Everywhere we looked this year, clothing from decades ago was in view: From tearaway track pants with either small insignias or snaps running down the seams to high-collared zip jackets with oversized logos from both mainstream and obscure brands, done up in materials ranging from stretchy neoprene blends to swishy nylons, goods that were ripe with early-’90s nostalgia ruled the past 12 months.
“Athleisure” sales nearly topped $ 46 billion in 2016. Even in a crowded, skeptical market, the trend has yet to fade from relevance — with sales expected to nearly double by 2020, according to consulting firm A.T. Kearney. Its continued popularity has spawned new clothing brands, pushed luxury labels to capitalize on the look and acted as the catalyst to breathe new life into aging or unfamiliar heritage sports brands. In short, never has the retro sportswear style reigned supreme like it did in 2017.
Henson, a representative, believes there are a few factors at play in the rise of retro sportswear. He points out the continued relaxation of workplace dress codes, as well as the modern interpretation of luxury that looks more like a locker room than a board room. But in his mind, nostalgia is driving force. “I think that’s where it started,” he says. “It was less of a fashion statement than a wearability thing — taking pieces from the runway and mixing it with things from their favorite vintage shops. I definitely get a lot more emails now about brands I used to wear when I was younger that are trying to make a comeback with new creative direction.”
The future presents an interesting proposition for brands like Kappa, especially considering the fickle nature of fashion trends. Collaborations could be key to continued success, but there may be something larger at play.
“It’s a great time for brands from the ‘80s and ‘90s to come back,” says Henson. “Consumers are looking for that product. Brands in the past stood for things more often in politics and social movements. It was less about what celebrities are wearing and more about the consumer. People are searching for connections through clothing. That’s why these brands have a big opportunity.”