portswear, activewear, gym-wear, call it what you will, the clobber we wear to work out in has become big business. Big enough to make a billionaire of the 28-year-old founder of Gymshark. Big enough to make Lululemon one of the unicorns of modern fashion (current market value, more than £6.5 billion).
Into this sweat-drenched, macro-obsessed space has stepped a surfeit of nylon-loving, moisture-wicking brands promising to carry us from the squat rack to Joe & The Juice looking sharp and smelling, err, not smelly. Drawing on a palette of blacks, blues, greys and olive greens (mostly) in breathable, space-age materials, these lifestyle brands have not just read the Peloton-loving room, but kitted-out everyone in it in stealthy, muscle-fit tops and smartphone-pocketed shorts.
These are the coolest activewear brands to sweat-and-be-seen-in.
Figuring that too much of life now happens indoors, Adidas’ Outdoor division aims to improve our physical and mental health by getting us outside. The department’s MYSHELTER collection includes a range of technical jackets designed for navigating urban environments during changeable weather conditions. This knee-length RAIN.RDY Parka, inspired by a traditional trench coat, contains a ventilated, three-layer waterproof construction that blocks out the wind and rain while keeping the wearer, in the case of Tottenham Hotspur’s Dele Alli above, warm and dry.
Acting as the face – and body – of the brand’s Stretch Tailoring campaigns since 2018, Anthony Joshua launched his first athleisure collection with BOSS at the start of the pandemic, fortuitously, you might say, given that we were all about to start working from home. The BOSS x AJBXNG collaboration has so far yielded three easy-wearing capsule collections. The latest sees bold graphics and elevated materials meet a clean black-and-white palette in nine style-meets-comfort sports-drawer staples.
When brothers and former athletes, Tom and Phil Beahon, identified a gap in the market for a high-quality, high-performance sportswear brand in 2015, they decided to fill it. Thanks to its innovative use of state-of-the-art materials, Castore quickly grabbed the attention of top athletes. Andy Murray became a shareholder and collaborator, before the likes of McLaren Automotive, England Cricket, Cricket South Africa, Newcastle United Football Club and Saracens Rugby Club all signed partnership deals. Castore has since collaborated with Reiss on a 32-piece collection of athleisure essentials, including joggers, T-shirts, hoodies, and pullovers.
Not so long ago, Bromsgrove-born Ben Francis was delivering Pizza Hut by night and hand-sewing fitted gym clothes by day. He’d print and stick his own labels, hand-pack the trickle of orders he was receiving through his fledgling website and take them to his local post office personally. In August 2020, Francis, then aged 27, sold a 21 per cent stake in his company, Gymshark, to America’s General Atlantic in a deal that valued the company at around £1 billion. Not bad for a lad who asked his nan to teach him how to sew. Gymshark has since segued from flattering exercise kit to relax-at-home loungewear, muscling in on another mushrooming area of menswear.
Named after the Oxford track on which Robert Bannister ran the world’s first sub four-minute mile, Iffley Road is a running brand that marries retro style with high-performance tailoring. Founded by a husband-and-wife team who met through their love of running, the brand offers a wide range of running gear, from leggings to shorts and waterproofs. With sustainability at the core of the brand, each piece is made in primarily Portuguese and British factories, with recycled and organic yarns and fabrics sourced in Europe. If you’re looking for something to carry you from winter into spring, check out the brand’s Thorpe merino half-zip top, a breathable long-sleeved base layer made from 100 per cent Italian merino wool.
While large parts of the fashion industry suffered during the pandemic, Lululemon’s share price rose to an all-time high. As the market leader in flattering comfort clothes and high-end gymwear-cum-daywear, it's no surprise the brand's benefited as we've all pivoted towards working – and working out – from home. As well as its bread-and-butter collections of seven-inch shorts and ventilated T-shirts, Lululemon’s product offering now stretches to smart down jackets, tailored chinos, and stretch-fabric gilets.
Specifically designed for the gym and sports studio, Nike's Training collection caters to a range of workouts and fitness regimes. Twinned with the Nike Training Club, a subscription-based app that gives you access to a host of virtual workout sessions, with five Nike Trainers focusing on five different themes, the range of clothing, shoes and accessories is ideal for those looking to revitalise their fitness game. The Nike Air Zoom SuperRep 2 is a sneaker with a chunky cushioned sole designed to aid fast-paced exercises, such as circuit training, HIIT and sprints.
There’s little question that Reebok’s association with CrossFit – the sportswear manufacturer was licenced to sell branded apparel for the functional fitness company for the best part of a decade – helped re-energise the Adidas-owned, Anglo-American activewear specialist. Reebok has since cut ties with CrossFit but continues to produce a range of cross training kit, including HIIT trainers, speedwick tights, perforated T-shirts, and two-in-one performance shorts.
It all started with a T-shirt. In 1995, Kevin Plank, then the 23-year-old captain of the University of Maryland’s football team, decided to design a T-shirt to rule them all. From his grandmother’s basement in Washington DC, he created a soft, streamlined top with super speedy sweat-wicking properties. Today, Under Armour is one of the world’s leading sportswear brands, made all the more popular thanks to a catalogue of athlete endorsements that includes everyone from Anthony Joshua and Tom Brady to Liverpool FC’s Trent Alexander Arnold, seen here. Under Armour also owns the MapMyRun app, to which you can connect the brand’s UA HOVR running shoes to get real-time tips on how to improve your running form.
At £85, Vollebak’s Ceramic T-shirt doesn't come cheap. Then again, Vollebak’s Ceramic T-shirt isn’t your run-of-the-mill piece of gym kit (the clue’s in the name). In fact, given that its part-forged in a space-age material-technology facility in the mountains of Switzerland, and that it’s the first T-shirt ever to be made using ceramic – more than 100,000 particles of the stuff are embedded within it – £85 is actually something of a steal. Vollebak was founded by two British twins in 2015, and has since built a reputation as a pioneering adventure-sportswear specialist. As well as coats that conduct electricity, the British brand manufacturers jackets that reflect every colour in the visible spectrum and a biodegradable T-shirt that worms can eat once you’re done with it. This ceramic tee promises to last a little longer.