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Beyoncé and the cultural lure of sweat

Beyonce’s new activewear clothing line, Ivy Park, is selling consumers a better lifestyle. Screenshot from promotional video.

Beyoncé and the cultural lure of sweat

Beyoncé has launched, in collaboration with the owner of Topshop, a range of activewear (clothing for sport or exercise) named Ivy Park.

The singer joins a growing list of celebrities who have launched activewear collaborations, including: Kanye West with Adidas, actor Kate Hudson’s Fabletics with JustFab Inc, and (unbelievably) a special collection created by director David Lynch for the online health hub, Live the Process.

So why does activewear bring the famous to the co-creation sweat table?

Activewear makes good economic sense

According to Morgan and Stanley, worldwide sports apparel sales have risen 42 per cent to US$270 billion over the past seven years. The global sports apparel market, which includes activewear, is poised to grow to US$178 billion per annum by 2019.

Florals from David Lynch’s special collection with Live the Process. Live the Process.

In Australia, this has translated to an annual growth of 8.8 per cent between 2011 and 2016, with estimates suggesting it will continue to rise.

Morgan and Stanley estimate that the industry could grow by a further 30 per cent by 2020. With such staggering growth figures it’s worth considering what has created this economic success story.

Activewear makes cultural sense

24/7 activewear taps into the health and well-being industry, offering an accessible entry point to better living. While its presence in the gym is expected, activewear outside of the gym is on the rise.

Activewear isn’t the high performance sporting apparel of Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign: it’s targeted at everyday people doing everyday things. Stripped of its performance measures, activewear can be marketed to a much broader audience.

This is particularly so with Beyoncé’s collection, which has a price range of AU$40-$270 and will be sold at TopShop, Nordstrum and Net-a-Porter.

Celebrity endorsed sportswear is hardly new. The 1980s brought celebrity endorsed legwarmers, headbands and leotards with their accompanying musical beats extolling the virtues of physical activity. But these were garments to be worn only while actually in the gym, or as it was then known, while getting physical.

Today’s activewear differs in two ways: it’s designed to be worn out of the gym as much as in it; and because of that, there’s less of a presumption that the wearer is either on their way to or from physical activity.

This shift has allowed performers such as Novelist and DJ Logan Sama to become champions of specific activewear, (such as Nike’s AirMax) and to release videos where they speak about the ways in which products have positively influenced their lives - without actually doing any physical activity.

UK rappers Novelist and Skepta talk about the personal meaning of Nike AirMax.

It has also produced the marketing category of the nu-lad, a tracksuit-wearing, 20-something, post-hipster who is ready for action but unlikely to undertake activity any time soon.

Beyoncé – a superfit, hugely successful, hard working woman – promotes her clothes with the strapline “Where is your park”. It seems not to send us to the gym but rather to our deepest selves.

Beyoncé’s activewear may well create a new romantic obsession with physical activity – one we’re primed to receive after years of watching aspirational TV cooking programs, whether we can cook or not.

Activewear doesn’t ask much of the wearer

With activewear, customers make up their own minds about how and where they engage with activity. With no expectation that they will do anything in particular, there’s no judgement about where or how they wear the clothing. This is illustrated by comedy group Skit Box, who lampoon the rise of activewear in our daily lives:

This Punch cartoon pokes fun at 1890’s activewear. CLICK TO ENLARGE. Punch magazine.

Beyoncé’s activewear follows a long tradition of American ingenuity in reaching out to new audiences in the name of activity. In the 1890s as cycling became a leisure activity, new “cycling costumes” were designed and marketed to the general public.

In the 1940s, American fashion designer Claire McCardell championed the development of modern sportswear.

Each development responded to changes in the way that leisure and sport have been conceptualised. Seen in this context, Beyoncé’s accessible activewear should be considered more than just another fashion collection: Ivy Park has the potential to be a game changer for the activewear marketplace.