Product colors influenced by fashion, nature

Manufacturers must take color seriously to create salable and timeless products, and many companies rely on trend monitoring services like Stylesight and Pantone Color Institute for inspiration. SNEWS brings you insight on what’s in store for the future.
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Have you ever wondered how your suppliers choose colors for their products? Or to what degree the fashion industry influences outdoor and fitness apparel?

Maybe you got some answers from Jeanine Pesce, the senior active editor for Stylesight, a color trend monitoring service, at her Outdoor Retailer Winter Market seminar in January. In case you missed it, SNEWS has some insight for you.

Erik Hamerschlag, product manager at Osprey, said his company spends a lot of time looking at color, because it’s an important business decision.

“It’s not a scientific thing and it’s not pure art either,” Hamerschlag said. “There are business concerns about risky/fun colors versus safe/salable colors and open questions about what particular users are looking for.”

Libby Andrews, president of Stick-e Products, which specializes in yoga accessories, said choosing colors for her product is a make-or-break decision.

"Color selection is going to appeal to the consumer and determine whether your merchandise moves off the store shelves or gets left on the store shelves," Andrews said.

Many manufacturers rely on trend monitoring services for input on which colors will be trending for the next few seasons.

“There are trends and then there are fads,” Sue Parham, the former vice president of global apparel for Columbia Sportswear, told SNEWS prior to her departure from the company. “Our approach to color is to follow the trend and not the fad. A fad is something that comes in and out this season, and a trend is something that’s going to continue on.”

Stylesight said the main trends for the fall and winter 2012 season come from the human body and nature.

“The rawness of nature and the human body in its purest form were two huge influencers for the fall/winter 2012 season,” Pesce said. “We explored the organs and the circulatory system so there was an abundance of saturated red shades.

“We also went deep into the forest, taking color direction from moss, mud, stone and bark,” she added. “We were really fascinated with the primal elements associated with those environments.”

Icebreaker looks to the nature in its native New Zealand, said Keryn Francisco, the company's product design director. "We are first and foremost inspired by nature and reference the beautiful New Zealand landscapes, flora and fauna seasonally," she said. "Our goal is clear, energetic color that merchandises beautifully together and flows from one season to the next."

Another color trend monitoring service, Pantone Color Institute, recently released its Fashion Color Report for fall 2012, which includes the Pantone Color of the Year Tangerine Tango, among others like Rose Smoke and Honey Gold. Leatrice Elseman, Pantone Color Institute’s executive director, said there's something for everybody.

Some companies, like Wild Things (which recently relaunched at Winter Market) chose color to pay homage to the past. Wild Things chose product colors that represent its New England-based climbing heritage. That palette uses a lot of navy blues, and “preppy Yankee” colors, said Kim Pingaro, the GMM of the licensee programs.

No matter where manufacturers find their color inspiration, the goal is to offer consumer products that accomplish multiple tasks, like look great while performing well.

“For the first time since the '80s, fashion and function are equally important,” Pesce said, adding that well established designers like Stella McCartney, Cynthia Rowley and Hussein Chalayan all have ventured into designing products for activewear companies.

“Now more than ever, I think we can clearly see how the outdoor industry is being influenced by the fashion community, in terms of color, silhouette and design direction,” Pesce said. “Consumers are embracing more complex color combinations that the fashion world has come to rely on, so designers have the ability to take more chances and deliver a product that is more cerebral.”

Pesce said some of her favorite manufacturers in terms of ability to bring color to the market are Black Diamond, Mammut, Arc’teryx and Patagonia. “They have the ability to balance interesting, directional palettes with extreme functionality of their assortments,”

Joanna Tomasino, softgoods category manager for Mammut, said the company tends to use bright, crisp colors that pop. In addition to using color analysis services, Mammut's "design team also gets out on the road in major metropolitan areas to see what colors, patterns and styles are being used in many realms from outdoor to fashion."

Moving Comfort is employing a very feminine palette in its new Kick Sassy and bra lines, which it chose based on information from both Stylesight and another popular color and fashion trend service WGSN.

Heather Cvitkovic, senior product line manager of Moving Comfort, said the company looks at the fashion market for insight and inspiration. And Stick-e Products' Andrews said she looks to companies like Moving Comfort and other fitness apparel companies for color inspiration.

"We try and go with industry trends," Andrew said. "Ideally we like our products to complement trends in the apparel industry so the merchandise will fit nicely with what people will be wearing in the yoga studio."

Pearl Izumi also looks to the fashion world for inspiration, said spokeswoman Jenny Radloff. “We use a few color trending services however, we also take cues from the runways and world around us,” she said.

While the catwalk may be a good source of inspiration for outdoor apparel designers, there’s one last factor that plays into the color decision.

“History is always a good guide,” Osprey’s Hamerschlag said. “People tend to continue buying what they bought in the past.”

And the past is full of products in go-to classic colors, such as neutrals, blacks and blues. Pesce said she expects to see more of manufacturers go back to these staples in the future due to the increased demand for performance fabrics.

“We will also see the minimalist effect take hold now that black performance fabrics are being perfected by innovational companies like Schoeller Textiles,” Pesce said, adding that heritage hues manufacturers are pulling from their archives will also see a resurgence. “These are the authentic colors that can literally span centuries, as we see companies like Woolrich and Filson — that are steeped in tradition — continuing to incorporate them into contemporary collections.”

--Ana Trujillo

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