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The Washington Post

Posted on 06 January 2015

New Year’s resolution wear: Workout clothes for the sweat-averse

By Robin Givhan

The Gisele Bundchen advertisement for Under Armour was not the turning point but it was a contributing factor in Devon Mish’s decision, three months ago, to launch her own brand of activewear. In the commercial, which has gotten some 2.5 million views on Youtube, the model is shown wearing Under Armour leggings along with a sports bra while sweating her way through a kickboxing workout. As she wallops the heavy bag with serious vigor, real comments from viewers — some positive, many negative — flash on the walls around her. And she ignores them.

The message is female empowerment through sweaty athleticism. And that did not appeal to Mish. “You look at the commercials. Women are running in a marathon. Gisele is boxing. They’re sweating,” Mish says. “I don’t like sweating. I don’t like the feeling of sweating. I don’t strive to be this hardcore athlete.”

Once activewear, or athleisure wear, as it has been called, moved out of the gym and onto the streets, it meant that everyone from Nike to Athleta were dressing women like warriors — even if those women were just picking up the dry cleaning. Mish was ready for a stylistic about-face. She longed for a philosophical and aesthetic return to women’s workout gear before it emphasized the athletic Title IX woman. So she created Devon Maryn — named after her daughter — which cheekily celebrates “pink, stripes, jewelry and big hair.”

It is not that Mish never works out. Turning 30 and having just had her third baby were plenty motivation to burn a few calories and get the endorphins flowing. So she goes to Spinning classes and runs on the treadmill. And she sweats, but she’s not happy about it. She certainly didn’t want to sweat while dressed in all black — like Bundchen. Like a jock.

Mish, a California native who moved to Odenton, Md., ten years ago, describes her aesthetic as preppy. Her clothes are for women who might have an affinity for Kate Spade or Lilly Pulitzer sportswear. So in addition to plenty of pink, there are anchor and lobster prints. “People are focused on the sporty, edgy area of activewear,” Mish says. “These are shorts you can wear to the gym, but also on vacation and to the beach.”

Mish is part of that vast swath of the population for whom yoga pants are the new blue jean. Spandex leggings now make more appearances at the grocery store than they do in yoga studios. Indeed, it is activewear that gave the apparel industry its recent revenue bump. Leggings and sports bras now account for 16 percent — or $33.7 billion — of the $206.3 billion apparel market, according to NPD Group, which tracks and analyzes retail data. It was designer Alexander Wang’s athleisure line for H &M that briefly brought down the mass marketer’s Web site.

If there are any explanations for this, beyond the ever-increasing informality of our public wardrobe and the grooming stasis that occurs when a morning workout merges into afternoon errands which merge into dinner and bedtime, at least one of them is exasperation with fashion’s once singular casual offering.

“Women, I think, are over trying to squeeze themselves into skinny jeans. So the comfort of activewear is a reprieve,” says Ira Schwartz, who co-owns, with his wife, Jody, the New York-based outdoor sportswear company Free Country. After all, who wants to put on Spanx just to walk the dog?

Thus the landscape was soon blanketed by countless Lululemon leggings with their colorful contrasting waistbands. The apparel industry quickly spawned a host of high-end activewear companies producing $400 running tights and sports bras that could be mistaken for bondage gear. There are leggings that look as though they are stitched from leather and others with mesh inserts. SoulCycle incorporates a skull and crossbones into its branding. The emphasis has been on edgy, sexy and aerodynamic styles. And driving that point home was Puma’s recent decision to bring in Rihanna as creative director, which may very well mean see-through leggings and crystal-covered sports bras for the kick-butt woman who fancies herself a modern-day Athena.

Contemporary activewear aims to make women look heroic and powerful — even if all they are doing is lifting a latte to their lips over brunch. Indeed, a look at the Carbon38 Web site, which specializes in some of the most fashion-forward activewear, is a full-on celebration of sculpted six-packs, oiled bodies, urban cool and spandex.

But Mish simply wanted a pair of yoga pants that were not all about sweating, grunting or heavy breathing. She did not need them to make her look tough or fearless or like she actually enjoyed doing box jumps and burpees. No, she wanted yoga pants and running shorts that left all that behind and just looked pretty. She wanted activewear that stopped pretending to dress women for something that they didn’t actually do.

“If we’re looking at customers in the honest-to-goodness light, they’re not aspirational,” Schwartz says. The majority of them are not Crossfit-obsessed, tabata-crazed, Paleolithic dieters. They are exercise dabblers, perhaps recently committed to a New Year’s resolution fitness routine. “So how do you make the customer look good?”

Mish thinks a bit of pink could help — and hold the muscle tees.

Full article here.


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