Whether you’re looking for similar alternatives to Lululemon for men and women for activewear, athleisure, workleisure, or performance professional-wear, try these innovative fashion brands on for size. These stores sell comfortable performance clothing that is perfect for everything from yoga to working out to working from home.
About lululemon and the rise of athleisure
Canadian businessman Chip Wilson founded Lululemon Athletica in 1998 and is widely credited with sparking the rise of athleisure and workout wear laced with stretchy technical fabrics. (He’s also sparked controversy over the years for saying things like, “Quite frankly, some women’s bodies just actually don’t work” in Lululemon’s pants.)
Athleisure has gained tremendous traction in the years since, with companies like Ministry of Supply incorporating technical fabrics into suits, dresses and button-down shirts. (I had to add a section detailing where to buy technical fabric button downs to my rundown of the best places to buy men’s dress shirts online.)
The popularity of athleisure and performance clothing has accelerated during the COVID19 pandemic, as people everywhere look for comfortable clothes to work from home.
This guide lists innovative competitors to Lululemon, focusing on alternative brands that feature technical fabrics in workout, athleisure, business casual and work wear.
What are performance fabrics?
As I wrote in Modern Fellows’ essential guide to performance fabric clothing,
Performance fabrics, also known as technical fabrics, are thread blends that are engineered for specific properties. For example, performance fabrics may be engineered to be anti-microbial, moisture-wicking, and/or waterproof or water-resistant. These fabrics are then incorporated into clothing for added comfort, durability and performance.The Essential Guide to Performance Fabric Clothing
While Lululemon helped popularize the use of technical fabrics and the new athleisure category, innovative entrepreneurs have been using technical fibers for centuries.
As just one example, the original Macintosh coat utilized performance fabrics way back in the 1820s by producing its raincoats with rubberized cotton. Other materials commonly found in today’s athleisure-wear such as spandex and Gore-Tex have been around for years.
Brands like lululemon for men and women
The following brands are great alternatives to Lululemon for both women and men.
Pam and Beaver Theodosakis first started prAna in the early 1990s from their garage in Carlsbad, California with the goal of selling sustainable clothing. Today, the company is led by CEO Scott Kerslake, who founded Athleta, another athleisure and yoga brand.
The company produces sustainably-made apparel for yoga, the outdoors and athleisure including yoga and bra tops, leggings and yoga pants and other basics. PrAna also sells smart and business casual apparel including foundation dresses made from TENCEL fabric, denim with a touch of spandex, 100% cotton button down shirts for guys, and outdoor Stretch Zion pants for women made with a woven fabric blend of nylon and spandex with a water repellent (DWR) finish.
PrAna’s clothing varies between 100% cotton, recycled polyester, and stretchy and quick dry performance fabrics made variously from blends of hemp, polyester, and cotton.
Sustainable fashion brand Pact is quickly becoming one of my favorite destinations for basics, loungewear, athleisure and workout clothing and is an excellent alternative to lululemon. Pact utilizes organic fabrics and relies on fair trade certified factories to produce its lines of functional, minimalist clothing for women and men.
For women, Pact features stretchy leggings and tights made from organic cotton and elastane blends, sweatshirt dresses, midi and tank dresses, loungewear, airplane cardigans and more.
For men, Pact makes some of my favorite colorful organic cotton socks, awesome tagless boxers and underwear and super-light 100% cotton t-shirts. (I’m wearing one right now as I type this.)
I love that Pact adheres to a Zero Branding philosophy, joining other minimalist brands like Oliver Cabell in not slapping their logo across all of their clothes (unlike some others on this list). Much of their clothing is also tagless. They offer free shipping on orders over $50 and free returns.
Get a coupon for a 20% discount off your first Pact order by signing up for emails from the company.
Tyler Haney founded Outdoor Voices in 2014, focused on selling bright, colorful activewear, yoga attire, loungewear and athleisure clothing, including workout kits. (Vogue calls Outdoor Voices the “anti-Lululemon.”) Her brand took off from their, including through a partnership that put OV’s products in J. Crew stores.
Outdoor Voices features a straightforward line of performance workout clothing for women and men featuring technical fabrics that are soft to the touch and wick sweat. Their Sweatee T-Shirt is made with “drirelease” tech that takes moisture away from your body. For women, Outdoor Voices offers sports bras and tops, sweatshirts, leggings, skorts, pants and the Exercise Dress, made of OV’s LightSpeed performance fabric.
Zella by Nordstrom
Zella, one of Nordstrom’s in-house brands, was “created with comfort innovation and performance technology for women, men and kids.”
Nordstrom’s Zella line is heavy on long sleeve performance t shirts, slim jogger pants, leggings, tank tops and sports bras, woven dresses and exercise dresses for women, and performance t-shirts and woven pants for men. Look for spectacular discounts off of Zella during Nordstrom’s anniversary sale.
Nordstom is one my all-time favorite retailers because of their superlative customer service, speedy delivery, free returns, terrific website and seamless integration of online and in-person retail experiences.
Tom Patterson and partner Erin Fujimoto founded Tommy John in 2008. They began their journey hawking undershirts out of their San Diego apartment, and have grown Tommy John into a multimillion dollar business.
Tommy John specializes in underwear and basics made from stretchy performance fabrics, making it a great alternative to Lululemon.
For women, Tommy John carries everything from bralettes and bras to leggings, quick-dry joggers and terry shorts. Tommy John also carriers well-regarded longjohns and loungewear for women and men.
For men, think silky-soft boxer briefs and undershirts, workoutwear and polos, socks and button downs. Tommy John is also a great option for performance fabric dress shirts for men, and crafts their shirts with a ComfortStrength thread fabric of 72% Cotton, 23% Nylon, and 5% Spandex.
Tom told me in an interview that, “more than ever, our customers are looking for a little extra comfort right now and our products are the perfect work from home uniform.” (He added that Tommy John’s clothing is “life changing — It’s the kind of comfort you need to feel to believe.”)
Michael Preysman started Everlane in 2001 with an emphasis on “radical transparency” into the company’s supply chain. I like Everlane’s simple, relatively-affordable basics for women and men like t-shirts, cashmere crew and v-neck sweaters, fleece pants, backpacks and outerwear.
For women, Everlane’s offerings include bodysuits, t-shirts and camis, and regular and cropped-length leggings. Everlane focuses much more on 100% cotton fabrics than on stretchy performance materials, but they’re a great option for unfussy basics for men and women, so I wanted to be sure to include them here.
Ministry of Supply
In 2011, MIT students Aman Advani and Gihan Amarasiriwardena helped craft a business plan to re-engineer professional attire using technical fabrics for added comfort.
Their plans resulted in Ministry of Supply, which sells performance professional and business casual clothing for women and men with a dual focus on comfort and style. Their stretchy fabric shirts, suits, slacks, dresses, blouses, tees, tanks and outerwear are perfect for the home office, making them a great upscale alternative to Lululemon for technical fabric clothing.
What should you try first? CEO and co-founder and CEO Aman Advani told me that,
“Our signature Apollo dress shirt is the place to start. Made with NASA phase change materials, the breathable, wrinkle-resistant shirt is 19 times more breathable than traditional cotton and regulates your core temperature in real-time.”Ministry of Supply CEO Aman Advani’s Advice on Buying Performance Professional Clothing
Athleta and Hill City
Scott Kerslake founded Athleta in 1998, the same year that Lululemon was born. Athleta offers a range of simple, functional and attractive apparel for women only for activities from running to hiking to yoga to travel to sports like tennis, golf and swimming. While Scott sold Athleta to the Gap in 2008, the brand continues its focus on sustainability, and is now a Certified B corp.
Inspired by the success of Athleta for women, Gap launched Hill City, a performance athletic brand for men in 2018 as a certified B corp. Hill City carries a range of athletic outerwear, tees, sweatshirts, pants and more made from performance fabrics. However, buffeted by the COVID-19 slowdown in retail, Gap announced it would shutter the Hill City brand as of January 2021.
As of this writing take 30% off Hill City automatically at check out. I was told that Gap is poised to take some of what they learned from Hill City to inspire Banana Republic.
Alternatives to Lululemon for women
Below are additional options for brands like Lululemon for women.
Colleen Winter and Debra Cannon founded Lulu’s Fashion Lounge in Chico, California in 1996. The brand evolved into Lulu’s, an online-only destination for items like cute ruffled mini and bodycon dresses, rompers, swimwear, loungewear, shoes and bridalwear.
Like Lululemon, many of Lulu’s clothing selections incorporate stretchy performance fabrics like lycra. Lulu’s also carries a solid selection of activewear including high-waisted leggings, tank-tops, racerback tops, shorts, joggers, and sweats. You can also find select Lulu’s labels in Nordstrom, which is one of my favorite shopping destinations.
Reformation, also known as “Ref,” was founded in 2009 by Yael Aflalo as a side-hustle focused on sustainable and environmentally-conscious fashion. Yael has dramatically expanded the brand into everything from dresses to denim jackets to cute COVID-19 face masks. Ref isn’t the place for athleisure leggings, but it peppers performance fabrics lines like “Eco Rib,” a stretchy-soft ribbed fabric made of 88% Tencel and 12% spandex, throughout its lines of dresses, pants, tops and more.
Alternatives to Lululemon for men
Here are even more options for stores like Lululemon for men. For even more options for performance clothing made from technical fabrics, see my essential guide to performance fabric clothing.
Founded by entrepreneurs Nate Checketts, Kyle McClure, Carras Holmstead and Casey Edgar in 2014, men’s workout clothing startup Rhone utilizes high-quality technical fabrics to create high-end activewear and athleisure clothing for men.
Rhone has an extensive product line for men that includes everything from workout gear like joggers, sweatpants, tights, athletic shorts and performance tees to performance business casualwear including button downs, henleys, polos and stretchy commuter dress shirts.
Mizzen and Main
Along with Ministry of Supply, Mizzen and Main is one of the deans of professional performance fabric clothing for men. Kevin Lavelle founded Mizzen and Main in 2012, and well-known for selling dress shirts with stretchy, proprietary-blend performance fabrics for the office (and home office).
About JakeJake is passionate about exploring entrepreneurs' global journeys. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs behind the innovative brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age. Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and/or fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine, and has provided analysis on international business for BBC Radio, NBC News, CNN and Time Magazine.
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