Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '08: Technical apparel offers lighter constructions at affordable prices

The line separating technical apparel from fashionable wear continues to fade fast, and the industry's "green" makeover is in full swing. While the latest functional clothes are now easier on the eyes (and easier on the Earth), they also deliver more bang for the buck in constructions that are lighter, but no less protective, and also more affordable.
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The line separating technical apparel from fashionable wear continues to fade fast, and the industry's "green" makeover is in full swing. While the latest functional clothes are now easier on the eyes (and easier on the Earth), they also deliver more bang for the buck in constructions that are lighter, but no less protective, and also more affordable.

Fashion catches up to function

Technical apparel is getting, well, less techie looking, but without losing any of its functionality. There is a new level of style in 2009 tech apparel that makes everything from waterproof/breathable jackets to Gore-Tex footwear appear like lifestyle pieces. The line between performance and lifestyle is blurrier than ever. Nau -- now owned by Horny Toad -- has always done a great job of designing lifestyle look pieces that can also get you up a mountain. This year, its urban-styled Courier Wind shirt (MSRP $215) and wool confidant capri fit the bill (www.nau.com).

We saw flouncy, new technical skirts galore, like the GoLite Strawberry Short skort (MSRP $50) that's got vertical slivers of contrasting color that match its contract color waistband (www.golite.com), and Patagonia has a short and sassy Multi-Use Skirt (MSRP $55, www.patagonia.com).

Mountain Hardwear got its cute on with the technical 800-fill down sweater, the Nitrous for women (MSRP $220), stitching it into a paisley-inspired pattern on the upper chest (www.mountainhardwear.com). Moving Comfort featured its Excursion Collection made from performance fabrics in styles that you could wear hiking, to the airport or while café-hopping on your European vacation (www.movingcomfort.com). Ground's radio-frequency welded men's express shorts (MSRP $65) have an element of urban style, while its ultrasonically welded Waimea board shorts (MSRP $65) have beach chic, but both will make great backpacking shorts (www.groundwear.com).

Apparel green scene

Green, recycled, end of lifecycle recyclable, sustainable, earth friendly, eco. Sound familiar? This trend has been inching its way into the outdoor mainstream for the past five years, but for 2009 it seems like every apparel manufacturer has eco pieces or collections -- click here to read our Green Report published Sept. 12. GoLite has recycled poly peppered throughout its line, as does LaFuma. Its recycled poly Lady Track jacket straddles the line between fashion and tech, with recycled zips (MSRP $130, www.lafumausa.com).

Mountain Hardwear's Nitrous down sweater, mentioned above, is made with recycled poly. The North Face remade its iconic Denali jacket (MSRP $165) from recycled poly, saving 33 pounds of CO2 and 0.83 gallons of gas per jacket (www.thenorthface.com). Outdoor Research uses Dry Release Eco, 88-percent recycled poly and 12-percent organic cotton, in several pieces (www.outdoorresearch.com). Almost every booth that we visited that sells clothing is using something recycled, organic or low impact. And it's making sense. As more manufacturers are using sustainable and low impact fabrics, the price of those fabrics are coming down, and there is more to choose from.

New, better, lighter

A new breed of Ultralite 2.5-layer jackets decorated the mannequins at many booths. Marmot's Mica (for men), Crystalline (for women) and Aegis (for men) use a new MemBrain 2.5 waterproof/breathable fabric. They retail for $130 to $140, but Marmot said they perform like jackets that in the past would have cost twice as much. The Crystalline is six ounces, and the half-layer print that is laminated onto the outer fabric is supposedly less clammy (www.marmot.com).

Ground also introduced a 2.5 layer jacket, the 3D (MSRP $200). It sports a raised-dot matrix fabric that is supposed to increase airflow. There are abrasion-resistant panels printed onto the shoulders, butt and elbows, and it's fully welded, which, according to Ground President Tucker Hacking, significantly reduces waste.

The SNEWS® team of seasoned reporters covers a trade show to seek out product highlights, indications of a trend (to a product category, a company or the industry) or products that are new to the market. In our post-show reports, we do not write about every last piece of gear or equipment we have seen, although, promise, we have most likely seen nearly everything. Even if not in a show report, you never know how information may be included in a future report, trend watch, product review or story. If you have any comments or questions, please email us at snewsbox@snewsnet.com.

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