“Working out is modern couture. No outfit is going to make you look or feel as good as having a fit body. Buy less clothing and go to the gym instead.”
- Rick Owens
Though Rick Owens references modern couture, his words are applicable to all couture. In fact, they can and should be extended and applied to all times, everywhere and perpetually because ultimately, without health, fashion is meaningless. It's hard to enjoy life, let alone fashion, with death lingering close by.
That being said, there's no reason one can't look good while keeping oneself healthy, which brings us to today's topic: athletic wear.
Within athletic wear, particularly semi-stylish athletic wear, there are plenty of options for women, including Lululemon (LULU for you stock enthusiasts...the stock is up 300%+ since its IPO in 2009 by the way), a $5B+ company that not only piggied back on the yoga trend, but also arguably helped accelerate the trend. And there were a number of fast followers who sought to capture some market share as well, such as Athleta.
But when it comes to men's athletic wear, well, we'll just run through the options and see what conclusions can be drawn.
Nike is a ~$68 billion company with a great set of athlete endorsements, a storied past, a willingness to take risks and fail, and finally, a hunger to innovate and stay ahead of its competition on a number of fronts. Look no further than Nike's commitment to data science and eagerness to jump into the wearables market as signs of its willingness to fail and hunger to innovate and stay ahead of its competition on a number of fronts. The Nike Fuelband, for instance, though reviewed favorably by some, ultimately failed, yet Nike has never suggested that it regrets trying to enter the wearables market and in fact, is rumored to be partnering with Apple to utilize the data that it gathers from Fuelband users in a meaningful manner. So, though it may be ending the hardware component of its wearbles foray, Nike continues to find ways to stay relevant in the “quantification of self” movement.
But for all that Nike does bring to the table, there are two things that it has and continues to be criticized for lacking: style and quality. With respect to the quality, charges against Nike have ranged from its just downright poor quality to the way in which its products are made: in sweatshops around the world using underage workers. In fact, current founder and editor in chief of Buzzfeed once pushed Nike on this very point in a hilarious e-mail back and forth that can be found here: http://urbanlegends.about.com/
But the other charge against Nike is that it has lost its design sense. And this claim has proven to be very true recently, particularly in the case of the Fuelband which, though “better” than some of its competitors in the information that it provides, is less stylish both on a physical and user interface design level. The Fuelband is very much a part of you and doesn't just quietly melt into the background in the same way the Jawbone UP does. And a lot of people don't love that.
This lack of strong design aesthetic is, more importantly for this article, also clear in Nike's men's athletic wear. When you wear Nike athletic wear, everyone knows you are wearing Nike athletic wear. And that's not something that everyone wants everyone else to know. In fact, Nike's insistence on strong branding and its lack of subtlety leads its creation of workout clothing that ranges from downright ugly to tolerable. It is, for the stylish man, not a viable option. But Nike isn't the only one to make this mistake.
Adidas is quite a big company in its own right. And much like Nike, somewhere in that big company are people who don't seem to have much of a clue about what a stylish, modern man wants out of their sportswear.
Well, that might be a little harsh because, like Nike, Adidas delivers on a number of fronts including cutting edge sweat guarding/management technologies, as well as lightweight materials, etc.
But for the individual who doesn't want to have to make any sacrifices, like Nike, Adidas falls short on the athletic wear front and for some of the same reasons: a lack of subtlety and an overemphasis on branding.
When one wears Adidas, one is making a deep commitment to wearing the brand because you suddenly, whether by choice or not, become a walking advertisement for Adidas. Furthermore, there seems to be a memo that has been passed around to sports apparel market execs that reads: BRIGHT COLORS LEAD TO BRIGHT FUTURES. Unfortunately, that memo is dated because we can't say that we agree.
Though the place of exercise is a place of purpose, one doesn't need to live a dual-life from a fashion perspective and if that means that you avoid bright, gaudy colors on a day to day basis, you should be able to do so when working out. Is that really too much to ask?
Oakley is one of the worst offenders, in our opinion, because not only do they make ugly sportswear, their sportswear is poorly designed and doesn't even incorporate best in class technology. At least Nike and Adidas can claim that they have the most up to date/cutting edge features embedded into their clothing. Oakley can't claim these things nor can they claim to make reasonable looking sportswear. All they push out is...crap.
In our humble opinion, we believe that the men's athletic wear market is underserved and though there are plenty of smaller companies in the space that are focusing on design and aesthetic alone, in the process, they give up some of the technologies and features found in some of the bigger name products. All of this leads us to wonder if there will ever be a day when the big players sweat the small stuff and a day in which the small players sweat the big stuff. In the mean time, fashion is no excuse for not taking care of one's body, so we'll have to work with what we have...that is, until WvG gets into the business of athletic wear.