Functional Fashion Is Here to Stay

5 min readNov 13, 2019

Search volume for terms like cargo pants and boiler suits have steadily increased since January 2015, but it wasn’t until recently that utilitarian clothing became more than just a trend. Luxury mainstays embrace a made-to-last aesthetic, while heritage brands collaborate in an effort to elevate performance outerwear. Function is beginning to supersede fashion as a renewed focus on sustainability encourages a less wasteful approach to design. Implications of climate change invoke a sense of survivalism. The clothes we wear incorporate elements of protection into their design as we explore how clothing can help us adapt to an ever-changing environment. Quality materials that are made-to-last fit into a larger push for more practical and environmentally friendly wardrobes.

In addition to its eco-conscious appeal, utilitarianism can attribute its newfound success to the emergence of the “experience” generation. Prioritizing wellness and taking the time to unplug is a luxury for consumers today. The rise of eco-tourism encourages consumers to invest in items that allow them to embrace everything nature has to offer, making functional outdoor apparel a multi-billion dollar opportunity. As more people move to urban locations, and the line between our personal and professional lives blur, disconnecting to truly embrace nature feels more difficult than ever. Often a trip to an art installation or new restaurant is the ideal level of exploration for a city dweller, and everyone from traditional outdoor brands to luxury designers are taking note.

Lululemon x Roksanda

Euromonitor International forecasts that the performance apparel sector will grow 3.5% between now and 2022, and luxury brands have taken note. Luxury’s pivot to outdoor apparel is fueled by the exponential growth of athleisure, which now accounts for nearly one-quarter of apparel industry sales in the US according to the NPD Group. The industry’s embrace of casual apparel is already making a strong statement on the runway. Both Fendi and Louis Vuitton’s Spring 2020 Menswear collections brought utility to the forefront by pairing performance outerwear with tailored silhouettes. This year, Loewe launched its Eye/Loewe/Nature line, a collection of functional, made-for-nature clothing and accessories. Moncler continues to push the category forward with Moncler Genius, a collection of nine projects in collaboration with an impressive roster of established and emerging brands. However, compared to mid-priced outdoor apparel staples like Patagonia and The North Face, luxury brands are still behind on sustainability.

To resonate with eco-conscious millennials and Gen Zers, brands have to go beyond a surface-level embrace of the outdoors: what these luxury brands lack in heritage and authenticity, they hope to make up for in quality. Brands like Patagonia and The North Face hold a certain cache that these luxury brands lack. On top of this, The North Face is finding great success in collaboration. Collaborations with Comme des Garcons, Supreme, and Junya Watanabe have brought luxury credentials to a brand known for its outdoor essentials.

Driven By

Sustainable Future

The bedrock of society relies on future sustainability which encourages a more conscious approach to design. With eco-friendly millennials and Gen Z set to drive consumer spending in the coming years, brands will have to go beyond a surface-level embrace of the outdoors. As a society, we need to work toward a future that is both smart and sustainable with more functional wardrobes that allow for less consumption.

Authentic Transparency

Consumers have access to more information now than ever. In today’s market, they are looking to support purpose-led brands and designs that align with their beliefs. By partnering with heritage outdoor brands, luxury and contemporary brands can capture a different audience and create fashion-forward offerings that appeal to the experience generation.

Experience Generation

As wellness becomes a priority for today’s consumers, they spend their time creating memorable experiences and adventuring outdoors — and now they need a wardrobe to match. Urbanites are looking for new places to work, live, and play. Escapist destinations and wellness tourism, which promote unplugging and tuning into natural surroundings are a growing travel category. This new experiential mindset represents an opportunity for brands to generate sales through storytelling and IRL marketing efforts.


Cities are home to more than half of the world’s population, and they are expected to add another 2.5 billion new residents by 2050. As a result, the way we are choosing to live is changing and will have a significant effect on the clothing we gravitate towards. Traditional outdoor brands like The North Face aim to position exploration as a mindset rather than a physical activity.

New and Noteworthy



On October 1, The North Face launched FUTURELIGHT™, the brand’s most advanced breathable-waterproof technology to date. The term FutureLight is growing rapidly. Searches are currently up 475% to last year.

Moncler House of Genius

Moncler Genius

Moncler House of Genius is opening a concept store and interactive space in Milan, Paris, Tokyo, and LA from November 7 to January 31. The store will contain all Moncler Genius collections.

COS SS20 Collection

COS SS20 Collection

COS’ Spring/Summer 2020 collection features equal parts sustainability and minimal utility. Functional pieces such as trench coats and cotton poplin shirts are made using vegetable dyes and responsibly sourced organic, recycled, and repurposed cotton.

Adidas Originals x GORE-TEX

Adidas Originals x GORE-TEX

Adidas Originals is releasing a line of sneakers infused with GORE-TEX INFINIUM technology. The technology offers high-performance, non-waterproof functionality.

The North Face Model

For the past 50 years, we have been pushing the boundaries of physical exploration, and we have no plans to stop. However, we recognize that there are so many more ways to explore and discover. Whether you’re a mountaineer or a musician, what connects us all as explorers is a shared mindset of curiosity paired with the courage to try something new.

- Tom Herbst, Global VP of Marketing, The North Face

Authentic performance brands like The North Face are rooted in practicality and durability, and like most brand’s they have had to evolve with the times to remain relevant. By 2050, two out of every three people are likely to be living in cities or other urban centers, according to a new United Nations report. As a result, The North Face has redefined exploration to embody a mindset, rather than a physical activity to connect with urbanites. The North Face found success with strategic collaborations, including its long-time partnership with streetwear label Supreme.