NEW YORK, United States — Music thumps through the speakers. Models weave between exposed concrete pillars. Influencers pose for photographs against edgy black and grey interiors. At first glance, you’d be forgiven for mistaking this minimalist space, designed by Fabien Baron, for one of Alexander Wang’s fashion shows. But this is the DogPound — a gym on the corner of New York’s Canal Street frequented by the likes of actor Zac Efron, Olympic fencer Miles Chamley-Watson and a slew of Victoria’s Secret models; Karlie Kloss, Martha Hunt and Adriana Lima included.
At a place like the DogPound, people take their appearance into account — and looking good at the gym doesn’t just mean wearing the latest Mara Hoffman leggings. Makeup matters too.
Boutique studios and luxury fitness brands like the DogPound, Barry’s Bootcamp and SoulCycle — which boast sophisticated decor and organic juice bars — have transformed gyms into destinations for meeting your next date as much as for working out. Today it’s not uncommon for people catch up with friends at a barre or boxing class, rather than a cocktail bar.
This shift has already impacted the way people dress when they work out, with consumers trading old t-shirts and sweats for colour-coordinated crop tops and leggings — fuelling the rapid rise of activewear brands like Lululemon. And now the new way we work out is making its mark on the beauty market.
“Exercising has become a more social activity,” says Hannah Symons, beauty and personal care analyst at Euromonitor. “This is where you meet new people these days.”
“The types of workouts have changed, meaning people are considering their appearance more than if they were just doing 20 minutes on a treadmill in their spare room,” agrees Charlotte Libby, senior beauty analyst at Mintel.
Research firm Mintel identified “active beauty” — products that are aligned with consumers’ interest in fitness and are designed to be used before, during or after physical activity — as one of its four Global Beauty and Personal Care trend predictions for 2017.
So many people post workout selfies that I’m not surprised they’re tempted to wear a bit of makeup.
Certainly, brands big and small are tapping this trend. Last December, Tarte Cosmetics brought out a four-piece “athleisure cosmetics” collection, sold separately or together as a “gym bag essentials” set, while Eyeko has introduced “Sport Waterproof” mascara and eyeliner, and Clinique now offers a selection of its Pep Start products, its line designed for “on-the-go” consumers, as part of a “gym bag heroes” kit.
Arrow, the “athleisure-inspired” cosmetics line launched by Birchbox in January 2016 and featuring products like a cooling cheek tint and cleansing facial cloths, is now one of the subscription service’s top 15 best-selling brands (out of 800 sold online), with its “Colour Enhancing Lip Balm” Birchbox’s best selling lip item overall.
Dedicated active beauty brands are gaining traction too. Sweat Cosmetics, a line of high-performance, sweat-resistant mineral makeup that was developed by five professional female athletes in 2015, has grown monthly revenue 560 percent in the past year. Yuni Beauty, the yoga-oriented active beauty brand founded in 2014 by Emmanuel Rey, a veteran of Estée Lauder, is on track to double its sales this year, and by the end of April 2017, will have reached 210 stockists, up from 70 at the end of February 2017.
Dara Hartman, a trainer at the DogPound, says she’s not surprised by the trend and that she regularly sees clients come in wearing makeup and false eyelashes, and who have had their hair done. “Because you never know who you are going to see here, a lot of times people really take great care with their physical appearance,” she explains.
Libby sees active beauty as “the natural next step” in the evolution of the athleisure trend — now that consumers are taking their gym outfits into account, it’s understandable they’d consider makeup too. “It’s about considering your overall appearance. If you’ve spent a lot of money on your outfit and you feel that you look good, you want to make sure that the rest of your appearance is in line with that.”
Annie Finch, founder of Katherine Cosmetics, which offers a K-Sport Beauty collection, agrees: “You’re wearing beautiful workout clothes and you’re going to SoulCycle and then you’re going to have lunch afterwards. If you have the latest Nikes on, you’re not just going to roll out of bed without any makeup.”
The rise of the gym selfie has played a role too. Health and wellness has become the new status symbol and social currency. Instead of sharing pictures from fancy restaurants or designer shopping sprees, millenials are sharing pictures of themselves keeping fit. Indeed, according to a survey by The Gym Group, a UK fitness chain, one in three people between the ages of 18 and 29 take selfies in the gym.
“So many people post workout selfies that I’m not surprised they’re tempted to wear a bit of makeup,” says Lisa Niven, beauty editor at British Vogue. “Nobody wants smudged mascara or streaked foundation when they’re trying to get through a round of sit ups, so it’s about makeup that’s compatible with the high-intensity exercise that’s become so fashionable to be seen to be doing.”
It’s repurposing what’s already there… These products have been around for a long time.
But some are sceptical about whether “active cosmetics” are much more than existing products repackaged for the athleisure crowd. Certainly, the category has seen some innovation, with novel products like cooling primers and foundations that can reduce redness after exercise. Sweat Cosmetics’ foundations, illuminators and bronzers are mineral-based powders, meaning they adhere more to the face when the wearer sweats, rather than a liquid, which would drip, and all include SPF to protect athletes when they’re outdoors.
However many of the key products being touted as active cosmetics such as waterproof mascaras, blotting papers and refreshing facial sprays have long existed in other guises.
“It’s repurposing what’s already there… these products have been around for a long time, such as waterproof mascaras that are now targeted at sports such as swimming or being smudge-proof,” explains Euromonitor’s Symons.
“Ultimately, the everyday gym-goers are looking for products that are not going to slip and run, which is a demand of colour cosmetics in general — so it is really an extension of marketing claims to cover the gym as well,” says Libby.
The potential for the category could also be limited by how activity-specific products are, believes Libby. “They’re very occasion-based — they’re for women who know they’re going to the gym at some point during the day.”
But some see the trend as signalling a wider shift in the way consumers approach beauty altogether, with women looking for products that can carry them from work to a yoga class and out for drinks afterwards, much the way her athleisure wardrobe has been able to do.
“We live a very, very hectic lifestyle… There is not enough time in the day to go and do something and come back and shower, go and do something and come back and shower,” says Courtney Jones Louks, CEO of Sweat Cosmetics.
“It’s more representative of a lifestyle choice in her regime — a shift in how she approaches her beauty routine to meet the day,” says Artemis Patrick, Sephora’s senior vice president of merchandising. “No longer do women need to have a makeup “wardrobe” that has to be washed off to go to the gym, or have a casual Sunday.”
Editor's Note: This article was revised on March 16, 2017. Hannah Symons' quote has been edited for accuracy.