The talk of the show: Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2019

At Outdoor Retailer, our industry’s largest gathering, these are the topics that were at the top of everyone’s mind.
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Summer Market 2019 was just my third Outdoor Retailer show, so the experience still leaves me a little giddy and starstruck. This time around I met some of the founders behind my favorite brands, chatted with my Instagram heroes, and also cruised the show floor— attending panel discussions to determine the show’s buzziest topics. Now, finally, after a week to decompress under the stars in the Smokies (the whole industry should declare a national week of rest following the show!), and playing catch-up on all of those post OR emails, I’m running down the big ideas that were floating around this year’s Summer Market.

At the Outdoor Retailer conference in Denver, Vessel introduced their newest family member, a reusable sample cup for vendors like Nuun, Cusa Tea, and Patagonia Provisions.

At the Outdoor Retailer conference in Denver, Vessel introduced their newest family member, a reusable sample cup for vendors like Nuun, Cusa Tea, and Patagonia Provisions.

The industry unites around nixing single-use plastic

It was near impossible to go thirsty at Summer Market, thanks to the huge collaborative effort of nearly 250 brands who are part of the Plastic Impact Alliance, Outdoor Retailer, OIA, and the thousands of attendees who rejected single-use plastic during their days at the show. Chris Sears, retail relations and brand development manager at Outdoor Retailer, told us, “The common thread through the industry right now is sustainability–everybody is doing their part to cultivate a movement. SNEWS’ Plastic Impact Alliance has been really great to motivate people.” Here are some notable wins:

OR partnered up with Nalgene to provide 25,000 bottles; each attendee was offered one at registration.

No single-use bottles were sold at the concession stands.

Stanley, as a steadfast sponsor for the show’s opening event, OIA’s Industry Breakfast, invited its competitors Miir, Klean Kanteen, Yeti, CamelBak, Mizu, and EcoVessel to co-sponsor. Together they distributed 675 insulated vessels at the breakfast.

Plastic Impact Alliance members hosted 170 in-booth water refill stations around the show floor, and YETI’s big central tanks were never far away.

At the ubiquitous happy hours, stainless steel reusable pint cups outnumbered plastic ones (though there is still some work to be done in that regard).

Four food and beverage companies companies—Nuun, Cusa Tea, Patagonia Provisions, and Lona Life—partnered with Vessel Works to bring reusable sample cups to the show. Vessel Works collected the cups each night, sterilized them, and returned them to the show floor the next morning, eliminating thousands of single-use sample cups.

Colored cargo containers on a ship from China

"The U.S.-China trade war has already cost America's outdoor industry over $1.1 billion and added tariffs will cost $1.5 billion every month." —Outdoor Industry Association

Effects of the U.S.-China tariff war on the outdoor industry

At Group of 20 (G20) on June 29, President Donald Trump cooled off the trade war with China announcing that he’d hold off on imposing more tariffs for the time being. That’s a welcome respite for the outdoor industry—we can exhale for now. Trade policy and tariffs have been in the spotlight since Trump took office in January 2017 and continue to be at the front, back, and top of mind for gear-makers and retailers in the industry.

Since the last round of tariffs, a review by The Trade Partnership, an economic research and consulting firm, revealed outdoor recreation companies paid a total of $1.1 billion from September 2018 through April 2019—which was before this administration raised the tariffs to 25 percent. What's worse is the thought that if the new proposed tariff hike was to be applied the industry could have ended up paying an additional $1.5 billion per month.

“These are significant taxes on an industry that fuels economic growth and healthy communities across America,” said Patricia Rojas-Ungar, the Outdoor Industry Association’s VP of government affairs, during a tariff panel discussion on Day 1. So, where does this leave the companies? Some, like Hestra and NEMO Equipment, have already absorbed costs, while others, like BOCO Gear, La Sportiva, and Sole, have considered passing along some of (or the entire) cost to the customers. For the remaining companies, doing both may be on the table. With all of the uncertainty, small- and medium-sized businesses have to wonder if they can even survive. And, if they can survive, what and who are they willing to cut to do just that: Decrease diversity initiatives? Nix whole product lines? Giant layoffs? Questions abound. This is one hike that the outdoor industry is not looking forward to.

Veteran Michael Lewis harvests industrial hemp on his farm in Kentucky. Photo by Donnie Hedden.

Veteran Michael Lewis harvests industrial hemp on his farm in Kentucky.

Hemp oil & CBD debut

For the first time ever at Outdoor Retailer, there was a special section reserved for CBD-related exhibitors. Roughly 10 companies set up in the CBD Wellness section to tout their products and extoll the virtues of this fairly new and exploding category. Companies like Good Vibe CBD, Myaderm, Functional Remedies, and Nature’s Root are all infusing hemp oil and CBD into their products–beverages, balms, lotions, etc—for its healing and relaxing effects. Even athletes are utilizing hemp oil and CBD for recovery, stiffness, and joint and muscle pain to name a few. 

When asked why we’re suddenly seeing this hemp and cannabis influx of outdoor products, Bill Kuntz with Americanna explained, “Now that it’s legal in the U.S., hemp is becoming an agricultural crop. In 2017, the U.S. produced 25,000 acres; in 2018 that doubled to 50,000 acres;, and in 2019, analysts predict that number to double again to 100,000 acres.” Today, nearly 7 percent of Americans use CBD. Fortune Magazine estimates the market could be as large as $16 billion by 2025 (and that’s not including the medicinal pet market, which is expected to grow to more than $1.1 billion by 2022). There are many misconceptions about hemp, so during this time of rapid growth, education is imperative. Right now, researchers are finding ways to create a sustainable domestic hemp fiber supply chain, and if passed, Hemp Farming Act of 2018 (H.R.5485) would remove hemp from the controlled substances list and make it an agricultural commodity. We will continue to watch this growing trend and how it trickles into the outdoor industry.

Navajo print

A classic example of cultural appropriation: In what is now a closed case with both parties settling after a 5-year battle, the Navajo Nation had sued Urban Outfitters (UO) for selling a "Navajo" product line without any indigenous designers or approval from the Navajo Nation.

Indigenous appreciation vs. appropriation

At the pre-show Spark 2020, an event bringing together stakeholders of the outdoor JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) community, Jaylyn Gough, founder of Native Women’s Wilderness, gave a talk on the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. “Walking around OR, I see so much cultural appropriation going on and a lot of companies actually have no idea where the indigenous designs they use in apparel and other products came from or who the designer is,” she said. Gough and her team developed a checklist to discern between appropriation and appreciation and dispensed advice on how to use it with companies. 

Gough developed this checklist to help brands better understand appropriation and how to avoid it.

Gough developed this checklist to help brands better understand appropriation and how to avoid it.

“Approach a brand using indigenous-inspired designs and ask them if they brought on an indigenous designer, if they know the history of the design or the culture, and if they’ve actually given back to the community,” she said. While most brands are lacking and still have a long way to go, Gough is hoping that companies follow the example of retailers like MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-Op), which asks each brand it carries to prove a Native artist was financially compensated before placing an item with indigenous symbols or graphics on its shelves. If this sounds like hard work, it is. But, Gough said, “If you’re a brand, you have to come to the realization that only hard work and due diligence, can undo the modern practice of the exploitation and appropriation of indigenous designs.”

Hayley Samuelson

"Our hope is that it becomes something like a 1% for the Planet or a fair-trade certified mark. We’re seeing a ton of brands looking for more information and seeing how they can get involved. It’s the right moment for everyone to be taking off on this,” said Hayley Samuelson, content and community manager at BioLite.

Two new climate initiatives

Climate Neutral is a new non-profit founded by BioLite and Peak Design (both of which are climate neutral). The organization helps other brands figure out how to measure, reduce, and offset their carbon footprint. The idea is that once they offset their carbon footprint, they’ll be able to use the climate neutral certification on all of their products. By December 2019, Climate Neutral will develop an emissions calculator so that companies can measure their carbon footprint more efficiently. To date, 17 companies—including Rumpl, Klean Kanteen, and Oru Kayak—are among the first that have made the commitment to monitor their carbon emissions in 2019 and offset starting in 2020.

The other initiative, the Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC), is a holistic agricultural approach that provides a way for apparel and food brands to cut carbon emissions from their supply chains by partnering with certified farms that use regenerative agricultural practices to restore soil health and sequester carbon. Unlike the aforementioned certification, ROC will be a standing given to individual products, and not the entire brand. The ROC is currently piloting with brands like Patagonia Provisions, Dr. Bronners, and Nature’s Path. Pilot audits should be concluded by Summer 2019, with ROC applications opening by this September.

So, which certification should brands get? Well, this isn’t an either or. The answer is both. The programs go hand in hand and are both needed as companies drive change and strategize with a planet first mentality.

As a part of their Volcom For Every Body campaign, Volcom re-looks at denim and focuses on inclusive sizing for all body shapes with the introduction of plus sizes in select styles of women's jeans.

As a part of their Volcom For Every Body campaign, Volcom re-looks at denim and focuses on inclusive sizing for all body shapes with the introduction of plus sizes in select styles of women's jeans.

Women’s clothing is slowly getting more inclusive

Every outdoor woman is not a size 4. That’s why journalist Jen Murphy, who attended the panel discussion called “Dressing Plus Size Women in Style: A Design, Fitting, and Grading Workshop,” was excited by the efforts the industry is (finally) making to adopt more inclusivity. “I’ve seen a lot more brands being conscious of who their audience is and addressing that audience rather than just focusing on marketing,” she says. “Brands like Volcom and Carve Designs are really making a point to show women of all colors and shapes in their marketing materials. I think a lot of times one of the biggest hurdles for women getting into the outdoor space is the gear. It’s intimidating…Not just making [clothing] pretty but functional will really help make the outdoors more exciting and inclusive.”

According to market studies, 67 percent of women in the U.S wear a size 14 or higher. In her presentation, Melodie Miller, freelance designer and industry veteran, displayed plus-sized women in marketing and highlighted key issues when designing for them: what works and doesn't work in plus-size silhouettes, paying special attention in style selection, fitting, and grading (creating a range of sizes). “Plus sized women are already on the front of magazines,” said Miller. “They're proud of their bodies and they should be able to show them off.”

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