Thankfully, it seems the days of being second-class citizens are over for women. From apparel to packs, manufacturers are giving the girls their props and designing products to fit women's curves, style tastes and needs, rather than giving them boys' hand-me-downs, simply downsized.
As we reported two weeks ago in our hydration report, three companies -- Camelbak, Jansport and Ultimate Direction -- have taken a hard look at the women's market and built hydration systems especially for them. A new pack player on the block, Sherpani, from the makers of Russi packs, brought 15 backcountry packs, urban bags and messenger bags to Summer Market. Co-owner Ed Ruzic said they had two major chain retailers beating a path to the booth to see the line -- an experience he admits he's never had before. Built by women for women (Ed's wife Maria leads the design team), the Sherpani packs also have a group of 12 women who provide R&D feedback.
Women's apparel gets stronger every season. Woolrich's Lederle Eberhardt said that for the first time women's apparel is outselling men's by 55 percent. With product like Sierra Designs' Satori jacket being introduced for spring 2004, it's no wonder. Made of weather-resistant Barricade polyester, the soft shell jacket takes care of you on the trail but looks snazzy at a party, too. Retailers that carry lifestyle apparel are shifting their sales floors -- decreasing the men's racks from four or five to two and three while upping the women's to five or six racks. Smart move since they're seeing four to five turns per season on women's product compared to two or three on men's. The biggies each season are rolling out more and more too: The North Face, Mountain Hardwear, Ex Officio and Patagonia, to name a few, have a lot of fans among the women with styles, colors and prints that attract more than a passing glance.
With all this emphasis on the ladies, it's even gotten to the point where SNEWS is considering calling an end to its product overview focusing on women's gear and goods because so many companies are offering so much now that we just can't cover it all in one piece! Women's equipment and garments are not considered a novelty anymore, but a powerhouse in their own right. We remember a few years ago getting all excited about women's socks and how they fit, and one man who just kind of curled his lip and said, what's the big deal? Now, we can't begin to single out all the companies that have women's-specific socks; it's just a given. A few years ago when a company announced it was doing a women's-specific line, the press gasped and rushed over; now, it's honestly almost a bit of a what-else-is-new. For this yawn, we are quite pleased.
Not that some companies aren't doing special things, and the leaders in women's apparel â€“ Isis, Wild Roses and Moving Comfort for three -- are still there. Here we go: At least one more time, SNEWS will do a roundup of a few highlights we saw while roaming the halls of Summer Market last month:
Contourwear -- Tired of unfashionable "practical" travel clothes, Julie Liveris and Karen Schwartz teamed up to design a clothing line to fit the active lifestyle of women everywhere. Using high-tech fabrics like Wellman's Sensura, the pieces are designed to go from the office to the yoga studio, from the trail to the pub. The outdoor-classic Zip Off pant has been updated by Contourwear and streamlined so the zip off seam is minimal and less bulky with a shorter short that's more stylish. The Anywear skirt goes from long (above the ankle) to short (above the knee) with a contrasting-color zipper that nicely blends in as a fashion detail. The Anywear pant is perfect for the office or a trip abroad. Tight fitting, it has a lower rise waistband, hidden zipper pockets just below the waist for change, and two pockets at the ankle to stash a passport or extra cash. The clothes are stylish and use functional fabrics, but they're a little pricey -- the Anywear pant retails for $160.
Isis -- Just coming off celebrating its fifth anniversary and a move into a bigger and better office, Isis is still a category leader. To help refine things even more, the company has hired a specialist in sizing and fit to analyze the apparel and re-tweak the pieces as needed to make sure they're right-on and consistent -- that work will show up in fall '03 items. What do we see for spring '04? Richer and brighter color, including deep orangey-reds called Poppy (no, no, not named after co-founder Poppy Gall) and richer purple and magenta tones. Says co-founder Carolyn Cooke, the company's customer may be "hard-core" but is also "soft-tech" since she also likes style, color, and uses the product for lifestyle wear in some cases. The Cassandra and Cassandra Split P shorts ($75, $80) are re-done with a softer and lighter nylon Ispira fabric, also with triple needle stitching on the side seams of the pants. (Split P is a hidden zipper system that allows the call of nature without baring all.) Also new are Ariel Sport tanks ($42, $50) with a grid-knit construction for fast-wicking that have side-panel color-blocking for a slimming touch. The company also introduced sport bras and bra tops in its Ambrosia line ($30-$42), which includes the mandatory black and off-white, but also a great hot pink.
Marmot -- Entering its 30th year, Marmot is only getting better with age and the female contingent is getting its fair share of attention. The innovation begins with the women's Dart jacket made of the new PreCip N-220P fabric, a fine filament 50-denier nylon. The waterproof/breathable, seam-taped jacket isn't only a functional marvel, it's also sporting a Tibetan "burst" print in four colors, inspired by the Marmot-sponsored Sepu Kangri climb. Great to see something other than a solid color! A new foray is the Spice collection, a fabric-driven line of casual and active pieces using Marmot's Body Mapping technology for a broad range of performance characteristics like easy movement and quick moisture transfer. Separated into three categories -- hot, medium and mild -- women's pieces like the low-rise Liberty capri and merino wool Tact short sleeve shirt will keep you moving in any summer adventure. And last but not least, the Chinook jacket in the Wind collection offers wind protection, water repellency and high breathability. The same weight as three quarters, too bad the price didn't match -- $100 retail.
Moonstone -- Moonstone is recognizing the fact that outdoor athletes not only need quality technical outerwear but also apparel for everyday training to prepare for the "big" trip. President Gary Hansen said the training collection represents another opportunity for the outdoor specialty retailer to reach those enthusiasts who are already shopping in their store. The training line has two new fabrics -- Belltron ripstop with a DWR finish and Polartec Featherweight PowerDry with X-Static -- and more pieces for women. The women's pullover Hyperlite Wind Shirt is made of Belltron has low-profile stretch binding at the hem and back, Napoleon pocket, 3M Scotchlite reflective trim and weighs 4.5 ounces. Also new for Moonstone are technical sportswear bottoms. The Desert Rock short and pant are made of nylon Tactel with a quick dry treatment with an adjustable web belt and flattering look. The pant has roll-up button loops at the knee to convert it into capri length.
Moving Comfort -- Wow, what a difference a new owner makes (that would be Russell Corp. as of a year ago), even in just the trade show look. It wasn't MC's typical table with a rack behind it, but a large REAL booth with closets and display tables. A new catalog is beefier and shows off the product better too, and a new bra designer has been reviewing the line to make sure the sizing and fit is all there. Although some changes will be evident for both the spring '04 line, most of the company's transformation will fully take hold with the fall '04 line. One line it showed off at the summer show was the new seamless base layer line, including tops and bottoms, a cami with a shelf bra and a bikini and thong -- more styles and colors are coming in the fall, we were told. In other pieces, the Skimmer T-back had split straps on the shoulders for a different touch, and the Mirage Hoody was just that -- a cute little hooded sleeveless top. It was great to see the changes and we look forward to more.
Snow Angel -- This is a company that knows how to make a woman feel sexy without sacrificing quality textiles. Snow Angel has been addressing the needs of wintersport women for the last four years and has now branched into spring offerings. Owner Pamela Moyce said her business has doubled every year and she was ready to have a year-round retail presence with an intimates and activewear collection. Made of microfibers with Lycra, the intimates use seamfree technology that provides support and body-conscious shaping with the virtual elimination of seams that chafe. Three stylish tanks and panty bottoms are offered in classic white and black, as well as surf blue and watermelon. Pieces in the activewear line are made of either Cybersilk (Coolmax Alta/Lycra blend) or Supplex, and cover all the basics: short and long sleeve tops, shorts, capri length pants and a long pant. The keyhole tank will make any woman feel like taking on a physical challenge and know she looks great doing it.
Water Girl -- Bathing suits in outdoor stores? Not such a strange sight anymore according to Water Girl's Alison Cutler who said retailers are finally searching the company out driven by that passion to attract a younger consumer into their stores. Water Girl is doing it right, too. It's offering one-piece, two-piece and tankini bathing suits, which can be mixed and matched with rashguard tops (which can also be worn alone), boardshorts and ocean skirts. Four distinct color stories allow retailers to merchandise suits with various lifestyle pieces like capri pants, long skirts and dresses. Not every woman wants to wear a "short" short, so Water Girl makes sure it has all the lengths covered, now offering 4-, 6- and 12-inch inseams (sizes 0-16).
Wild Roses -- This is the last time you'll really see this name. As of now, it will be the Outdoor Research Women's line. Sigh, what a great name to lose. OK, the flower logo stays and the designers stay, and we guess that's what counts. The new intros are limited, but have some nice flair. The Isla Rose Shirt ($39) has the tiniest touch of a front hem that scoops up just a bit on one side to overlap with the other -- what a great way to make it more than "just another technical T-shirt." The Cheyene Rose Shorts ($39) have a wider elastic waistband to fit securely and a lower-rise waistline for fast-forward movement. They about begged to be taken out for a run or hike, especially with a back zip pocket for ID and an energy gel. We also really liked the Salish Rose Wrap Skort ($65) -- there are just times a woman is tired of shorts but still wants total freedom of movement they allow, and these are still made of a performance-oriented Lycra.