As COVID Boosts Comfort Wear, Even L.L.Bean Is Getting Into Athleisure

Shoppers are increasingly flocking to comfort wear in COVID-19 times — and L.L.Bean is getting in on the market.

The outdoor brand announced today the launch of a new athleisure collection. The line features puffer jackets, marled sweaters, tank tops and performance leggings, as well as slip-ons, sport sneakers and waterproof trail shoes — all ranging from roughly $30 to just under $200.

The debut marks L.L.Bean’s foray into the ever-expanding athleisure market, which was valued at $155.2 billion three years ago and is expected to hit $257.1 billion within five years, according to consultancy Allied Market Research. While retailers across the board have generally been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, active and casual wear have represented a rare bright spot as consumers swap their dresses and heels for leggings and sneakers.

L.L.Bean Women's Cozy Marled Pullover
CREDIT: Courtesy of L.L.Bean

Over the past several months, a number of nationwide chains — from the American Eagle Outfitters-owned Aerie to department store Kohl’s — have launched their own active or casual wear collections. Others, like Steve Madden, have pivoted away from formal and special occasion footwear toward more comfort-driven styles in an effort to cater to shifting consumer preferences amid a surge in new COVID-19 infections.

Even as the government’s vaccination rollout ramps up and some Americans foresee a return to their offices at one point or another this year, experts suggest that the pandemic has effectively altered shopper behaviors — and that the demand for comfortable and cozy products will continue well beyond the COVID-19 era. In a recent report, The NPD Group found that fashion footwear sales declined 27% for the year, while slipper revenues advanced 21% and clogs sales jumped 33%.

L.L.Bean Women’s Active Sport Shoes
CREDIT: Courtesy of L.L.Bean

L.L.Bean itself reported a spike in sales as consumers hunkered down at home: In the fall, the brand told FN that it sold one pair of slippers for every minute in March, while outdoor furniture and hammock sales were up a respective 80% and 150% in April. In May and June, bike sales rose 400%, and the July and August period saw women’s active apparel sales nearly double.

Beyond its entry into athleisure, L.L.Bean is also capitalizing on the shift to digital channels. It entered into a wholesale partnership with Zappos.com back in October, which allowed it to sell its branded footwear and apparel on the online shoe retailer’s website. As part of the initial rollout, customers were able to shop its popular duck boots, as well as its Wicked Good Slippers and a selection of outerwear, flannels, fleece and more in men’s, women’s and kids’ sizes.

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