Workout Gear Goes Mainstream

Fashion-forward workout gear has moved beyond the barbell, eluded the elliptical and transcended the treadmill – becoming a wardrobe staple for those who prefer casual comfort all day long.

When Vogue magazine, the glossy bastion of fashion, weighs in on the “yoga pants everywhere” debate (as it did in an online piece published in January), you know it’s a trend with traction. According to that publication, one of the golden rules of all-day athleisure is to add the perfect accessory – like a structured leather jacket or mirrored sunglasses – to push an outfit from fitness-friendly to street chic. With the athleisure market straining toward $83 billion in annual sales, it’s not a stretch to say that comfy workout wear is just as – if not more – popular out of the gym as it is inside. The ubiquity of brands like Lululemon, Under Armour and Fabletics even earned the term “athleisure” a spot in the latest edition of Merriam-Webster.

The 2015-16 junior class at Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia high-jumped onto the bandwagon, elevating activewear into an art form through the use of digital printing, dimensional appliqué, laser-cut fringe and other design techniques. In this year’s spread, we feature their work, plus a slew of decorating and sales tips and some vital stats on the lucrative athleisure market.


Erin Keenan, of Norwood, PA, draws inspiration from Moschino designer Jeremy Scott and Japanese street fashion. Her design aesthetic, she says, “involves the use of interesting color schemes, proportion and fabric manipulation.”

Keenan imbued a slightly hip-hop vibe to her athleisure looks, which feature a sleeveless mesh hoodie with an asymmetrical hem for model Victoria, of MMA, and a navy faux-leather jacket for Michael, a model with the Reinhard Agency. The women’s leggings, and the sleeves, lapel and lining of the men’s jacket are decorated with a digital print inspired by the work of pop artist Jasper Johns.

“I simplified it and made it more geometric,” she says of her bright, blocky print. “It really works.”

In five years, Keenan hopes to be working as a fashion designer for an inspiring company on the East Coast, likely in Philadelphia or New York.


Turn your client’s logo into an all-over sublimated print on leggings or a T-shirt for a bold, head-turning look.


Sales of yoga pants grew 341% over a three-month period in 2015, compared to the same period in 2014, according to Edited, a company that provides real-time data for apparel retailers.


Lucy Sanchez, of Honduras, works with a geometrical design aesthetic inspired by abstraction. She’s strongly influenced by Gabriel Dawe, a large-scale mixed media and site-specific installation artist who works with geometric shapes and bright hues.

Taking Dawe’s work as her main source of inspiration, Sanchez created a mini-collection of striking athleisure looks. The women’s black-and-white leggings and sports bra with tie front, both made of shiny patent leather-like spandex with mini squares featuring a holographic pattern, have distinctive mesh panels, while the men’s look features a colorful digital print and unusual, exaggerated cowl hood.

“Working with different angles and structured details is what makes my garments more unique,” Sanchez says. “It’s a sophisticated look that’s playful with pops of vibrant color.” In the future, she adds, “I hope to eventually work for a company in New York, learning techniques from amazing designers and learning the business of fashion.”


Consider abstract dye-sublimation accents that match a company’s color branding.


The athleisure market is currently worth $44 billion in the U.S., according to global information company the NPD Group.


Monica Bates, of Bethlehem, PA, likes to play with colors, patterns and textures in her designs. “I might take a cream bouclé fabric or a cape and match it with a taupe suede fringe,” she explains. “I love creating interesting silhouettes that make the wearer always have one statement piece in their outfit.” Her design aesthetic encompasses both the natural world and more abstract concepts. “I draw inspiration from the smallest things, like a peony flower growing in my backyard, to more complicated subjects like the depths of anxiety and pandemonium,” Bates says.

Bates’ athleisure collection features a muted color palette, mixing neutrals and pastels. The women’s look includes a cape edged in laser-cut fringe, a bandeau top and leggings sporting a vaguely Art Nouveau digital print inspired by the work of Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei. Her men’s look features a baggy silhouette and appliqué stripes on the shirt.


A little bit of fringe goes a long way and often works best on accessories, like purses or shawls.


To distinguish themselves in an increasingly oversaturated athleisure market, many athletic brands are looking to high fashion and customization as the answer, according to market research company J. Walter Thompson Intelligence. Luxury activewear designer Alala, for example, sells $185 leggings with customizable colors and monograms.


Kimberly McLinden, of Langhorne, PA, takes much of her inspiration from bridal design, particularly the work of Pnina Tornai, Lazaro, George Elsissa and Berta. “Their aesthetics are unique,” she says, “and they produce statement gowns that are incredibly detail-oriented.”

McLinden describes her own aesthetic as “whimsical, graceful, dainty and to a certain degree, sensually suggestive.” With an eye for detail, she uses fabrics with texture, such as lace and beads, as well as delicate, lightweight materials such as organza and chiffon. “I don’t design with much color, so I use texture and embellishments to make my designs noticeable and stand out,” she explains.

McLinden’s athleisure mini-collection in stark black and white features “a clean and sleek design with sharp lines” that would appeal to the luxury market. The women’s look includes a cropped white leather jacket, while the lapels on the men’s jacket feature a digital print.

One day, McLinden says, she’d “like to be a design assistant or head designer for a widely known bridal designer, or part of a production team that constructs bridal gowns or couture evening wear in New York.”


A trendy, cropped leather jacket or blazer with a custom lining is a perfect high-end or incentive gift.


Activewear will represent $83 billion in sales by 2020, according to an estimate by financial firm Morgan Stanley.


Ariana Rodriguez, of Warminster, PA, describes her aesthetic as “minimalist and chic with social awareness.” The designer was influenced by the work of German environmental artist Nils-Udo and Moroccan mosaic artwork when she came up with the concept for her athleisure mini-collection.

She brought together elements from each medium by pairing the blue and green hues and randomness of the natural world with the hard lines of the geometric shapes in mosaics. Melding these conflicting concepts of exactitude and nature’s imperfection, she used blue-green digitally printed triangle appliqués to create abstract “mosaics” on each piece. The menswear white mesh jacket featured mosaic blocks on the chest panels and at the hem, while the womenswear mosaics were added to the elastic band of the black sports bra, and on the left hip and right ankle of the matching leggings.

“I focus on quality over quantity, encouraging ethical fashion practices,” says Rodriguez, who hopes to work as a wearable tech innovator for a company that shares her point of view.


Be conscious about your use of asymmetry and white space to draw the eye to a company’s logo.


Sports bras are a wardrobe staple for millennials. More than 40% of women in that demographic reported wearing one within the last week, according to a study by the NPD Group.


Victoria Jenkins, of Philadelphia, says she “emits energy” through a design aesthetic she calls “infinite bliss.” She draws inspiration from designers Tom Ford, Versace and Alexander McQueen. In designing her athleisure mini-collection, Jenkins was heavily influenced by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Room,” a mirrored space designed to give the viewer the experience of being surrounded by stars.

“I’m inspired by infinity and relate it dynamically to practical and mental concepts,” she says. “I’ve related the concept of infinity to outer space, our sun, past vs. present, trompe-l’oeil yarns and poetry.”

Jenkins uses elements of the cosmos as a way of representing the concept of infinity in a concrete way. The digital print in her men’s and women’s looks is converted from a hand-painted pattern and represents the night sky. Her men’s look also includes a sweatshirt with an infinity hood and sweatpants featuring a black ellipse on the inner leg. The women’s look includes a bodysuit, colorblocked leggings, wrap scarf and three-quarter-length fingerless gloves.


For clients looking to reproduce their own artwork onto T-shirts and other apparel, suggest direct-to-garment printing for its detailed, photorealistic capabilities.


Activewear sales increased by 16% in 2015, whereas the overall apparel market increased just 2% in the same time, according to the NPD Group.

Sara Lavenduski and Claire Voeglein contributed to this report.