OR Winter Market Trends -- Base layers, hats and gloves

The SNEWS® team of six editors spent the entire four days of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2004 scouting out trends and product developments. In the weeks to come, we'll be publishing our take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations that caught our eyes. With that in mind, here's our take on base layers, gloves and hats.
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The SNEWS® team of six editors spent the entire four days of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2004 scouting out the trade show scene. In the weeks to come, we'll be publishing our take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations that caught our eyes. No, it is not complete and we apologize in advance if a company feels its product was not mentioned when it should have been. We're only covering product that stood out to us here, so if you're not mentioned, we either did not see you, we didn't think your product stood out sufficiently, or we were just plain clueless -- you pick one. With that in mind, here's our take on base layers, gloves and hats.

Base Layers / Activewear

Underwear manufacturers faced a rough fall this year, with manufacturing snags that affected sales and product development. For the most part, the kinks had been worked out by this year's winter SIA and OR shows. In fact, companies were enjoying a market that is increasingly warming up to merino wool base layers and new ideas, like seamless construction.

As SNEWS® reported in the fall, Mountain Hardwear was working with Milliken to co-develop a new fabric that would use silver technology to produce an odor-fighting mid-weight layer in Hardwear's eXtend line. Due to problems with the hand of the fabric, as well as cost issues, Hardwear is no longer working to develop the new midweight fabric. However, its featherweight eXtend pieces work well and remain in the line. For fall '04, the company has also introduced lower-priced Thermadry and Hyperdry base layers (without silver technology) to be worn for shorter outings.

In the fall of 2003, Milliken & Company had production problems with its Visa Endurance materials, which utilize silver ions to minimize odor and bacteria. This, in turn, forced Layers to deliver its Thermion AG base layers (using Visa Endurance) late. Chuck Millsaps of Layers told SNEWS, "We were back up in time for delivery by Thanksgiving." While Milliken corrected the problem quickly, Layers lost some sales. "It's unfortunate because the product sold very well, and dealers could have sold twice the amount if it had been on the shelf," said Millsaps. Layers is now charging ahead, adding a midweight Thermion AG piece to its line.

As the popularity of merino wool continues to grow, so does the success of wool base layers. Smartwool, the brand that has capitalized most on merino's rise, faced a challenge in 2003 that it seems to have overcome. Smartwool had to cancel portions of its base-layer program due to problems with wool processing. The company addressed the issue and, despite the snafu, retailers are still buying into the base-layer program -- a testament to the brand's strength. Smartwool provided SNEWS with a letter that the company sent to dealers. It states that, "As a result of this experience, we restructured our entire quality assurance program, now known as the Smartwool TQA, to ensure our ability to deliver top quality garments in 2004 and beyond." This winter the company re-launched its base layer program, now called Next to Skin, including lightweight and medium-weight styles. It also introduced new four-season microweight products (from T-shirts to briefs), which represent the company's lightest base layers and its foray into wool products for warm weather.

Icebreaker may be the only company that can claim its merino products have made it to the summit of Mt. Doom. Icebreaker Managing Director Jeremy Moon told SNEWS that the company supplied base layer garments to the crew of Lord of the Rings, filmed in Icebreaker's own New Zealand. Fulfilling its own quest, Icebreaker became an independent company in November 2003, splitting amicably from its former parent company Sole Survivor. Moon says it's a positive move because it will allow the company to have more direct contact with the U.S. market. Seth Dennis, brand coordinator for Icebreaker, said the company will also improve the flow of inventory from New Zealand. As far as product goes, take a look at the new merino pieces made with "EXP" fabric. The midweight Ignition Zip top for men and women ($149) should prove to be warmer and more wind resistant.

While wool seemed to be the big story at the trade shows this winter, manufacturers also brought in more base layers with seamless construction. In Las Vegas, we sat down with Duofold's national sales manager, Rob Baldwin, who reported that the company is adding seamless pieces to its Varitherm line. This will be a good technology story for Duofold, which is working to regain some lost ground in the snowsports market. Baldwin says that in the past 18 months Duofold has increased its communication with retailers and the rest of the snowsports market to boost its brand presence.

Meanwhile, Patagonia introduced a seamless line of men's base layers, following the success of its women's seamless products.

Hot Chillys has an impressive array of new seamless base layers in its Salsa line, including women's tops, bras, camisoles, briefs, tights and even a men's seamless boxer. Blending nylon and Lycra, many of these also have BioSilver anti-bacterial materials. Let's see...what else? Oh! We almost let this fall through the cracks -- there's a new performance thong.

Quick Hits: Here are a few other pieces of intelligence we picked up, and a few items we look forward to testing in the coming months…

Royal Robbins reports that its short- and long-sleeved Coolmax base layers have gotten great response, so these have been carried over to fall 2004. For the ever-growing yoga base-layer category, Royal offers the Jaya crew, made with Tactel nylon and Spandex.

Ex Officio got a very good response to its warmer Micro Fleece layers, so it now offers zip styles. For aerobic activities, the cooler Give-N-Go line now includes long underwear.

We're starting to see the next generation of improved anti-bacterial technologies, such as Marmot's BacteriaStat, using silver technology. Apparently, some anti-bacterial materials "migrate" and kill not only bacteria in clothing, but also bacteria on the skin that is necessary to be healthy. The "non-migratory" BacteriaStat promises to leave the good bacteria alone. As we try this new product we'll keep a close watch on our good and bad bacteria -- a nasty job but somebody's gotta do it.

GoLite claims to be one of only a handful of companies with an actual base-layer patent. GoLite's patent is for a type of fiber used in its new base-layer line. The new C-shaped fiber (called C-Thru) performs like a hollow-core fiber, but it doesn't get clogged with dirt, oils and other nasty stuff. Look for three weights of base layers -- lightweight, midweight and endurance -- in bottoms and tops, including a hoody. Yes, folks, it is "the year of the hoody."

In its second year of doing base layers, Bula has doubled the size of its offering with the new LayerOne line. Retailing between $40 and $50 per piece, the garments not only have seamless construction, but also sport specialized knitting in certain areas for better insulation, fit and comfort.

Hind has moved well beyond the venerable, but somewhat tired Munich Tight and basic variations on Drylete. Working with a factory in Israel, Hind has developed a seamless technology that allows the company to weave colored patterns into base layers, and has created a line of high performance and very attractive performance tops for women.

And quickly back to Milliken's Visa Endurance -- Terramar's Visa Endurance line has increased so much that the line has grown this year from a few pieces to an offering that now takes up three pages in its dealer workbook.

Gloves

Keeping hands warm and dry is crucial during any outdoor sport and gloves play a vital role in ensuring those 10 digits make it home after any adventure. While roaming the trade show floor, a few trends caught our eye.

Leather use is on the upswing, which hasn't always been the case in the synthetic-driven outdoor market. "The outdoor segment was obsessed with synthetics and had moved away from leather," said Mike Dodd, marketing director of leather-supplier Pittards. "The major detriment (in not using leather) was they gave up grip."

What changed? Well, the technology -- leather suppliers have worked to make the material stand up to the rigors and demands of outdoor users. Gone are the days when a leather glove got wet then became a soaked, stiff mess. Dodd said today's leather retains considerably less water, dries quickly and stays soft. Leather suppliers also did their homework, researching sport niches, like ice climbing, mountaineering and cross-country skiing, and identifying key needs like better grip, feel and abrasion resistance and developing product to meet them.

Dodd said Marmot is a good example of a comprehensive glove collection that balances the use of leather and synthetics. Marmots' John Cooley said the use of leather has increased 30 percent to 40 percent in the line. "Leather is good for durability, grip and the finishing is good. It doesn't carry the stigma of being frozen." Cooley added that demand for its work glove line has grown, too.

Even though black still dominates the scene, color is making its way in. Jim Waite, national sales and marketing manager of Kombi, said consumers are more accepting of color and like color accents on their gloves, especially women. "Dealers want something that pops off the wall. It's not easy to appeal to consumers when it's a wall of black," Waite said.

And, as with most equipment, people want versatility. To do more with one pair of gloves rather than a multitude of them is every multi-sport athlete's dream realized.

Along with product trends, two established brands -- Kombi and Manzella -- have started new separate glove divisions.

Kombi debuted Akimbo, a snowboard handwear and base layer division, during the winter trade show season. Akimbo features eight gloves, four mitts and a wrist brace -- each named after a god from Greek mythology. A couple highlights are the Zeus, a gauntlet length glove, and the Hera, a slim-fitting women's style with Kom-Tech Sportwool fleece. Both have a Gore-Tex insert and Fiber-Flo 2k insulation.

Snow Glory, Manzella's new division, has four glove and mitt styles for snowboarding and skiing developed by women for women. With consulting feedback from ski guru Jeannie Thoren, the company identified the two main things women want in their gloves: warmth and waterproofness. They'll be ready for retail in fall 2004.

Quick Hits: Mammut has stars in its eyes with the new Comet and Meteor. The Comet is an all-around glove with Schoeller soft shell, while the beefier Meteor targets ice climbers with articulated knuckle padding for protection against knuckle bashing and maximum dexterity… Known for its system-style gloves, Seirus introduced the 3-in-1 Soft Shell Glove System that has a stand-alone soft shell outer loaded with bells and whistles like waterproof breathability, Thinsulate insulation, venting technology and articulation. The soft shell inner glove isn't too shabby either with windproof breathability, contoured fit and Lycra cuff… Gordini touted its new LavaWool thermal and moisture-management system, which "provides cold weather comfort by employing the inherent insulating properties of wool to keep you warm." Unlike pure wool, Lavawool uses synthetic fibers to wick moisture and feel like fleece… Manzella also introduced the Adventure backcountry gloves and mittens line using Schoeller soft shell and Gore Windstopper… Saranac has a new six-style snowboard glove brand called Disciple that uses ThermoSense climate control insulation. The marketing campaign of a woman licking her lips and another with her thong hanging out is definitely targeting a younger, edgier crowd… Something fun for the kids is the whimsical Bear Hands fleece sport mittens that look like bear paws. The adult version allows the hand to slip out a slit to answer a cell phone or grab keys.

Hats

It used to be a hat was a hat was a hat. Not so anymore as hats have become important parts of the winter wardrobe with styles and fabrics to match any style, look or activity. Knits rule the hat kingdom -- from chunky (read oversized knit to look like something your grandmother might have created) to blends to hand-knit -- but more techy textiles -- like soft shell and Outlast -- are weaving their way into the mix. And high-tech tricks like graphics sublimation are putting a cool twist on an old standby. With sublimation, custom illustrations and designs are applied directly to a fabric and absorbed, which results in a softer hand than traditional silk screening offers, and, quite frankly, it looks much cooler too. By no means complete, here are a few highlights:

Ambler Mountain Works -- Delving into the world of sublimation, Ambler showed off the Infinity and the Whirl beanies with custom contemporary graphics on Malden Power Stretch. The new Novel collection is an eye-catching line that uses acrylic yarn faces for funky, fuzzy designs, like daisies, bubbles and stripes, backed with polyester micro fleece for warmth. And the Teton is back with three color options. www.amblermountainworks.com

Bula -- With 18 years under its belt, Bula knows hats. It had 377 styles and more than 1,700 SKUs at Winter Market, covering every hat facet from an expanded chunky hat line to treated soft shell and Outlast-infused knits. Something a little different was the eight-style Discharge collection, where ink is injected then removed from areas of the merino blend beanies to create designs. The folks at Bula said the knit beanie with brim is still hot with the younger sect, while headbands with brims are an upcoming trend to watch. A leader in sublimation, the company also has three new "aggressive" designs targeting teens. www.bulabula.com

Pistil -- Pistil is a new company with a familiar face. Headed by Peter Hixson, a veteran of Shred Alert, the company wants to be known as a hat brand not just another accessory. Italian fabrics and knits dominate the collection and Hixson says that's what sets his product apart from the rest. Pistil is taking a walk on the technical side using soft shell fabrics from Schoeller and Calamai in four different styles, while fleece makes minimal appearances as only trim or lining. Nearly 80 percent of the line is targeted to women and Hixson added they're eye candy for women who appreciate quality. With 34 styles to choose from, a couple of standouts were the Greta, a flowered Italian suede with Sherpa fleece seams and brim, and the Pima, a chunky hand knit made with a blend of wool, kid mohair and alpaca. www.pistildesigns.com

Quick Hits: Turtle Fur has a new hand-knit Andean hat and scarf line from Bolivia with designs and colors native to the area… Teton Toppers handmade hats offer an attractive assortment of fleece and knit hats with old-world-style tapestry trim… Cloudveil has a Primaloft hat that's ideal for under helmet use and a Schoeller soft shell for blustery days… Mental Headgear has a Hyperactive hat with Polartec 200 and Outlast temperature regulating lining.

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