home, Bollywood stars like Janhvi Kapoor, Khushi Kapoor and Ananya Panday are often spotted wearing yoga pants with matching hoodies and sneakers in their 'airport looks.'
And Indian brands have stepped up to the plate. You’d be hard-pressed to scroll through Instagram without being served multiple ads for functional sportswear brands like BlissClub, Silvertraq, Athlos, Kica Active, Seeq, and Pace Active. The top seven sports and activewear brands in India – including Decathlon, Puma, Adidas, Nike, Asics, and Skechers – might have reported combined sales of over $1 billion in 2022. But where global brands are associated with homogeneity, homegrown brands, with their distinctive style, quality, and competitive prices stand out.
Thanks to this trend of “glammed up dressing down”, the athleisure market in India has witnessed explosive growth, on the back of changing lifestyles and increased health awareness. Multiple lockdowns have made home workouts and comfort clothing the norm. Once considered a fashion niche, athleisure is now mainstream and resonates with a wide demographic. According to a recent report by statista.com, the Indian sports and athleisure retail industry was valued at ₹158 billion in 2021, and is expected to increase to ₹402 billion by 2025. Other data suggests that the demand for traditional office wear has declined, as remote work and flexible schedules become more prevalent. Indian celebrities, including athletes and actors, have also actively endorsed athleisure brands – like Anushka Sharma for Puma and Hrithik Roshan who runs HRX.
Athleisure has fit into a market helped along by 'fitfluencers' and 'Get Ready With Me' videos overflowing on Instagram. Seeq, which launched in September 2021, has already tasted success in the brief time that it has been around. The brand sells everything from tops, tees, and jackets to bottom wear in fabrics that combine nylon and spandex in different weaves. “We’ve so far gotten an excellent reaction,” said Sanjana Masand, the brand’s founder and a trained ballet dancer.
Her professional career as a dancer led to the creation of Seeq. “During the period I pursued ballet, I used to live in my activewear. But there were very few homegrown brands in this space then,” Masand said.
She would earlier sport the usual Nike or Adidas but found it too loud for running errands or lounging in. Masand eventually decided to combine her love for dance with her understanding of fashion to conceptualise Seeq. The brand’s activewear – which retails for ₹1,500-₹4,500 – features muted colours and minute detailing, perfect for getting a coffee after a workout.
Silvertraq, founded in 2016 by Dhriti Badani in Mumbai, is another brand that takes pride in being 100% homegrown. Badani also joined her family business of “manufacturing and exporting garments to multiple international buyers and SIS military.” Through in-house manufacturing of performance clothing that can withstand temperatures as low as -40°C, Badani knew the importance of comfortable fabric, especially in a tropical country.
The name Silvertraq is derived from silver-iron technology, which makes the clothes antimicrobial and anti-odour. The brand also sells everything from jackets to co-ord sets and tank tops. “We have a lot of fun, colour-reflective clothing, perfect for a night out. And then there’s loungewear, which ensures people won’t need multiple sets of clothes when heading out for a whole day,” said Badani.
Silvertraq claims that their collections are affordable and long-lasting: A “value” collection, featuring treated, laser-cut fabric, is priced between ₹1,000-₹2,000, while the premium collection, made with luxurious fabrics, is priced higher.
Badani is optimistic about the growth of athleisure in India, from both the consumption and manufacturing aspects, a sentiment shared by Aditi Kakkar, co-founder of Ochre Athletica, yet another homegrown athleisure brand. “I visit Jawahar Lal Nehru stadium every day for my own training, and I can see more people every day taking an interest in recreational fitness. More gyms are coming up everywhere, even in the remotest parts of our country,” she said.
Kakkar points out the visibility of Indian brands and believes they are offering stiff competition to international ones. With the kind of variety Indian consumers have access to, “they can get extremely affordable styles or they can spend on premium ones.” For a price-sensitive market that eagerly awaits monthly sales, offerings from Indian brands are extremely attractive when compared to legacy brands like Nike, where the starting price for a simple sports bra is over ₹2,000.
Overall, the growth of athleisure in India is a testament to the evolving fashion preferences of Indian consumers. The trend’s ability to seamlessly blend fashion and fitness has struck a chord with individuals across various age groups and cities. Celebrity stylist Bharat Gupta said, “From cut-up tees to crop tops even for men, oversized t-shirts, stylish red jumpers, joggers with detailing and sporty skirts, athleisure is an extension of one’s style.”
Maybe, it also marks the arrival of an emboldened, fashionable India, comfortable to not just follow trends, but reinvent and own them. As long as brands continue to innovate and embrace inclusivity, the athleisure market in India is poised to thrive and reshape the country’s fashion landscape.