Trend Watch: Why and How Did the Athletic Trend Infiltrate High Fashion?

athleisure Aug 04, 2017

Our contributor and resident sneaker connoisseur Jesse looked into the high fashion athletic streetwear trend and how it came to insert itself in our collective psyche.

Below are his findings.

I came across this image when I was scrolling through my Instagram feed a couple of days ago :


A post shared by Matt Marzahl (@multimarz) on

Yes that’s an Umbro logo. And what’s more is it’s printed on an Off-White shirt.

Now, flashback to last month when I came across this image:

Yes, those are what you think they are — Kappa track pants sported by none other than hip-hop’s up and coming/most likely to blow artist Playboi Carti.

For those of you unfamiliar with Umbro and Kappa, they are both soccer brands that were the pinnacle of style in the mid 90s and early 2000s. Old school brands of the world like this have experienced a resurgence as of late, popping up more and more frequently over the past year or so. We decided it was time to investigate the matter and go on a trend recognizance mission.

Bear with me as we take one last trip down memory lane. Do you remember Champion tearaways? They were popularized right around the same time as Kappa and Umbro. If you didn’t rock tearaways in middle school (yes I am dating myself), you were basically a wankster (I realize the term wankster is also dating me, but at this point I’ve already laid out my hand 🃏).

Tearaways (see also: snap pants) were designed specifically for basketball players. The snaps allowed for players who were resting on the bench to stay warm in pants and to quickly remove them when their coach hollered at them to substitute into the game. They were designed for utility, not for fashion.

But a year ago, Kim K — arguably high fashion’s most recognized muse today — was out to dinner in a pair of snap pants and lingerie.

Exhibit A:

Kim out in Paris today (September 29) #KimKardashianWest

A post shared by Kim Kardashian Army (@kimkardashianarmy) on

In fact, she's been rocking with this avant-garde athletic look pretty consistently for some time now, just recently having been spotted out and about in sweats, heels and a crop top. Athleisure trend gone one step further.

Exhibit B:

The wind you this necessary

A post shared by Kim Kardashian West (@kimkardashian) on

Rose Bertin (Marie Antoinette’s milliner) once said: “There is nothing new except what has been forgotten”. Wise words coming from the OG of OG's. That’s where we are at with athletic gear and its infiltration of high fashion.

Brands like Umbro and Kappa were removed from our collective psyche just long enough that bringing them back from the dead is fresh and exciting again. Fashion trends come and go, and then recycle themselves. And the guys who are reviving these old new trends operate in the grand fashun space; dudes like Gosha Rubchinskiy and Virgil Abloh of Off-White (more on him later).

Below we’re going to break down the anatomy of this trending fashion moment and three things we’ve learned analyzing it that can be utilized in any brand marketing capacity.

Heed up.

1. Collaboration

The rumors are true: music is the peanut butter to fashion's jelly. And the world's best brands are using Instagram for marketing this concept. Let's observe.

Over the past 30 years, rap music has been making a violent coup in the lining of North American culture. What started out as a fringe style of music has steadily grown to the heights of popularity. Twenty years ago, you’d be more likely to hear U2 blasting from a car passing by than you would Nelly or Ja Rule. But in 2017, the landscape shifted and rap music has statistically surpassed rock & roll as the most popular genre.

The hip-hop vernacular goes way beyond the beats and encompasses a whole lifestyle, along with an aesthetic that is steeped in athletic wear. With the genre now at the forefront of music culture, so comes its look. Where this trend comes from is starting to make more sense, doesn't it... The dots are starting to connect now, aren’t they?

Let's keep digging. Kanye is arguably rap music's most prominent artist currently. And he happens to be married to the fashion industry's most dominant force (thanks in part to him), Kim Kardashian. The man was born in the 80s, grew up in Chicago, is obsessed with sports, and worshiped Michael Jordan while listening to rap music as a youngster. And he is the king of collaboration.

Before working with Adidas, Kanye referred to himself as the Louis Vuitton Don. Sure, he collaborated with Nike on two pairs of shoes before Adidas, but arguably his most important partnership was with grandmaster LV in 2009, which yielded 3 signature shoes. This collaboration signaled a massive upheaval and drastic shift in the industry.

Sure, groups like Run DMC had collaborated with Adidas before, while Jay-Z stole a Gucci shoe design and slapped a Reebok logo on it. But these are athletic brands, not high fashion brands. Designer maisons were just something aspirational rappers penned rhymes about and whose products they consumed with their own money.

Kanye flipped the relationship from vendor/consumer to collaboration, and now the best brands are clamoring to work with rappers instead of the opposite. Talk about fashion freaky Friday. Hip-hop figures offer an intangible cool factor and a level of authenticity that brands are keen to leverage in this marketing day and age. In 2017, it’s become commonplace to see A$AP Rocky yucking it up with Raf Simons or being the face of Dior Homme. In 2009, this would have been unheard of.

Still don’t believe the YEEZY effect?

In May alone, Nike's overall sales declined a couple percentage points, while Adidas' sneaker sales rose an astounding 74%. A month earlier, Adidas actually surpassed Jordan Brand after hitting a record 13% market share, which dipped due to market fluctuation. – Sole Collector

@reebokclassics #classicleather 👟 #ad

A post shared by Gigi Hadid (@gigihadid) on

This is a lesson in the power of the right collaboration. When properly incubated and nurtured, magic partnerships can change a brand's entire output regardless of their industry, especially when it comes to leveraging Instagram campaigns. He are a few things to consider when deciding on who to work with, whether it's for influencer marketing or working on product with a creator. Ask yourself:

  • Does the collaboration improve my business because the collaborator brings something to the table that my brand needs?
  • Does the collaborator have a genuine, engaged audience?
  • Are their philosophies in line with the core values of my business?

2. Nostalgia

Real talk: humans just friggin love to reminisce.

This explains why retro Jordans sell so much better than new models. Or why when you go to a concert you want to hear the greatest hits rather than a band's most recent jams. We want to be transported back in time. Nostalgia might be one of marketing’s most powerful tools.

We mentioned Virgil Abloh earlier. He is the guy behind high fashion brand Off-White and — surprise surprise — a disciple of the Church of Kanye. He used to be his creative director and is a consummate collaborator. Virgil is a fashion industry wunderkind who recently collaborated with NIKE on a handful of shoe designs, which can be found on the feet of everyone from Tom Sachs to Bella Hadid.

Below is an abridged list of shoes that he designed for this particular project, including the year of origin for each silhouette to help illustrate the power of nostalgia:

None of the above shoes were first introduced within the last 15 years. Virgil is putting his personal spin on the classics. These make for a great case study on the ascent of athletic designs into our culture and of the streetwear aesthetic penetrating the rigid high fashion shell. He’s even doodling on each individual pair — how much more 90’s high school can these get?

Utilizing nostalgia as a marketing principle is applicable to any business. Dive deeper. Understand your brand journey and share its history with your audience. It’s guaranteed to resonate and you’ll be surprised with just how powerful the sentiment of “oh MAN, I remember that” is.

3. Stay True

We’ve said this a million times on the blog: staying true to your core vision and not aborting mission to chase a fleeting trend will ensure longevity. And that goes not only in the internet sphere, but in business as well.

Instagram has played a hand in bringing fashion and style to the forefront of culture by making it accessible and democratic. This is both good and bad. It's more inclusive, but the trend cycle has been shortened and campaigns that would have previously spanned six months now only last two weeks.

The increased velocity at which trends churn adds pressure to produce more to keep up. While catering to the demand is important, remaining core to your brand is also imperative. If you waiver, you will loose — it’s that simple. The deeper you dig your heels in and remain true to your unique selling proposition, the greater your brand will resonate and be relevant, regardless of consumer cycles.

Two athletically-inclined brands that struggled in the early aughts have recently experienced a revival by capitalizing on basics: GAP and Champion. Gap is kicking it old school with its time-honored collegiate hoodies, while Champion is being, well, championed by another high fashion streetwear force, Vêtements.

Thanks to that endorsement, Champion was one of the most influential brands on Instagram in January, garnering a godly 6.41% engagement rate. Right before them stood FENTYXPUMA. Wait, what? Fenty x Puma, a collab between Rihanna, an urban music mainstay, and Puma, an athletic wear giant, dominated engagement in the month of January? This athletic wear popularity thing runs even deeper than we initially thought 💡.


A post shared by VETEMENTS (@vetements_official) on

It's safe to say that athletic streetwear has permeated the high fashion sector in recent years, from Givenchy and Balmain's embracement of the Kardashians, to labels like Vêtements making a fresh splash on the scene. And there is an important lesson to be drawn from these insights. Fashion trends come and go, but human beings are creatures of habit. Tap into the three sentiments discussed above, remain consistent and blast that Tupac beat to help you stay true.

Tell us, how does your business plan on leveraging the three fundamentals discussed above? Do you own any FILA swag? Is Kanye too abrasive? Do you think you can get away with tear away pants in the office? So many questions, so little time.

Want to learn more about visual trends? Get in touch today (right after you sign up for our weekly newsletter 👇).

Jesse Ingalls

Size 9.5. Sometimes 9 💁