Friday, April 20, 2018
Business

Fitness apparel no longer just for the gym

Toss the old T-shirt and shorts.

At the Pure Barre fitness studio in South Tampa, clients stretch, tone and burn fat in style.

Once an afterthought, women's workout clothing has become fashionable, showing up on runways as much as on gym floors. Credit Lululemon and other fashion-forward fitness lines that made yoga pants the new jeans.

At a time of generally soft demand for women's apparel, sales of workout wear are on steroids. In November, the Associated Press reported that spending on workout clothes jumped 7 percent to $31.6 billion in the 12-month period that ended in August. By comparison, spending on other clothing rose 1 percent.

"We're constantly on the lookout for versatile active wear that will take us from the studio to a meeting to a dinner in one outfit," said Elle McComb, co-owner of Pure Barre franchises in South Tampa and St. Petersburg.

She and her daughter, Lauren McComb, opened the Tampa studio in September 2012 and the St. Petersburg location last November. Both have retail areas with leggings, sports bras and shirts from designer brands, such as Karma, Splits 59 and Beyond Yoga.

"It's where fashion meets fitness," said Lauren McComb, 29, a certified instructor.

The retail area of the St. Petersburg store on Fourth Street is so large, about 650 square feet, it looks like a boutique. At the South Tampa store on Neptune Street, workout wear fills the lobby.

The clothing appeals to women who are too busy for frequent wardrobe changes but who want to look good, even when glistening. It isn't Target or Walmart cheap. The average top sells for $38 to $78. Bottoms go for $60 to $120.

"It's something I can dress in in the morning and continue wearing for the rest of my day. I like that," said Lauren Schellman, a mother of four children 12 and younger. "I don't necessarily have time to go home and change my look."

For a small fitness business, the benefits can be huge. Pure Barre in South Tampa, one of the top franchises nationwide in terms of retail sales, generates about one-third of its revenue from retail. Even people who don't take the classes — a condensed combination of Pilates, yoga and ballet — stop by to shop.

"Boutique fitness is definitely trending and growing," said Amy Tankersley, vice president of products and retail strategy for Pure Barre, which has 221 locations nationwide. "You can buy an outfit that's appropriate for the studio, but you can also buy the lifestyle component that can take you further."

Small studios have an edge over sporting goods and department stores that carry fitness apparel but can't offer customers the personalized treatment, she said. Studio owners also can pick from clothing brands not widely available locally.

Elle McComb, who handles the retail side of her Pure Barre business, keeps up with the latest fitness fashions and orders products best suited to her clients' tastes and body shapes. Coming for a class? You can't get to the exercise space without walking through the clothing displays by the front door.

"You have to be savvy about how you buy," said Elle McComb, 54, noting that her most popular set of tights sold 200 pairs. "Clothes don't sell themselves. You have to be passionate about it and know what looks good on people."

Nationwide, major fashion designers and retailers are rolling out fitness clothing lines trendy enough for the gym but also for dinner or drinks with friends.

Last fall, Macy's, in an effort to attract millennials, said it was expanding its active wear with larger assortments of Nike, North Face, Under Armour and other brands. In March, Lululemon Athletica debuted a one-time, limited line called &go of "studio to street" clothing and, based on its success, plans to reintroduce it in July online and in select stores.

For Jaye Maddon, the wife of Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon, round-the-clock fitness wear has become a uniform, often trumping her favorite pair of jeans. She wears tights and tops from Pure Barre to work out, run errands and attend baseball games at Tropicana Field.

"You can wear it everywhere on an everyday basis," she said. "The material is so soft and comfortable. I pretty much live in it."

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110.

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