Web Extras: Climbing apparel -- manufacturers' soap box

More was said and noted during the course of our interviews with key players in the climbing apparel industry than we could possibly print in the 2005 GearTrends Summer Outdoor magazine article, Rages to Riches by Clyde Soles, beginning on page 30. Many of the quotes not included in our printed article offer valuable insight into the trends, direction and thoughts behind those making the decisions regarding product design for climbing apparel -- so, we're bringing them to you here:
Author:
Publish date:

By Clyde Soles

For the complete story, see GearTrends® Summer Outdoor 2005, p. 30, "Rags to Riches"

More was said and noted during the course of our interviews with key players in the climbing apparel industry than we could possibly print in the 2005 GearTrends Summer Outdoor magazine article, Rages to Riches by Clyde Soles, beginning on page 30. Many of the quotes not included in our printed article offer valuable insight into the trends, direction and thoughts behind those making the decisions regarding product design for climbing apparel -- so, we're bringing them to you here:

Beaver Theodosakis, president of prAna
“Just three to five years ago, 'fashion' was a dirty word in the outdoor industry. Now ‘street' is in and soft technical designs the rage; climbers want to look good and they want durability.”

Gus Alexandropoulos, marketing director for Blurr (left company August, 2005)
“Retailers and the industry are noticing that there has been a stagnation in the industry, mainly because of demographic shifts that have created consumers who no longer relate to the traditional outdoor mythology that the industry is promoting.”

As appealing as the notion of sleeping in the dirt may initially seem, the novelty soon wears off and folks start looking at other options. Many of these new consumers see themselves participating in a sport. And if you are an outdoor athlete, do you not perform better when you have slept on clean sheets, had a shower, a big cup of coffee and checked your email?”

I see the market moving more towards acknowledging that this is a ‘lifestyle' and that retailers can grow their business and attract younger customers by treating it as such. It does not have to be either/or and by speaking about our urban and outdoor experiences more honestly, everyone can benefit.”

We don't need to be an extreme sport to be legitimate but we also can't continue to define climbing and so many of the other aspects of the outdoor experience as dirt bag activities. We need more creative and inclusive visions of what this industry and activities are about. More concretely, fabric technology stories are compelling up to a certain point but most folks will make decisions on what they buy based on emotional appeal. The industry needs to find other ways to reach younger customers.”

If there is anything that worries me, it would be the general aging of the whole industry. On the surface, there just does not seem to be the focus on bringing in a younger wave of customers into this sport. You can often feel this at industry events where there seems to be a lack of youthful energy seen in other industries. “

Kitty Bradley, director of sales for Stonewear Designs
“For women, they are loving looking and dressing like women. Feminine, girly, sexy styles and colors. The ladies are dressing up. Sales in women's products are on the rise. I am even seeing some of the influence of women's products on men's products. With all the variety of lengths in bottoms (pant, crop, capri, shorts) we are now seeing crops for men (which I think is refreshing).”

Women got sick of dressing like men. Also, the younger women came in boldly wanting to be good athlete's (even kick butt ability wise) and to look totally feminine and sexy.”

I think there is a lot of good product out there but you might not ever see it at retail. More retailers should take a look at keeping their store fresh with new product and to take a few risks on new products. If women are to become a more important consumer they need to see new merchandise and to see outfits put together.”

It's a small niche and any apparel launch takes time, money and resources. It takes a minimum of several seasons to get retailers behind a new apparel line. Also, in my experience I have seen hardgoods companies fail with apparel. I think in part, because they don't know what it really takes to make it work.”

Rob BonDurant, brand director for Patagonia
“We've enjoyed watching the market mature, we love the stuff Blurr is doing, extremely progressive, and a total F.U. to the trad, but dated Outdoor Industry. We've seen A5 make some headway with what appears to be price point sportswear. And of course, Prana is always there. We spent a bunch of time with Beaver from Prana and the crew helping them get their organic cotton program off the ground and we are very pleased to see that collection gain steam.”

There is no longer a ‘uniform' so to speak for climbers and that very fact pushes our design team to continue to strive for relevant, yet entirely functional style for movement over stone. The influence of Yoga and its Eastern athletic has been pervasive, so much that we were chuckling about some industry trend report on what they were calling "stretch sports" the other day. What the hell are ‘stretch sports?'”

Those that failed in this market have had a number of factors working against them: chasing trends and a lack of uniqueness, tiny distribution, margin and manufacturing challenges, and a need to grow through word of mouth due to little to no marketing outreach.”

Jaime Grant, co-owner of Ropegun
“I think manufacturers recognize that the outdoor channel has been bleeding loyal customers for some time. Go to your local crag and take a sampling of the clothing products on display there. You'll see a number of climbers in traditional climbing brands, but many more wearing surf, skate, and workwear brands. Climbing brands just haven't resonated with the core climber consumer for a number of years. This wasn't always the case.”

It may take some time before retailers see the value of bringing more contemporary designs into their stores. Many buyers are comfortable with ‘traditional' outdoor aesthetics—fleece, breathable fibers, monochromatic designs, feature-rich garments—and are wary of taking a risk that climbers will flock to more lifestyle-inspired products. But the truth is, they already have; they just buy those products through other channels.”

Stop cannibalizing the same core customer base and broaden the reach of the channel. Surf shops used to sell surfboards and neoprene to a small customer base. Now they are multi-million dollar boutiques that sell surf-style to a massive customer base in a fantastic demographic. Outdoor would do itself a tremendous service by broadening the reach of its channel.”

Don't miss the full story, "Rages to Riches," in the GearTrends® Summer Outdoor 2005 issue. To download the full issue or just this article, go to www.geartrends.com/magazines
     
Â

Related