Change is in the Air for Sure. Whether defined as leaving Salt Lake City for Denver, the closing of outdoor specialty stores, fast fashion, the explosion of the cooler category, consolidation, big brands falling behind smaller more nimble e-commerce-savvy brands, the evolving definition of the outdoor experience or the New York Times paying attention to this industry in a big way – this industry is changing.
Sure, there was melancholy around the departure from Salt Lake, but there was very positive energy towards what the future holds for the industry in Denver. Reality struck home: exhibitors, attendees and the community at large knows it has reached a tipping point and there seems to be a genuine desire (dare we say need) to adapt, or else…..
The Industry is Strong and the Mainstream Media is Taking Notice: Now responsible for contributing $887 billion to the U.S. economy, the outdoor industry is resilient, catching the eyes of mainstream media (e.g. New York Times fashion editor Vanessa Friedman devoted an almost full-page story to the apparel segment expressing its passion), and the continued attention of private equity companies circling the show. Who doesn’t want to be part of an industry that showcases best in class technology and outstanding products – all of which is designed to excel in the outdoors with the bonus of producing health and endorphin benefits. We are lucky, indeed.
The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same. This show seemed to be more about refinements rather than breakout technology – e.g. the new bucket from Yeti in a sizzling hot cooler category or the new Hydro Flask Wine bottle and wine coolers in a new, exciting water bottle category. This applies as well to footwear, apparel and gear. Brands seemed to be uber focused on details that make a difference, as well as expanding their markets, even if there were no major technologies involved.
Fashion Is King: There was the usual cross-over of fashion to “outdoorable” and back with designers doing their best to create apparel that urban dwellers can wear from the subway to their local dive bar and then on the trail that weekend. We continue to see evidence of outdoor’s appeal to the world of high end fashion designers – just take a look at rugged styles on the runways in London, Milan and Paris. We doubt we will see Louis Vuitton or Gucci at Outdoor Retailer any time soon, but you can be sure they are watching closely.
Performance Performance: These trends continue with every category striving to be lighter, active and more versatile. Car camping, yoga, stand up paddleboarding, bike camping/packing and fly fishing are top of mind and attracting attention because they are easier to understand, more accessible and are part of the every day lifestyle for millions of end-users.
Fast Fashion Creep: While Zara continues to be a star in fast fashion, e.g. introducing 28 collections a year and taking as little as eight weeks from design to instore, this approach is not right for every manufacturer. Nonetheless, the new younger consumer coming up through the ranks wants fresh styles quicker than ever – and this includes their choices in outdoor apparel. There is a concerted effort for brands to look at their supply chains to see how their “go to market” process can be expedited.
GorpCore Not Normcore: To borrow from SNEWS, the leading outdoor industry trade publication, “Gorpcore fuses the fundamentals of practical campwear with the principles of high fashion to create an urban inside joke with a dash of earnestness.” Gorpcore shows the world that consumers want to take time out to enjoy the outdoors and value their surroundings.
Again, from SNEWS, “Like normcore before it, Gorpcore’s main idea is that the unfashionable can be fashionable—if you wear it right. At its center, Gorpcore is a rejection of consumerism where minimalism supplants glamour. Fashion reporters in New York have noted Gorpcore beginning to infuse street style with some trend practitioners going as far as to wear fleece vests and fanny packs as they tromp around Manhattan and Brooklyn. For retailers and buyers alike, it’s more than just a fleeting burst of Patagucci pullovers and grandpa-ish wool sweaters, but a sign of the times.”
Sustainability is Standard Operating Procedure: Way back when companies where shouting from the hilltops about their “green” commitments and manufacturing. Today, the mantra is really about, “just do it.” Sustainable (and traceable) technologies are standard operating procedure. adidas Outdoor expanded its Parley for the Ocean offerings to apparel, as well as expanding its footwear line featuring products made from recycled ocean plastic. PrimaLoft wants 90% of its materials to incorporate at least 50% post- consumer recycle content by 2020. Mountain Khakis is focused on recycling pants and introducing a larger selection of organic for spring 2018.
Water Water Everywhere: The water bottle category was one of the most popular products of the show, coming in bold colors, a variety of sizes, flowery prints and even “design your own”. The real news is in the technology. LifeStraw introduced LifeStraw Play, the brand’s first filtration bottle designed for kids’, LifeStraw Universal, an adapter kit that fits most popular water bottle brands, and LifeStraw Flex, a versatile multi-use filter meeting National Sanitation Foundation (NSF-53) standards for lead reduction.
Women! Women’s marketing initiatives tied closely to women’s products were front and center with no signs of going away any time soon, and why should they. The same goes for women’s only product–no more “pink it and shrink it.” Gear and apparel designed specifically for women is here to stay.
Staying Connected, Glamping and Van life: As consumers turn to the outdoors more frequently and seek its simple pleasures, they’re looking towards solar technology, USB charging capability, hot outdoor showers on the fly, marshmallow recipes and portable fireplaces. Kelty is introducing sleeping bags that grow with kids. And it wouldn’t be OR without a display from a Mercedes Benz Sprinter, right? Ah, the van life spirit is calling.
Manufacturers that are Online, Nimble and Savvy are Kicking the Butt of Many Larger Brands: No question that buying habits are changing (just count the number of retailers closing and the obituaries that are being written about malls). The fight for online dollars is brutal. Brands, retailers and media need to figure this out quickly.
The Next Generation of Intel Inside: Oftimes, the best attribute is what is inside, e.g. those technologies and component brands that really are the heart and soul of performance. Ingredient materials that enhance comfort and performance are critical to providing products that excel in all conditions that Mother Nature has in store for us.
Made in USA Resonates: Following the White House Made in USA Week, there are a host of brands that focus on designing and manufacturing their products in the USA.
Venture Out – Bubbling Brands We Obsess About: Venture Out, a show-within-a-show at OR, showcases brands at the forefront of the modern outdoor experience. Here, core outdoor retailers are finding brands appealing to new, younger and more urban-influenced consumers such as Feller and Reyn Spooner.
Last thoughts? The challenges and opportunities are daunting. The passion is unmatched. The timing is now. And in an era of “fake news”, the outdoor industry is anything but.