While the fashion industry rides the rollercoaster from the shock of the pandemic compounded with supply chain disruptions and delayed and/or limited store openings, it is more important than ever for run specialty retailers to understand how customers are thinking and how this has impacted the fashion trends that have emerged in the past year of COVID-19.

It all starts with the number one business trend of the year Ñ the now-dominant home office.

While working from home, consumers have had an abundance of time on their hands that allows for a considerable amount of in-depth research on any product on their shopping list Ñ with apparel near the top of it. Face it, for good or bad for the lives of retailers, researching and purchasing online has become a way of life.

The good is that in 2021 when a customer ventures into a store, he or she is far more educated in the products they are seeking. The bad: Gone are the days of relying on the store’s salespeople for product and technical advice.

Add to this the huge boom in outdoor activity Ð certainly including running Ð and more serious thought about a sustainable future and what emerges is a very different, very challenging retail apparel environment. Every one of these factors is impacting how consumers shop Ñ and the products they seek out.

Because of all this, run specialty retailers need to be on-trend and up-to-date with their fashion smarts, a knowledge that goes well beyond pricing and merchandising to include a host of factors ranging from sustainable fabrics to technology to color trends.

For example:

¥ Consumers are much more conscious about the climate crisis and will actively seek out sustainable fabrics. There is increased interest in garments made with recycled polyester, nylon and cotton.

¥ Multi-use is hot. Think shorts with pockets, jackets with wearable tech and, of course, Bluetooth-enabled shoes.

¥ They are demanding the latest in apparel tech, favoring garment waterproofing, along with the always-important moisture-wicking, breathability and quick-dry features.

¥ Runners definitely are showing a greater interest in performance and function first. State-of-the-art intelligent fabrics that read and react to the wearer’s body are designed to monitor performance and combat overheating while coaching in real time.

¥ Interesting, what us being called “technical sportswear” is in vogue, as none other than Vogue magazine recently revealed that “as millions join social fitness communities like Strava, Nike Run Club o Fiit, technical athleticwear is in demand.” Both premium and mass-market brands are tapping into these fitness communities, according the magazine’s online voguebusiness.com site; indeed, lululemon has one of the biggest clubs on Strava, with more than 100,000 members.


The Brighther Side of Color

Many of these trends can certainly be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a world filled with bad news and conflict, fashion and color are playing  a role in coping.

Some of the strongest colors being seen everywhere from runways to running paths are palettes that are cheerful and make a positive impact. It is no surprise that aqua and blue tones continue to gain strength, especially when used with tonally related colors and in ombre prints. Aqua is one of the most soothing colors and promotes a sense of healing during a pandemic.

The warmth of coral colors and orange-based reds exude confidence and energy in activewear. These warm colors are often used in contrast with black or navy.

Blue cast greys are one of the most versatile colors being seen in everything from tights to tops.

“Soft greys and clearer yellows are very successful this season,” points out Kathy Griffin, director of R&D at Robinson Manufacturing, Dayton, TN. “Greens are becoming cleaner and we are seeing more yellows.”

The soft grey promotes tranquility when paired with tonal blues or greens and is equally dynamic when combined with warm colors such as lemon sherbet (sounds yummy!) or a multitude of broad range of brights.

The bold use of black and white is attention grabbing and ensures the wearer stands out on any run.

Finally, this year prints that are influenced by nature are going wild. Animal print motifs and subtle geometrics are often seen combined with reflective qualities.


The Shape of Things To Come

All of this technology and color is playing out in the look of apparel in general Ñ and running apparel is following the same path.

For silhouette design, consumers are looking for value and design modularity. They want to be able to wear garments that are seasonless and have reusable components Ñ often made with two or more functions. With consumers looking to buy less, functionality and hybridized styles are key.

Four of the top design trends run specialty retailers are going to want to have on their shelves and mannequins:

¥ The two-in-one short. Designed to provide light compression without restriction, this multi-use piece of apparel provides additional coverage and ease of movement, while pockets strategically placed on the side legs minimize movement of items and prevent rubbing. Reflective tape adds even more value with the focus on safety.

 ¥ The multi-pocket short. Taking it a step further, this season is featuring shorts and leggings with even more pocket space for runners to carry everything from keys to cell phones to credit cards or cash (for those who still carry cash). Zippered and stash pockets allow items to be stored securely while  eliminating the need for arm bands or packs. This season designers are adding more pockets made of materials with breathability and fibers that absorb and dry quickly.

 ¥ The double-layer vest. Smart runners know how important layering is. The increasingly popular double-layer vest this season usually includes a synthetic base layer that wicks away sweat, while a half-zip top layer can be unzipped easily to release heat. For the higher price-point styles, fabrics include techy features that can transmit data and monitor performance.

¥ The moulded sports bra. In a slightly different direction, clean edges and moulded cups made of lightweight space foam provide extra support and comfort for female runners who are demanding attention be paid to undergarments. Wide straps and a high apex cut allow for natural breathable support. Mesh panels are often added to work as a natural cooling system for the body, while trim detail made of welded reflective tape ensures safety while out on the road. Higher price point moulded sports bras made with smart fabric offer varying levels of support depending on high or low level impact.


Staying on Trend

While run retail is and will always be mostly about the latest and greatest in footwear, the role of apparel is increasing in bottom-line importance as consumers trust their local run specialty retailer to carry trend-right and in-style apparel.

To earn that trust retailers must pay attention to the product and style trends found everywhere around them Ñ from high-end department stores to gyms to streetwear and, of course, on runners themselves.