Athleisure: is beauty’s latest craze doomed to stumble at the first hurdle?

Athleisure: is beauty’s latest craze doomed to stumble at the first hurdle?

Athleisure, athbeauty, active beauty – whichever your pick of beauty’s latest buzzwords – there’s no denying this trend has stormed our shelves in recent months, with cosmetics and skin care designed to enhance the appearance of athletic types launching left, right and center from the likes of Eyeko, Tarte and Sweat Cosmetics. But has this new craze got legs, or is it destined to burn out from a severe case of backlash?

For the criticism has started already with Huffington Post Style writer Jamie Feldman penning a piece slamming the trend from both a feminist point of view and the perspective of several leading dermatologists, while Tarte’s Hustle & Glow promotional video prompted a fair deal of flack on social media channels.

But let’s start at the very beginning – what is athleisure beauty and where has it sprung from? Fashion’s activewear fad, that’s where. Although perhaps ‘fad’ is the wrong word for an industry with an estimated value of US$44 billion in the US alone (NPD Group) that’s single-handedly saved apparel from a slump, is predicted to grow to US$350 billion worldwide by 2020 (Morgan Stanley), and has earned its own dictionary definition to boot.  

Yes, yoga pants have ash-tanga’d their way into every woman’s wardrobe – even, incredibly, mine (incredibly, because I haven’t set foot in a gym since 2002 and have no plans to do so any time soon) – and now the beauty industry is hoping for a slice of this rather lucrative pie.

So Sephora’s shelves are buckling under the weight of dedicated sporting lines from Tarte, Milk, Yuni and Sweat; Birchbox launched – and has just extended – its dedicated athleisure range Arrow; and the big brands are busy re-imagining established products for the athleisure consumer – suddenly water resistant mascaras are work-out proof, sweat won’t budge long-lasting bases and non-comedogenic formulas abound.

And the burgeoning category just got a huge boost in the form of celebrity endorsement – yep, you guessed it – the Kardashians (who else?) as Khloe graced the cover of Shape magazine and revealed that she wears make-up to the gym.

And given the Kardashians are the queens of the millennial generation, it’s safe to say this trend is looking like a sure thing. With their social media profiles demanding that they be photo ready at all times, and their busy lifestyles requiring transition-friendly clothing, hair and make-up (so, for example, they can pop straight to brunch from a run), the experience-led and health-obsessed millennial generation have embraced all things athleisure.

It is, however, surprising that this age bracket, which is also known for its outspoken views – to wit Teen Vogue’s woke makeover – isn’t feeling more conflicted about the concept of putting on make-up to work out. It is, after all, the very opposite of wearing sweat pants to a restaurant. One is a radical ‘accept me for who I am, not what I wear’ stance, the other is the polar opposite.

Of course, it’s also perfectly true that judging women on what they do or do not wear, and where they wear it, is as anti-feminist as it gets. As Sweat founder Courtney Jones told Fast Company “Women are going to do what they want to do… and no one should have to say anything about that.”  

Whatever your view on the politics, it’s worth acknowledging that this trend has the potential to run and run (’scuse the pun), with endless opportunities for line extensions based on different sports and environments. As Mintel’s Global Beauty & Personal Care Trend 2017 report reveals, the opportunities are endless: sun protection for outdoor sports – a sure-hit with the Asian markets, hair care products for swimmers landing big time in Brazil, and even apparel tie-ups to produce wearable tech. We called it too, with packaging expressly designed to fit and thrive in a gym bag – read portable, practical and durable – one of our top 10 trends to watch this year.

And watch it we all will. Or should that be #watchmesweat?