By  on February 14, 2013

MUNICH — Setting new attendance records, the latest edition of the ISPO activewear fair was marked by a growing interest in sustainability, collaborations and innovation.

The fall-winter 2013-14 show, which closed its four-day run here Feb. 6, drew 81,000 visitors from 109 countries.

“We experienced the strongest increase from Europe and Asia,” said Klaus Dittrich, chief executive officer of Messe München International, “We were extremely pleased that Spain has rejoined the list and made the jump back into the top 10 countries.”

The Federation of European Sporting Goods Retail Associations, or FEDAS, estimates that the European sporting goods market decreased about 6 percent last year to 38.2 billion euros, or $51.4 billion at current exchange, at retail.

“While Germany achieved a healthy sales gain, sporting goods retailers in southern Europe suffered sharp declines in spite of the European football championships and the London Olympics,” said Werner Haizmann, president of FEDAS. “Retail sales of sporting goods increased by an estimated 3 percent in Russia and by 2.5 percent in Poland.”

Yet spirits at ISPO were high. The European market situation for winter sports products is improving, and producers, retailers and exhibitors all said they expect higher orders for the upcoming season.

“It snowed everywhere in Europe, and this brought back the crowds,” said Sven Kunze, brand manager of Quiksilver.

But high traffic does not necessarily translate into sales. To stay on top of the game, brands had to sell a story, which this season focused on sustainability, recycling, advancements in lighter products, shock absorption, comfort and style.

“We have to be flexible enough to give the stores what they want,” said David Henry, European senior product manager at O’Neill, a California-based brand.

Henry noted that ski and snowboard apparel account Snow and Rock, a 23-door chain in the U.K., requested bigger hangtags. He said, “Customers want to see Bluesign certification tags, they want to see the recycled hangtag. Even the Gore-Tex hangtags this season were supersized.”

Burton unfurled a range of progressive products and new brand collaborations, such as L.A.M.B. by Gwen Stefani, BIONIC, Lifebeat featuring Salt-N-Pepa on the Lip-Stick Restricted snowboard, Disney with Star Wars snowboards, Marvel Comics snowboard gear and Red Wing Shoe for Burton leather snowboard boots. Possibly their most notable contribution seen at the show, however, was the Mountain Dew X Burton collaboration, a Bluesign-certified collection made from 100 percent recycled plastic bottles, with jackets retailing for 180 euros, or about $240 at current exchange.

“Ninety-five percent of stores are asking us for sustainable products,” said Andreas Rauter, Burton’s senior sales director, adding that his sales teams travel to each retailer, hosting clinics to educate the sales force about each product.

Jon Grijalba, owner of Lur Outdoor shops in Bilbao, who has been coming to ISPO for four years, said, “We are buying our regular brands, but we are paying more attention to how the product is made. It is important for us to hear the story firsthand of how the products are made, and the sustainability factor is going to become more and more important for us.”

Nicolai Notter, buying manager for Planet Sport, said his customers are asking for Gore-Tex or Bluesign-certified products. Notter said every member of his sales team attends clinics to learn the technical details about the products they sell, and that transferring this information to the customer is essential. In his experience, once the value of the garment is explained, the customer will buy without looking at price.

Peter Waeber, ceo and inventor of the Switzerland-based Bluesign certification system, said, “The first step is to educate the brands about operating sustainably by conserving resources and reducing the environmental impact to a minimum because if you do not know, you do not care. For the consumer, I say, ‘Buy less but buy better quality.’”

Waeber suggested consumers are in the process of a mind-change concerning “what they buy and who they buy from and which brand is producing sustainably. They want to continue to do their outdoor sports, but now they have the awareness of nature because it is around them.”

Having witnessed the impact of climate change on the mountains, Jeremy Jones, a team rider for O’Neill, took action in 2007. After having been turned away from areas that had once been rideable and seeing resorts closed due to lack of snow, Jones saw a disparity between the winter sports community and the action required to address the problem.

“The cost of inaction is serious business,” Jones said. “We represent the global snow-sports community — there are 21 million of us in the U.S. alone. Clearly it’s time for us all to step up and take responsibility to save a season that fuels our passions but is also the foundation for our livelihoods, our jobs and the economic vitality of our mountain regions.”

It is estimated that snow-based recreation in the U.S. contributes $67 billion annually to the economy and supports more than 600,000 jobs.

Collaborations between manufacturers and team riders are not just a marketing tool. Team riders also offer the best way to test and improve products, and this season there were several collaborations that stood out.

Candide Thovex, the French freestyle skiing gold medalist who has just released his film “Few Words” with a soundtrack by Apparat, launched his ski collection for Quiksilver. Thovex’s jacket features a signature radio pocket on the arm and two front oversize pockets and is available in earth tones. It retails for 299 euros, or about $399.

Jeremy Jones x featured a Japan-made technical three-layer jacket made of recycled fabric and retailing for 499 euros, or about $667. A portion of the sales go to Protect Our Winters, a nonprofit organization Jones founded to engage and mobilize the winter sports community to lead the fight against climate change.

A key trend for winter sports apparel was lighter functional materials and sleek styling. Earth tones and ethnic-print outdoor apparel were prevalent, as well as colorblocking. New this season was the tailoring on winter jackets, which became longer, lighter and cleaner, and highly technical fibers incorporating better fit properties while protecting against moisture and cold.

Wearable technologies were key at ISPO. Odlo introduced a collection of high-tech underwear for alpine skiing with muscle support, climate regulation and insulation for men and women.

The Italian company Thermore launched a new insulation called Thermore Pro, joining Thermore products such as Classic, made of 50 percent recycled materials, and Rinnova, composed of 100 percent recycled plastic certified by GRS. Giorgio Armani EA7, Zegna Sport and Geox are among the brands using Thermore Pro insulation.

Another new fiber used for insulation and lining materials that maintain the body’s temperature and protect against wind and weather is Cocona. It’s a natural, quick-drying, odor- and UV-managing technical fabric made from recycled coconut shells. This coconut fiber is activated with carbon material that keeps the body’s microclimate consistently dry. Cocona is made by Cocona Inc., based in Boulder, Colo.

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