Dan Williams, the founder of WIT Fitness, a London-based sportswear retailer, said sometime in the past five years, a massive intersection was crossed between sport and fashion. “At some point it became acceptable to wear what you wore to the gym, outside of the gym, and all day,” said Williams, who just signed a partnership with CrossFit to sell branded gear to the masses. “This started with women and now it has become acceptable for the male consumer as well.” The wave of “athleisure” seems to have no peak, as training apparel continues to rapidly expand across the world. The term, first coined by Lululemon founder Chip Wilson in the early 2000s, now encompasses an entire identity where people wear workout clothes to run errands and socialise in. The industry has become so big, market analysts are failing to encapsulate it all into one term. There’s “activewear”, “fitness apparel”, “workout clothes”, all encompassing a range of items that include shorts, T-shirts, pants, shoes and various accessories. Allied Market Research estimates the “sport apparel market” will grow to US$248 billion in size by 2026, which would put it in the same financial league as high-end fashion. Williams said there is an anecdotal way to sum up what has been happening. “People who wear these clothes now identify as someone who trains, that was never a thing before,” he said. “Five, six years ago if you and I went to a gym and then put on our jeans or suit afterwards, we wouldn’t talk to people about say, ‘How is your training going?’ Whether it’s CrossFit or some other type of training, they now identify as someone who trains.” This has even bled into the workforce, he said. “It has now become acceptable in places like London to wear these clothes to work.” Brands such as Nike, Reebok, Lululemon and NOBULL, which is now the official sponsor of the CrossFit Games – taking over from Reebok – have capitalised on a fast growing marketplace, said Williams. A former collegiate runner, Williams said fitness and fashion is night and day from previous generations. “If you look at when Nike was founded in the 70s, running was not cool, people used to take the p*** out of runners. Wearing running shoes, running shorts and a tank top was not cool, and now that is laughable because running is now by far the biggest sport and most accessible sport, and also it’s cool.” This is now happening with various forms of training, said Williams, which includes yoga, CrossFit, bodybuilding, even dance fitness classes. This includes branded fitness regimes, both small local boutique gyms and franchised outlets such as Barry’s and F45 which have a number of locations in Hong Kong. The trend can be tied to a much larger movement of increased health and wellness, which research firm McKinsey & Company estimates is valued at about US1.4 trillion and includes everything from nutrition and mindfulness to sleep and daily care products. This trend, according to the study, has been further accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the massive work from home movement and an increased appreciation for fitness due to gyms being locked down for months on end. There has also been resistance against the industry, as some major companies have instituted dress codes and sports like CrossFit have been labelled “cult-like”. Williams said there is no immediate roof for workout apparel, as right now the marketplace has only established itself in areas like North America and Europe. First fitness apparel brand in Asia to target CrossFit followers, Earned Athletic, and the Hong Kong trio behind its launch He said emerging markets are catching whiff of the trend as they establish middle class consumers, and will soon want the same choices in what they wear before, during and after the gym. “If you look at places like Asia, Russia and the Middle East, there is so much potential there it is ridiculous, so I think for the next 15 or 20 years, the sky is the limit,” he said.