I work out like this. I woke up at 6am and did my morning skin routine. I used a serum, a face moisturiser, a body moisturiser, a deodorant, a texturising spray, a concealer, a tinted moisturiser, a mascara, and a brow gel. I am flawless. I pulled on my Lululemon work-out gear and was at SoulCycle before day break. I moved forward a row. I freshened up, I did my mini post-workout skin routine. I used a facial spray, a body spray, a blush, a powder, a highlighter, and a lipstick. I achieved the no makeup makeup look. I got a juice on the way to work and listened to the latest episode of Serial. I got to work early and felt ahead of the game. Ahead of the men. Leaning in. A personal best. My best self. Better than the rest. A self worth a selfie. I am Patrick Bateman in yoga pants and Tom Ford lipstick. I work out like this.
As we clocked over into 2016 and moved from peak drunk to peak ‘new year, new me’, beauty subscription brand Birchbox launched Arrow. According to the blurb on their site, the second in-house label from the brand specialises in “lightweight, long-wearing makeup and refreshing skincare… designed to keep up with your on-the-go, active life — whether that means going straight from pilates to brunch or just powering through an action-packed, appointment-filled day”. The range which currently contains just a lip balm and a cheek tint, is potentially the first-to-market in an emerging trend I’m going to go ahead and call ‘athbeauty’.
Athbeauty, though still very much in its infancy, has a strong genealogy which could take it mainstream very quickly. Sitting at the intersection of its forebears ‘athleisure’ and the ‘beauty blogging/vlogging scene’, athbeauty is the fast-moving consumer good every retailer dreams of. Like the luxury perfume market, athbeauty products can convey all the lifestyle associations of high-end brands like Lululemon, Equinox, SoulCycle, ADAY and Outdoor Voices but at an entry-level price tag. Add in chatty, personalised endorsements from beauty and lifestyle influencers such as Ingrid Nilsen,Kayla Itsines, and Goop, and athbeauty would almost sell itself.
2015 was the year ‘athleisure’ went mass market. So much so it probably doesn’t need to be in inverted commas anymore. It seemed every brand converged in the health and fitness space, bringing fashion, taste, style and glamour to what had previously been sweaty, ill-fitting and inappropriate to be seen wearing in public.
Like goth and punk before it, athleisure wasn’t just a look — it came with a lifestyle and a mindset all its own, and one particularly aimed at women (although not, as Vladamir Putin proved, limited to them). Athleisure came to represent an image of women that was simultaneously empowering and elitist.
As an empowering image, the athleisure look was form-fitting yet comfortable. Women could spend their day in workout gear and feel confident. It advocated health and strength over skinniness and challenged traditional notions of ‘femininity’. It allowed women to get their sweat on, and then get on with their day. On the other side of the coin, athleisure also represented privilege. The leading brands — Lululemon et al — are expensive labels. And the time and cost required to achieve an athleisure-friendly body at the likes of Equinox, SoulCycle or Barry’s Bootcamp is prohibitive.
Similar mixed messaging dwells in beauty too. The concept of #iwokeuplikethis — a hashtag made popular by Beyonce’s 2013 track, Flawless — appeared to celebrate natural beauty and yet simultaneously placed pressure on women to look ‘flawless’. The ‘no makeup makeup’ look — a tutorial for which is leading beauty vlogger Lisa Eldgridge’s secondmost-viewed video of all time with 2.5 million views — becoming the smart girl’s alternative to Kim Kardashian contouring. In retaliation equal opportunity feminists coined the term ‘rich girl skin’, to describe how — like the athleisure body — perfect skin don’t come cheap.
Nevertheless, the maturation of the athleisure trend and the increasing power of vloggers, has made the space more accessible to consumers. High street retailers have expanded their lines to include fitness wear, pay-per-play/no-subscription gyms have increased exponentially, and influencers such as Blogilates and Yoga With Adriene offer free fitness tutorials that anyone can do in their home. In both its own market and in retail, health and fitness is a growing category and one brands would do well to capitalise on.
Birchbox’s ARROW may well be the first athbeauty range but I very much doubt it will be the last. What will be interesting is to see whether the next ones come from beauty brands, fitness brands, fashion brands, or all three. Is this good for women? Probably not — we really don’t need another thing to worry about, or another thing to buy to stop us worrying. But, at the end of the day, it’s ultimately new tricks for old products. Anything currently claiming to be waterproof, smudge-proof, or good for sensitive skin would likely work through a workout without sliding off one’s face or causing break-outs. Credentials in skin-care will matter at a certain level, but creating a compelling product story is what will ultimately win this space.
From a content perspective, I expect to see editorial that expands on the existing obsession with #topshelfie’s and My Morning Routine’s, to include that gym-to-work moment — a new little gap in which to sell. Magazines have gone from editorialising the contents of celebrity’s handbags, to their makeup bags and now, I can only assume, their gym bags. #iworkoutlikethis will no doubt crop up more and more across Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, because if you go to the gym and no one sees your selfie, did it even really happen!?
What’s key now for brands entering this space is to find their own angle on athbeauty, and their own way into women’s #goals to have it all and have it flawless.
This piece was originally posted on Medium.