The Rise of the ‘Fitfluencer’ with London-based Activation Studio Osaka Labs

What’s a fitfluencer, what’s gorpcore, and how does it all fit into the modern media discourse?

Image from The North Face x Gucci 2021 Collaboration Campaign

It’s clear that in 2022, ‘sports clothes’ are no longer that ragged old t-shirt you dig out of the laundry pile when dragging yourself to the gym, and outdoor wear is no longer all about unfashionable Kathmandu fleeces and cargo pants. Athleisure, normcore, and now gorpcore (more on that later) are trends that are as fashion-forward as they are utilitarian.

Gucci and The North Face, Salomon and Comme des Garcons, Fjällräven and ACNE Studios, these are just three recent marriages between the fashion-elite and names more comfortable in rugged outdoors than on the catwalk.

Fjällräven and ACNE Studios collab

It’s an interesting time to be a marketer in the post-covid era, and an even more interesting time to be a student of societal trends. Environmental issues have never been more urgent, fashion has never been faster and more wasteful, influencers have never been more influential and amid all this craziness, it seems younger generations have never been more eager to escape it all — through outdoor adventures and wellness-centricity — but what does it all mean?

What actually is gorpcore? What’s a fitfluencer? Are they evil body shamers or ripped guardian angels here to help me chisel my abs and detox my way into purity? Oh, and is my Dad actually super-meta normcore??

We spoke to Digital Creative Chloe Key from East London-based activation agency Osaka Labs to learn more about the rise of the fitfluencer and their role in the public discourse and what an ‘activation studio’ actually does, (hint: playing with cats and AR filters).

You can learn more about Osaka Labs here:
Website:
www.osakalabs.com
Insta:
@_osakalabs
Medium:
medium.com/@osakalabs
LinkedIn: @Osakalabs

Can you tell us a little about yourself?
So Hi, I’m Chloe. I Love long walks on the b- oh wait..

Let’s start that again, shall we? Hi, I’m Chloe, a Digital Creative here at Osaka Labs. With a background in creative, I’ve previously worked as a social media and contents manager in Seoul and love to create AR filters here and there.

It’s Chloe!

Can you tell us about Osaka Labs, how you started, what type of work you do, some of the brands you work with?

Osaka Labs is a content activation studio based in Shoreditch, East London. We focus on everything digital marketing. So paid social, growth and performance, and digital content are our key areas of focus.

Funnily enough, I found the job on LinkedIn one night and decided to apply at 12 am. Like everyone who sees our name, I was intrigued by what Osaka meant and wanted to learn more about the company.

So I started as a Junior Producer here at Osaka Labs back in June 2021, then moved on to a Digital Creative role in January 2022. Coming from a creative background, this job was the first time I was exposed to the digital side of content marketing, think Facebook Ads, TikTok Ads manager, you name it.

I admit all the jargon and data was a lot to learn, but it’s fascinating to see how this influences ideas and shapes the creative team’s thought process. And I did production on photoshoots for our client MARS pet care, which was so exciting (especially when the models are cats).

Apart from that, the normal work I do today is creating content for our In-house gaming TikTok: OKKO.gaming and creating content for YAZOO milkshakes.

I love being about to take advantage of new opportunities to develop skills and learn more about new aspects of the industry. For example, we recently did an online campaign for CALM (campaign against living miserably), and we got to dabble in AR filters, stickers and profile picture frames.

You’re based in Shoreditch, so why ‘Osaka’ Labs?

As we’re sure you know, ‘O-saka’ translates to a large slope or hill. We loved the meaning behind the word, and how that represents the challenges our clients face in the ever-changing digital world. It’s this obstacle that we’re going to help them overcome.

Osaka Labs team out on the town

You call yourselves a Content Activation Studio; how is that different to say a Creative Agency or advertising agency?

We think the keyword here is: Activation.

It’s one thing to create content and build campaigns, but it’s another, to do so with the intent to kickstart a chain reaction within social discourse.

When we reached out to you to chat, you proposed a dive into “how fitness and lifestyle have changed due to the onset of influencers, and how this is adjusting how brands connect with customers” — what makes you/ the Osaka Labs team so interested in this specific topic?

Personally, I love watching social commentary videos, and in general, videos that question specific topics on YouTube; when getting ready for the morning, it gets my brain into gear.

And as we’re all on a health kick in the office, so it’s become a topic of interest.

(Editor’s note: They’ve also now published a blog on the topic over on their Medium page.)

For those who might not be super social media savvy, can you explain what defines a ‘fitfluencer’?

‘Fitfluencers’ or fitness influencers are online lifestyle bloggers whose content focuses on health, nutrition and working out. They help inspire and guide those along their fitness journey primarily through channels like YouTube and Instagram.

Who are some good examples?

Most popular in the UK, I’d have to say are:

What are the key content pillars for a ‘fitfluencer’?

We’d say the key general content pillars are:

  • Community and advice
  • Gym content
  • Lifestyle (outside of fitness)
  • Nutrition
  • Body updates

You say the fitfluencer has had a boom since the beginning of the pandemic which is interesting given that people are going out less/ socialising less etc. Why do you think that is?

Exactly! With people staying indoors and socialising less — it can drive anyone into cabin fever soon enough. Fitfluencers offer escape from the bitter reality of covid and lockdown measures; they provide community and just something productive and beneficial to their followers.

Do you think this sub-genre of influencer is beneficial for brands? Influencers often receive a lot of criticism for flogging stuff with little substance. In what ways can you see it elevating brand communication/ creative output?

It really depends on the influencer and the brand’s values.

The key question to ask is: Is this the right fit? Consumers are now savvy to influencer marketing and sponsored ads, and if there’s a perfect alignment of the two brands — that’s when you get the activation of content.

It’s also important to recognise the product at hand. Is it fashion? Nutrition or, in the worst case, weight loss tea? I feel like we are responsible as marketers and are in a position of power to choose appropriate decisions for such influence. We have to think, is it beneficial or detrimental to the wider public?

Can you give us some examples of good fitfluencer + brand collaborations?

In terms of good influencer collaborations, I’d have to say in general Myprotien seems to have nailed it.

Athleisure is big in Australia — Lululemon and the like are worn in cafes as much as they’re worn in gyms — however, you don’t see the casual wearing of athleisure in Japan, for example. Do you think certain cultures/ demographics/ regions have become greater adopters of the athleisure style? Do you have any theories as to why?

I totally agree! Coming from a mixed background, I’ve noticed how different cultures have reacted towards this trend. To generalise, I’ve noticed that fashion in the east is more geared towards being modest, but that’s not to say athleisure isn’t a thing. There are many Asian brands out there doing athleisure, apart from the obvious (Uniqlo) — there are brands like GlowCo, Discovery Expedition and Mulawear, just to name a few.

I’ve also noticed trends have taken more influence from the west; this is seen in the marketing and styling, specifically that of Chuu or Millennx. This is likely because of social media’s exposure to intercultural communication and all the infinite knowledge readily available to you online.

GLOWco Homepage

Going a little deeper into this stylistic and cultural evolution, we’ve now reached the age of ‘gorpcore,’ which as you explained to us was coined by New York Magazine last May to describe the style of incorporating utilitarian, outdoor clothing into everyday wear e.g brands like North Face, Columbia, Arc’teryx.’

Firstly, thank you for introducing us to this term, and secondly, what do you think the rise of such fashion trends says about the values of consumers and their fashion and lifestyle philosophies?

Although we’re in the age of ‘Generation Greta.’ Like any other trend, I feel like these brands are used as a humble power brag. It’s the new Gucci, whilst also standing up for sustainability. However, it’s hard to say where it’s going. The North Face had been invited to Paris fashion week in 2020, either meaning it’s going to gain popularity for a good cause or to homogenise it to the fashion industry.

Although the trend started pre-pandemic, I feel as though the pandemic amplified it. Functionality has become a key purchasing criterion for many buyers and fashion enthusiasts.

“As health and political uncertainty rose again, a survivalist element began to filter into fashion too,” Lyst said via the Indian Express. And the proof is in the pudding, with the UK’s outdoor clothing market valued at £604m and has increased by 22% between 2013 and 2017.

Do you think such trends can actually penetrate beyond fashion and influence how people spend their time? For example, do you think the fashionable rise of Arc’teryx will inspire folks to go hiking?

Speaking for myself, I think it can — I mean I want to (but it can be quite difficult in London). Looking at charts on Statista, there is a correlation between the rise of Gorpcore (2017) and the interest of hiking from 2016 and upwards.

However, I think the need stems from being inspired by these outdoor brands’ marketing and photoshoots and the need to post on social media/fear of missing out.

What do you see are the positive social and creative outcomes for the rise of these trends, and what do you think could be the drawbacks?

The positives for sure is the switch to more sustainable brands and the normalisation of quality and practical articles of clothing, especially amongst younger audiences.

With the good, however comes the bad. With the average Patagonia fleece costing around £150 (and for good reason- let’s not forget), it makes the brand exclusive for a certain audience who can afford it. This obvious drawback with it becoming so popular and expensive for most consumers, lends itself to be imitated by fast-fashion brands, which then defeats the objective most sustainable apparel brands.

How do you think brands have reacted to the rise of athleisure and ‘gorpcore’? Has it seen more traditional brands branch out into new realms?

Definitely! Brands like Kohls and Target have seen the opportunity on the market and have branched out and recently created activewear brands. FLX in 2021 under Kohls and All in Motion under Target in 2020. Even big name brands like Levi’s and Luxury fashion brands Dior, Louis Vuitton and Chanel have launched new lines of couture athleisure.

What do you think of more luxury brands in this realm collaborating with mainstream labels? For example, in Japan, White Mountaineering recently released a range with UNIQLO that’s about 1/10th the price of pure White Mountaineering gear.

It’s a great marketing strategy for those who want to try out the brand but can’t but can’t afford the price tag yet. It’s an attainable solution that I think will help gain fans of the brand; then sooner or later, you’ll be buying from the luxury brand.

The fashion world has a big environmental problem; what do you think the role these trends will play/ does play in said environment?

They are to some degree, bringing more awareness to our environment and the impact of what the fashion industry does to our future. Call me a pessimist, but I think we’ve got a long, long way to go in changing attitudes. Especially in the age of Tiktok and Shein, where I see trend cycles die within a couple of months.

Where do you see all this going post-pandemic life? Any wild predictions we can check back in on, say three years from now?

Covid really caused a shift in the way we as a society view fashion and ourselves. I want to say that we have become more aware of the fashion industry and have leaned more towards simple trends like that of normcore (although nuance, it’s unisex, basic, mundane clothing — think wardrobe essentials like your basic white-tee). However basic it is, it will still reach fast fashion, but it’ll be a step in the right direction.

Where should folks go if they want to know more about Osaka Labs?

To check us out, please visit our new and improved website, osakalabs.com or visit our LinkedIn @Osakalabs. We’ve got new and exciting projects ahead so please stay tuned.

Original photography for this piece was Supplied by Osaka Labs.

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We are a boutique creative agency based in Tokyo.

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