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Whether you jumped on the Joe Wicks’ PE bandwagon or leaned hard into running to make the most of your daily exercise allowance, perhaps the tiny silver lining of lockdown is that many of us have discovered a new love for fitness. However, after a year of tuning into at-home workouts with your camera off to hide your worn out gym kit, isn’t it time your treated yourself to exercise gear that’s up to scratch? Kit yourself out with our pick of the best activewear and athleisure brands for women…
Let’s start with a heavy hitter – because in the activewear world they don’t come much bigger than Lululemon. Founded by Chip Wilson in Vancouver in 1998, many credit the brand’s early stylish yet functional yoga-focused apparel with creating the entire athleisure category. Fast forward two decades and the brand remains at the top of its game, with 491 stores around the world and a range that features clothing and accessories for men and women as well as events, festivals and an online community of ardent fans.
The key to Lululemon’s success is its nine patented materials, each designed to enhance a specific sport or activity, from light yoga and walking to long runs and hardcore gym workouts. The latest addition to the collection is a colourful collection made in collaboration with British artist Ed Curtis which merges Lululemon’s high-tech fabrics with bright urban-inspired prints.
Key piece: Wunder Train HR Tight Leggings, £88
Yes, you read that correctly. Reiss, the go-to for smart workday dresses and blouses, is entering the activewear market this year – and its debut offering is rather impressive. Crafted from recycled technical performance materials, its capsule collections of leggings, tops and sports bras promises a supportive fit with four-way stretch and a completely opaque fabrication so you can workout with confidence. Of course, this being Reiss, there’s also a series of carefully considered design details which elevate the line from mere gym gear to pieces you’ll want to continue wearing long after class is over.
Key piece: Lana high-stretch sports bralette, £55
Live The Process
Uber-chic American activewear brand Live The Process has been quite the saviour during lockdown thanks to an offering that runs the gamut from sweat-wicking workout gear to cashmere loungewear that's smart enough for any Zoom meeting. The emphasis here is on slow, mindful but effective forms of exercise, such as yoga, Pilates and barre, and the activewear offering reflects with a series of flattering leggings, bodysuits, crop tops and co-ords that will have you feeling great before you even step on the mat.
Key piece: Cutout bodysuit, £193
The UK’s answer to Lululemon, Sweaty Betty was founded in Notting Hill in 1998 by husband and wife team Simon and Tamara Hill-Norton with the goal of changing the way women think about exercise. Each of its collections is inspired by the couple’s travels, often resulting in brightly patterned pieces, and tested extensively to make sure they keep up with whatever your workout routine throws at them. Now with 62 stores internationally, the Sweaty Betty brand is about more than just exercise gear. The company offers a full complement of workout videos, recipes and tips on healthy living via its website and, in pre-pandemic times, held regular in-store fitness classes.
Key piece: After class sweatshirt, £65
Combining the excellence of Made In Italy craftsmanship with modern sustainability and fabric technology, Varenna is the activewear brand designed for those who like their workouts to come with a side of dolce vita. Unashamedly feminine, each piece is made from recycled fibres and designed in line with emerging fashion trends while utilising high performance, breathable and water repellant materials to ensure ultimate comfort and range of motion.
Key piece: Long-sleeve tank, £120
Founded in 2008 to celebrate the best in British elegance, style and fabric production, you probably know Holland Cooper best for its tailored tweeds and equestrian gear. In 2021 the brand launched its first actiewear collection, Holland Cooper Studio, offering a range of leggings, sweats and training gear suitable for both the gym and lounging. High-tech fabrics have been used for supreme comfort, ventilation and sweat wicking, while post-workout pieces have been crafted in a cosy soft cotton blend, and each features thoughtful design touches, such as crossover waistbands and adjustable hems, for versatility and confidence when working out.
Key piece: Studio Cross Over Leggings, £79