Trend expert Matt Powell of NPD discussed the latest trends in gear sales and consumer priorities.

Matt Powell’s trend talk is always a fixture at Outdoor Retailer. But for Winter Market, the senior industry advisor for the NPD Group decided to go about things differently: Instead of delving deep into numbers, he spent most of the time taking questions from the audience. The hottest topic? Tariffs. The answer? Well, muddy at best. “It’s difficult to project the impact,” Powell said. “All tariffs increase prices for consumers, and it leaves them with less disposable income—which isn’t good for retail.”

But there was plenty of good news and plenty of stats. At the top of the list: Sustainability is finally making a breakthrough with customers. According to NPD’s research, 33 percent of women said they would pay more for clothing that was described as sustainable, eco-friendly, organic, or ethical than for clothing that was not. This reverses a long trend of consumer indifference, though Powell added that brands can still be more purposeful in telling sustainability stories to continue the trend.

A few brands that have told us their sustainability stories:

- Nikwax

- GoLite

- NEMO

- BioLite

- Green Theme Technologies

In general, outerwear, especially in higher-priced styles ($200 and up), came out as a winner, with growth hitting 13 percent over last year. And fleece continues to be irresistible, with a jump of 9 percent—but softshells fell by 9 percent. In sportswear, the largest annual dollar sales growth came in woven shirts—to the tune of $18 million in the last year, with knit shirts and sweatshirts not far behind.

A big concern of Powell’s audience was what to make of generational shifts. “We see that the boomer population still has most of the money, but they’re not spending it as much on things anymore,” he said. “They’re spending it on experiences—travel, food, wine. And most are downsizing, not accumulating more stuff.” Anything associated with travel is going strong: Travel packs are up 11 percent, and fanny packs are up an impressive 50 percent. Younger generations are relying on the shared economy. “They’re renting more, borrowing, or buying used in order to save money,” Powell said. They’re also walking the talk when it comes to issues they care about: 36 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds have made a purchase specifically because they supported a brand’s social position. Side note, he added: When asked to describe themselves, most Gen Z-ers say “unique.”

If there’s a takeaway message from Powell’s presentation, it’s to zero in on what is doing well. “If the industry focuses on what is working, there’s reason for optimism,” he said. Topping the charts are indoor climbing, travel, family camping, and urban outdoors. That, and reimagining the very purpose of your business. Said Powell, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” 

This article was originally published in Day 3 of The Daily (Winter Market 2018).

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