From "The World's Best Hoodie" Brand Comes Its Attempt At The Perfect Legging

Illustrated By Elliot Salazar.
Blame it on athleisure. Or maybe it's just our very basic, very lazy subconscious desire to avoid "real" pants whenever possible (and sometimes get away with it). Whatever the reason, the leggings market certainly isn't lacking for options these days. Sportswear heavyweights have luxed up with fashion-y collaborators (think Alexander Wang and Olivier Rousteing), while other designers, like Tory Burch, have launched entire standalone athletic lines. Mass retailers like Gap Inc.'s Athleta are thriving, and even mall stalwarts that vowed to stay out of the leggings game, like J.Crew, have caved. Plus, models like Gigi Hadid are walking, paparazzi-documented proof that the "leggings-as-pants" trend is back with a vengeance. So, could the world, or our closets, really, possibly need (or even deal with) another pair of leggings?

For American Giant, the answer is a resounding yes. The San Francisco-based startup is responsible for a humble hoodie that was gushingly billed as the "best," "most amazing" iteration ever of the casual staple as soon as it launched in 2014 (we begrudgingly fell for it, too). They also whipped up this frequently sold-out jogger pant everyone flipped over. Today they unveiled their very first legging, which rings in at $69, is available solely in "Super Black" (for now, at least), and is offered in numerical sizing (uncommon for leggings, right?) ranging from 0 to 14. It's been in the works since the beginning of the year — and I've been along for the ride.

I became a leggings-sampling guinea pig along with dozens of other testers, wriggling into three different prototypes and providing (and hearing) feedback on each. I partook in naming brainstorm sessions and fit meetings, too, to intimately understand what goes into crafting the platonic ideal of the stretchy, butt-hugging, forgiving staple that's the paradigm uniform for everything from Netflix-and-chill to running errands to traveling. But is this pair really going to radically alter your leggings collection?

Read on for the full scoop on how a brand obsessed with perfecting basics went about joining the leggings fray.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The brand started to scheme up its very first pair of leggings at the beginning of the year, and it was so hell-bent on really nailing its first foray into the category that things ran a full two seasons behind the original schedule: The plan was originally to launch in spring of 2016.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
American Giant focused on five main categories. First up, how to avoid that dreaded saggy-butt effect by finding a fabric with great return or resiliency — basically, how well the fabric retains its shape over time. Compression was key, too: “People want to feel ‘held,’ but too much compression is uncomfortable,” Bayard Winthrop, the company's founder and CEO, explained.

And then there’s the opacity vs. transparency factor (which, you may recall, is the quality element that plagued Lululemon a few years ago, leading to a big recall and, later, a revamp of its leggings offerings). “We wanted to avoid ‘grinning,’ where when you kneel down or bend over you can see, or have the perception of seeing, through the fabric," Winthrop told us.

When talking leggings, comfort is obviously a non-negotiable. For American Giant's take on the wardrobe staple, the feel had to be "non-abrasive on the skin," Winthrop explained. "Fabric and seam softness are so important.”

Fit was also obviously essential, with the focus being on "finding the right rise and width of waistband," he said, but the first two rounds of prototypes were strictly focused on nailing the right fabric.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The company dug deep into market research before getting to work on its own version of the stretchy staple. That meant looking at dozens and dozens of leggings, from around 70 different labels in total. "We pulled leggings apart, put them through rigorous wash cycles, and punch-tested to see how other brands' fabrics regained," Winthrop said. "Then we gathered a profile of the problems we wanted to solve.”

Approximately 65 people, including me, were sent the trifecta of sample pairs over the course of three months (with two to five weeks between sample rounds) to try on and sound off about. There were some internal AG staffers in the mix, though their feedback was taken with a grain of salt. "Using employees is great, but I tend to discount that [feedback] because they’re so close to the product," Winthrop said. "They have baggage, even if it’s ‘good’ baggage, so they can accidentally steer the testing.”

Successfully nailing that perfect legging meant getting 80% or above in ratings for all of the categories, from compression to fit, by the time the development process was over.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Four or five fabrics were made into prototypes before designers even settled on the ponte fabric used in the initial tester pair. The team mulled over 25 to 30 fabric samples in total. There was a pretty good reason for being fanatical about the material: It was a first for the brand.

"Working with a stretch fabric of this caliber was new to us," Robin Rice, chief product officer, said of the process. "The technical aspect of perfecting this fit definitely took us to the next level."
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The first prototype was satisfyingly opaque, and testers (myself included) were digging the thickness and how it felt on the skin. "There were a couple tweaks we had to make, but people really loved that fabric," Winthrop said. But it wasn't a home run on the first go as far as fabric was concerned: The first iteration didn't feel like it hugged enough, a.k.a. there was more to be desired in terms of compression.

I was also kind of puzzled by the presence of one credit card-sized, zip-free little pocket on the hip when the first prototype arrived on my desk in July. But once I got that these were, in fact, non-workout-centric leggings (more on that later), the pocket seemed a little less awkward.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The company actually changed mills mid-production on its quest to really nail the fabric. "It was a very expensive process, not just in time, but the sample and development costs of all the iterations of these leggings," the founder and CEO explained.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Make no mistake: These aren't intended to be your new go-to for Spin class, Zumba, and the ilk. They're certainly flexible and soft enough to get you through something low-impact, like, say, a Pilates class, maybe on your lunch break, if you're truly living that athleisure life. (I can attest to the fact that you can definitely do some downward dogs comfortably, as was the case with all three prototypes.)

The matte finish and thicker, more substantial feel were intentional ways of telegraphing that these are truly meant to be off-duty leggings. You know, the sort of leggings that displace your denim, which is kind of what's happening these days anyway. To wit: Online sales of leggings grew 41% over the past year, while online sales of jeans increased just 3% in the same period, per The Washington Post.

"We didn’t want any shine," Winthrop said. "That was really important, to distinguish it from sportswear. It definitely shouldn't look like a workout legging."
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The main concern for the second round, which arrived in testers' mailboxes in August: tackling the compression shortcomings of the first tester pair while also making the fabric feel lighter-weight. And while this round scored high for return, it wasn't pleasant-feeling enough.

”We tried to soften the fabric a bit, because some users complained the first fabric felt sandy," Winthrop said. "Yet we still got dinged on softness, and some users thought the fabric was more rough, actually."

Though design and fit became priorities later on, slight edits were made at this point — to waistband height and crotch construction. Frankly, I personally didn't notice a huge difference. But perhaps that's because I'm very curvy at the hips and always hoist my leggings to high, belly-button-grazing (or obscuring) heights to avoid that dreaded waistband slouch and/or butt exposure. So I'm always adjusting my leggings to hit where I'm most comfortable, not where they're necessarily designed to fit.

Another fabric tweak? Fighting that dreaded between-the-thigh and on-the-butt pilling, as well as the tendency to pick up lint, which were issues with the first prototype. "That just looks like sh*t," Winthrop said. "We worked with our yarn-knitters to improve this, with cycle-testing, where you put a particular garment through five hours of washes."
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Yes, the American Giant folks are sort of fabric nerds, if you couldn't tell by now. And that seems to be a good thing, as far as your relationship with your leggings goes. "The ponte we're using is a beautiful, technical fabric, but it's important to understand the way the fabric performs on the body," Rice said.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
By the time the third iteration arrived in September, a finer feel was still a sticking point. "We loved the way the fabric was holding the shape of the garment, but still wanted to add a little bit of softness," Winthrop said.

Compared to the heavyweight fleece the brand uses in that famous hoodie and the French terry employed in its joggers, this was uncharted terrain. "Ponte tends to be scratchier and rigid, so we experimented with different washing techniques to soften it," Allen explained. However, it ultimately wasn't a wash that fixed things, but more on that in a moment.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
In a mid-October fitting session, Allen explained the objective for the garment from the get-go. “We were looking at leggings in the marketplace and noticing everyone wearing yoga pants on the street, and saw a lot of fit issues: looking too tight, like you’re wearing tights and are too exposed,” she explained. “Also, we saw a lot of fading, so we wanted to make a style with really great color-fastness; that was very important to us.”
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Next, I listened in on the naming brainstorm session, where four possible monikers were candidly hashed out. I was a little surprised, dubious, even, that the team was clearly leaning toward one of the "pant" options versus actually having "legging" in the name.

But there's a bigger-picture rationale behind that: Should the brand roll out different versions of its leggings in the future, perhaps with different silhouettes or lengths, the semantics do matter. And the wrong name could be limiting down the line. “I prefer a simple naming convention, and we keep that in mind as we launch a new category," Beth Gumm, the brand's CMO, explained.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
After I got past my skepticism about why you'd launch a legging that isn't even called a legging, I realized the naming approach does in fact help justify wearing these far beyond your couch. Like, say, donning them at the airport: It's a place I sheepishly prefer to wear leggings, because comfort is so key while schlepping around between time zones.

Because, honestly, I still have an internal struggle about whether the curve-hugging, potentially frumpy garment is truly ever apropos beyond the gym. I shared this schlubbiness paranoia with Winthrop early in the game as we discussed where AG's leggings would theoretically be worn. “Success to us will look like people not having qualifiers about when and where to wear our leggings," he said. Translation: These are bottoms you shouldn't feel guilty wearing while going through the TSA line.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
As for the fit, it "was engineered around a woman’s curves. We wanted to create a democratic fit for women,” Allen said. That meant fine-tuning everything from the feel around the knees to the crotch depth. American Giant’s fit model, Anne, “spent a lot of time squatting down in these pants to make sure there wasn’t any gaping in the back, and so that the pant moves with you so you’re not tugging at the waistband,” she explained. That waistband needed to be “supple and sturdy, with the right elastic to ‘hold and mold,’ and not binding or uncomfortable.”
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
While the shape retention was on point in the third prototype, things didn't feel sumptuous enough on the skin (yet). To get that, the company added a nano-technology finish (after trying out a number of washes with prototype three), "so the fabric doesn't lose any of that structure but also has a really soft, smooth hand feel,” Winthrop said. "We also tweaked the fit very slightly, adding a 1/4-inch rise to ensure the waistband sits comfortably.”

Next up? More leggings, probably in 2017. They'll be assessing if there's room or a need for a two-season program (in other words, having two seasonal versions of the leggings, one lighter-weight and one thicker version). There's also the possibility of having three different silhouettes eventually.

But for now, the brand's first legging, a.k.a. The Pant, is finally out in the world, vying to become the "most amazing incredible best leggings ever."
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