It all started with sneakers. A few seasons ago, we spotted models, both men and women, wearing what looked like colourful sports shoes with suits, dresses and just about anything that wasn’t jog wear. Starting with the runways in Milan and Paris, this has since gone on to become a big worldwide trend, with its own monikers — Athleisure or sports luxe or active wear.
One of the earliest Indian designers to get onto the bandwagon were the Delhi-based designers Pranav Kirti Misra and Shyma Shetty, through their label Heumn. “It was quite by accident, actually,” he laughs, “but somewhere in our heads we knew that this was the right direction. That was autumn/Winter 2013. That was the starting point for us in athleisure,” says Misra, “I never wore sneakers during work hours earlier, but it has since became the DNA of the brand — incorporating active wear in street luxury clothing.”
For Misra the concept is all about comfort, and the process starts with the right fabric. “With every collection, we figure out how to make it more practical and encourage comfort,” he says. “I want our pieces to be in their active wardrobe for a longer period. Be it the red carpet or a mall trip, I want my consumer to be comfortable wearing the same garment at both places.”
Misra feels that the popularity of the trend has much to do with the increased awareness of fitness and lifestyle amongst youngsters. “We have started incorporating gym and yoga sessions in our daily routines and your wardrobe has to change accordingly,” he says. “You will have to focus on functional clothing that is flexible and can be worn for longer periods. In active wear, fabrics have become lighter, more breathable and odourless with the help of technology – an area that is advancing rapidly these days.”
And how is the Indian market reacting to the trend? “The Indian market is not different from the global market in this category,” he says. “Obviously, styles change, but their functionality does not. With the internet, everybody is aware of everything happening round the world. They want to evolve every year with respect to colours, fit and fabric. You see Indian streets adapting to unconventional clothing so quickly these days and the trickle down from the ramp to the street is so much faster now. Active wear is estimated to become a 1.3 billion dollar industry in India this year. It has become a big part of clothing culture and is not fading away anytime soon.”
But how flexible is athleisure? Can it be the new occasion wear or replace formal wear? Pranav thinks so. “You see people on Instagram or in magazines putting such unique looks together these days. Sneakers with suits is the easiest example. People are stressing on comfort immensely. Clients have picked up our velvet bomber jacket for weddings this season. So that just proves how flexible the trend is. Also, in the formal wear space, we need to remember that work cultures are changing. The dress code is changing along with it. The youth of India spends the large part of the day in offices. They can’t be in brogues, now, can they? Caged structures don’t work anymore.”