LOS ANGELES — At the upcoming Outdoor Retailer trade show, the unofficial slogan for exhibitors might be: Let’s get physical — and fashionable.
As consumers adopt an athletic look in their sportswear and designers infuse more fashion into activewear, the ath-leisure crossover leads to opportunities for increasing revenue. Thus, Outdoor Retailer’s spring show, which kicks off its four-day run on Aug. 6 in Salt Lake City, is expected to get a boost over its previous summer show that drew some 5,000 attendees and more than 1,400 exhibiting brands. In fact, 1,569 exhibitors are projected for this year’s market.
Buyers at the show will be greeted by bright colors and vivid prints in clothing collections. Coral and green are popular hues for women, while blue and tan are the top tints for men. Designers have turned to a variety of prints, from herringbone and geometric shapes to flowers and palm trees, and borrowed ready-to-wear techniques like cutouts. Contrasting color blocks with print panels also are adding vibrancy to pieces, whether worn to surf a wave or salute the sun.
“We always like to inject color and our customers expect it from us,” said Helena Barbour, business unit director at Ventura, Calif.-based Patagonia Inc., which has current sales of $600 million and has posted strong growth every year for the past three years.
Sales of outdoor sportswear for men, women and children are climbing, according to The NPD Group Inc., a market research firm based in Port Washington, N.Y. Continuing an upward trend, year-to-date sales have grown almost 5 percent to $395.1 million from $376.4 million. Sales rose 7.6 percent to $992.4 million last year from $922.3 million a year ago. Compared to figures for 2011, last year’s outdoor sportswear sales showed a surge of more than 21 percent. RELATED STORY: Outdoor Retailer Preview — Ones to Watch >>
According to Yoga Journal, which sponsors Outdoor Retailer’s increasingly popular zone for yoga-related exhibitors, the number of people who practiced yoga grew fourfold to 16.3 million in 2012 from 4 million in 2001. Moreover, the number of yoga buyers at Outdoor Retailer’s July 2013 fair spiked 123 percent from a year ago.
Be Up Activewear benefits from the boom at Outdoor Retailer. Since the Miami-based company began showing in Yoga Zone at the expo, it’s seen business at its booth steadily rise. In the first year that it displayed its women’s activewear that combines fashion and function in the yoga-specific section, the traffic and orders grew 10 percent from the previous year, when it sat on the main floor.
“Last year, I saw a 20 percent increase from the year before,” said Amy Wind, vice president of sales at the 10-person company whose annual sales are less than $20 million. “I’ve seen everyone from Sports Authority and REI to off-price people and online sites.”
When retailers strive to build a lifestyle around activewear based on technical materials, designers and brands must figure out how to help them. The approach taken by New York-based Threads for Thought was to hire a women’s design director from VF Corp.’s knits brand, Splendid. Ashley Irey has joined Threads for Thought, overseeing the lifestyle-centric business, activewear and accessories license. She assumes full control of the design direction with the fall 2015 collection.
Activewear in particular is an avenue for growth for Threads for Thought, which said its total sales are up 30 percent from a year ago but declined to disclose specific figures. Introduced last fall, activewear now makes up as much as 15 percent of total sales.
“Overall in the next two years, it’ll probably represent 30 percent to 35 percent of the business,” said Eric Fleet, cofounder of Threads for Thought, which also operates offices in Los Angeles and Kansas City, Mo. “The product we do for the fashion market has crossed over to the outdoor lifestyle market.”
Also jumping into women’s activewear is Body Glove International. The Redondo Beach, Calif.-based company is highlighting its new brand, Breathe by Body Glove, at Outdoor Retailer with 35 pieces, including sports bras, racer-back tanks, hoodies and leggings, in its debut spring collection. Retail prices range from $10 to $60. As part of Breathe, it is also offering a trio of so-called hybrid pieces that segue between its swim line and activewear, ideally for athletes like paddle surfers who stand exposed to the sun. The hybrid styles include a long-sleeve leotard, capris and cropped rash guard.
The activewear appealed to Swim ’N Sport, a 33-store chain that ordered the line. To attract more retailers, the 61-year-old surf and swimwear company is using its name recognition to stand out in the crowded activewear market.
“Not all of the [activewear] manufacturers have well-known names,” said Luke Hopkins, Body Glove’s outdoor division manager. “It’s something the consumer can connect with right off.”
To differentiate itself from the competition in the outdoor market, Seattle-based Filson is following a strategy to rank its products as good, better and best. For the last category, it’s offering C.C. Filson, a men’s subbrand launching this fall with Nigel Cabourn at the design helm. Though the Brit heads his own namesake line that specializes in outerwear, Cabourn whipped up eight lightweight jackets that retail from $500 to $700, or 25 percent more than Filson’s main line, for spring. Among his creations are hooded, zippered jackets, washed shirt jackets cut out of a herringbone-patterned cotton from Japan and vests made of a tightly woven canvas. While the inaugural collection for C.C. Filson will be available in Japan, the U.K., Germany and in the U.S. at Filson’s own stores and on its e-commerce site, the company is talking to retailers like Barneys New York to pick up the spring array.
Filson isn’t bringing its women’s products to Outdoor Retailer because it’s no longer wholesaling them. Sold only on its Web site, the women’s business may return to wholesale in fall 2015.
Instead, Filson is offering unisex bags, dubbed the Black Collection, to women’s buyers at Outdoor Retailer. The classic shapes, including a duffel, tote and computer bag, are crafted from rugged black twill with bridle leather accents in Filson’s Seattle factories. Retailing from $275 to $425, the Black Collection is expected to add to the company’s sales, which are 10 percent higher this year than last year.
“We really continue to go down the path of believing our product should be made in the U.S.,” said Filson chief executive officer Alan Kirk. “In previous years, before 2012, a number of Filson products were taken overseas. Our customers in some cases got quite angry. The quality wasn’t the same.”
The company brought all its production back to the U.S. in 2012.
For outdoor giant Patagonia, quality is viewed through an environmental lens. In its spring initiative known as Responsible Essentials, the maker is only offering sportswear that can be responsibly and sustainably made. That’s why it eliminated its sole rain jacket; it couldn’t find a recycled fabric that met its new criteria. Some new sportswear it’s bringing to Outdoor Retailer includes nylon-cotton shorts for men and fair-trade yoga pieces for women.
“We only take products that are the best, but also have a socially responsible story, which is a big deal for us,” said Barbour. “We kind of put our money where our mouth was.”
Outside of Responsible Essentials, Patagonia is also unveiling women’s swimwear made of recycled materials, boardshorts and warm-water wet suits that are color-blocked in pink, black and gray.
“The market is very saturated with products and brands,” Barbour said. “I’m not just talking about the outdoor market. There are a lot of disposable brands. The challenge is differentiating oneself and bringing value to the customer.”
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