The Athleisure Wars: How Athleta Became the Premier Athleisure Brand

Vuori is the only athleisure brand that over-indexes with men, and other insights about the joggers category.

It’s an impressive feat of capitalism that there exists a style of pants called “joggers” that are used for everything but running.

These sporty but comfortable pants are now ubiquitous on planes, couches and casual streetwear, and their popularity is a testament to athleisure, a fashion category that has risen to prominence over the past 15 years by providing customers with garments versatile enough for Pilates class or lying horizontal all day. 

For years, the category was dominated (and largely defined) by Lululemon, whose form-fitting attire appealed to women, especially those with a regular yoga practice. But athleisure has become more crowded and segmented in recent years, with challenger brands carving out distinct niches within the category — and some have even overtaken Lululemon as the premiere athleisure brand.

Athleta, Alo and Vuori, three relative newcomers to the athleisure category, now outrank Lululemon when it comes to high-income consumers (those earning more than $100,000 per year), according to a new study conducted by purchase data platform Attain. Vuori does better than Lululemon among consumers 25 to 45 years old, and Alo is by far the most popular brand among 25- to 34-year-olds, as these individuals are 2x more likely to shop at Alo compared to other age groups. Athleta, the Gap-owned athleisure label, has the highest index score among female customers, and Alo and Vuori have the highest average price per transaction.

Lululemon, which essentially invented the athleisure market, remains the industry leader and by a wide margin. Lululemon has accounted for more than 80 percent of all athleisure purchases each month for the past year, according to Attain data. Lululemon still does well with high-income consumers (athleisure, as a category, is notoriously expensive) and young athleisure buyers (Lululemon ranks first among the coveted 18- to 24-year-old graphic).

It’s just that a few plucky upstarts have made inroads with customers and established distinct brands within the category.

“Has Lululemon been unseated? No. But it has captured the zeitgeist and shown there is room for an even more premium end of the market,” says retail industry analyst Andrew Lipsman. “In a very large market today, other brands have been able to capture some consumers who want to differentiate themselves and the desire to convey status.”

Athleisure remains a female-dominated category, but one brand, Vuori, has established itself as the one brand that caters to men. Lululemon made a concerted push 10 years ago to broaden its appeal and attract more male customers, and while somewhat successful, it’s Vuori that over-indexes among men, likely because it marketed itself and its comfy jogger pants as the male equivalent to women’s yoga pants.

“Vuori was able to capitalize on the underserved men's market with a brand that more directly aligned with the male consumer,” Lipsman adds. “As the athleisure category exploded, particularly with the men's market, during the pandemic, Vuori was able to ride that wave.”

Lipsman explains the athleisure landscape thusly: “Athleta is for the masses. Lululemon is the Nike of the category. Alo is the prestige brand. And Vuori has currency with men.”

other stories you might like