Outdoor industry must stay step ahead of mainstream textile market

Outdoor is chic in mainstream apparel these days, and that creates some challenges for the industry, said David Parkes, CEO of textile consulting firm Concept III, who identified nine critical trends affecting performance textiles at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market.
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Throughout the month of February, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2012 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 19-22. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

Outdoor is chic in mainstream apparel these days, and that creates some challenges for the industry, said David Parkes, CEO of textile consulting firm Concept III, who identified nine critical trends affecting performance textiles at an Outdoor Retailer Winter Market seminar.

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The first of these he dubbed the “Uniqlo effect,” after the Japanese casual-apparel giant with stores worldwide. Uniqlo has done a stellar job of educating general consumers about technical aspects of its clothing, which will “cause us to need to differentiate ourselves even more than we have done in last 30 years,” he predicted.

Parkes cited styling, including brighter colors, prints and decorative trims, as well as the continued influence of fashion. “The designer is so critical to how we are going to direct our business,” he said.

On the international front, Parkes said, the weakened Euro and the slow uptick in the U.S. economy will put American brands at an economic disadvantage in the European market while opening the door in the U.S. to a few strong European brands.

While addressing the mad rush in textile sourcing caused by East Asian factory closings and price increases, Parkes said, “I still believe China will be a very important resource, and there’s been a lot of movement to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.” He also noted a slow but steady transition of product sourcing to the United States and Central America.

The seminar, moderated by Emily Walzer, editor of Textile Insight, opened with a presentation from Jan Beringer, of the Hohenstein Institute in Germany, known for its rigorous testing of performance textiles. Beringer outlined the institute’s approach to gloves, which includes examining variables that affect the feel of fabric on skin — wet cling, sweat uptake, itchiness and stiffness — for an overall comfort rating. Testers also evaluate fit, where even small inconsistencies can decrease the effectiveness of thermal insulation.

“What Hohenstein is working on is an indication of trends to come, so how fit and warmth work together is likely to be a trend we’ll see in the marketplace down the line,” Walzer said.

She followed with a quick overview of performance textile evolution, highlighting in particular the fusion of technology and style. “Those used to be two very separate entities,” said Walzer. “A crucial piece of how we’ve advanced in textiles has been bringing those two different worlds together.”

Mats Georgson, founder of Georgson and Company, a Swedish branding and marketing consulting firm, closed the seminar with an appeal for product differentiation. He made his point by showing slides of five jackets — asking, “Can you tell which brand each is from?” — and four similar-looking catalog covers, drawing chuckles from the audience.

He advised attendees to stick to specific differentiating points when creating a brand story and devise a steering matrix — like a mission statement — to ensure that you stick to your story. Then, as he pointed out, “Branding becomes an instrument to steer all of the decisions you have to make on a day-by-day basis.”

--Cindy Hirschfeld

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