Devon Mish knew there was a void to fill in the athletic wear market when she walked into a sporting goods chain store and saw a sea of lifeless black- and gray-hued women's workout garments.
"That's just not me," the Odenton-based designer said. "I really go for colorful print."
In October 2014, Mish launched Devon Maryn, a preppy-chic, feminine activewear and lifestyle brand that's geared toward women who like to exercise in colorful garments. The brand has been picked up by boutiques and online vendors throughout the country — especially along the East Coast and in the South.
"Overall, there's been such a huge shift toward it being acceptable to dress more casually 24/7, and that's why I think activewear brands are really thriving," said Mish, who has sold several thousand of her garments, which are known for their unexpected colorful patterns and their functionality, such as roomy pockets and figure-friendly "roll waist" pants.
The athletic wear market has exploded — especially when it comes to women's apparel — and local brands are following in the footsteps of major players.
The athletic wear market has increased 42 percent to $270 billion over the past seven years, according to an October 2015 Morgan Stanley study. And it doesn't look like the trend is going to slow. Sports participation among high-schoolers has jumped from 25 percent to more than 35 percent over the past 35 years. The report said girls have led the charge, increasing from 17 percent to 32 percent during that period.
Companies like Under Armour were ahead of the curve in the late 2000s, luring women's fashion designers to help incorporate more color palettes into their female-centric collections of workout gear. The company realized it wasn't enough to simply remake men's garments in stereotypic pink hues and women's sizes.
In addition to the big names in athletic clothing — Nike and Lululemon — fashion designers like Stella McCartney and Mara Hoffman have unveiled stylish athletic collections alongside less-expensive brands like H&M, Target and Old Navy.
Local designers like Mish have also attempted to distinguish themselves from the pack by taking a more fashion-forward approach.
"When I strategize my marketing message, I'm thinking about my customers, who are women like me — moms, busy women who are doing their best to live an active lifestyle and want to dress like they're on vacation even when they're not," Mish said.
Sarah Windham, a Baltimore resident, has been wearing Devon Maryn activewear since the brand's launch. She said she loves the fit of the clothes and the attention to detail, such as the patterned piping and extra fabric along the waistline.
"The fit for Devon is the key," Windham said. "She's designing for women. Everything feels very comfortable and luxurious. The beachy, flirty, preppy motif is way less aggressive than traditional sportswear."
In addition to wearing the pieces to the gym, Windham likes to wear them when she's rock climbing.
"It's cute," she said. "I'm around all these aggressive guys, and I get to look feminine."
Even niche fitness apparel markets are experiencing a fashionable shift.
Becky Redett, owner of Sassy Cyclist, a brand of colorful cycling jerseys, launched her designs in October. In addition to being sold online, her jerseys are available at Joe's Bike Shop in Mount Washington.
"My friends and I love to ride. But traditional jerseys are logoed-out, competitive-looking and masculine," she said. "These are very different from the others that you would find in bike shops."
Redett's first run of jerseys come in floral and geometric patterns, and in ultra-bright colors.
"I included everything that I thought was missing," she said.
The feedback has been positive, according to Redett, who says she has sold half of her first run of several hundred jerseys.
"People say they are prettier and fit better," she said. "They look like they've been designed by women."
Dawn Barnes, owner of Prance & Sway, a boutique in Mount Vernon specializing in majorette, dance and cheer apparel, opened her business in November in part to offer the local dance community costumes, practice and workout gear that was more fashionable and better fit their taste.
"It's really difficult to find things," said Barnes, who also coaches a Baltimore elementary school dance team. "There is nowhere in the city."
Before Barnes opened her boutique, customers would have to order custom-made pieces online or travel to other cities to find fashionable options.
Now, Barnes stocks her boutique with flashy legwear, crop tops and colorful skirts designed for dance and evening parties. She also stocks costumes adorned with sequins and feather-accented shoulder details, neckpieces and skirts.
Mish, who debuted her latest collection of women's activewear during the holiday season, regularly collects comments from her customers about their clothing preferences on her website and incorporates that feedback into her designs.
"I think the customer is wise to brands who don't genuinely care about fitness and wellness," she said. "I don't feel this is something you can dabble in."