TRAILBLAZERS CONFRONT TENDERFOOTS JUMPING ON THE OUTDOOR LOOK
NEW YORK--With city sidewalks starting to look like the Appalachian Trail, pioneers of rugged outdoor looks are finding new ways to fend off the increased competition. Companies such as Timberland Co., Eddie Bauer, Lands' End and Woolrich Inc. are updating their fashions and stepping up their marketing efforts to compete with a host of new players, who range from mass merchants to designers. That means updating such basics as knapsacks and hiking boots by expanding styles and colors; launching creative advertising campaigns; revamping company logos and opening more stores. The outdoor trend emerged about a year and a half ago and has gained momentum this fall. It includes such items as lug-sole hiking boots, leather knapsacks, barn coats and thermal knit shirts. "We are the authentic brand; others are jumping on the bandwagon because it is the hip and cool thing to do," said Don Mauer, senior vice president of worldwide marketing for the Hampton, N.H.-based Timberland, which 25 years ago introduced the waterproof lug-sole boot. "Companies from Esprit to Moschino are coming out with their own versions of the backpack. So we have to stay smart to hold on to what we have." Mauer said the intensified competition has meant a beefing up of Timberland's women's merchandise at its stores and the launch of two print campaigns this fall. Watching these new players move in on the rugged apparel scene prompted 165-year-old Woolrich Inc., based in Woolrich, Pa., to accelerate its move back to its hunting and fishing roots. The company's trademark is the red and black checked hunting jacket. "We were watching everyone else get into it, and here we were getting away from it," said Varnel Moore, president and chief operating officer of Woolrich, which saw its sales flatten over the past three years when it started going after the fashion sportswear business. Now, Moore, who came on board in July 1993, is steering the company back to its beginnings, with an expanded offering of outdoor apparel as well as a new logo. Competition is coming from such new players as: Department stores and mass merchants, including Woodward & Lothrop, Dayton Hudson and Kmart, which have developed their own private label in these rugged looks for fall. Woolworth's own outdoor-inspired, popular-priced clothing concept called Northern Reflections, a division operated by its Canadian subsidiary. It made its foray into the U.S. five years ago, but is now expanding here rapidly. It had 30 stores 2 1/2 years ago, but now operates 300. Specialty stores like Victoria's Secret. Victoria's Secret, generally regarded as more racy than rugged, has a fall Country Catalog with a wool black and red checked vest on the cover. Activewear firms. Nike and Reebok each launched its version of the lug-sole boot more than two years ago and expanded its hiking boot selections. Designers. Tommy Hilfiger has embraced the look, and Ralph Lauren introduced his own rugged merchandising concept called Double RL last year. "We saw the trend happening just about two years ago, but this fall, all the components to the look came together, from the barn jacket to the knapsack," said Mary Anderts, senior vice president and general merchandise manager at Dayton Hudson, which is developing its outdoor-inspired private label because of heightened consumer demand. It's called Boundary Waters. "We are expanding at an opportune time. We are seeing consumer interest in that type of look," said a spokeswoman at Woolworth's Northern Reflections stores, which offer items like wool sweaters and T-shirts with outdoor themes in a cabin environment, complete with rickety screen doors and rustic floors. Fashion observers and industry consultants say there are many reasons for this widespread consumer interest in outdoor apparel. Some say it is a response to grunge, which after experiencing short-lived popularity, crashed because of its limited appeal. Others point to relaxed dress codes at the workplace. All, however, point to one major factor: the environmental movement that gained momentum in 1990, changing the lifestyles and attitudes of many consumers. "This whole return toward nature has captured the imagination of the 45-year-old and under, and suddenly it has become fashionable," said R. Fulton MacDonald, an industry consultant. "It is crossing all spectrums, from the cars they buy to the kinds of vacations they take. Outdoor-inspired home furnishings is also becoming more popular." Fashion observers point out that the most visible way for people to display an affinity for the outdoors is through their apparel--even if one's daily hike is limited to lumbering from the recliner to the refrigerator. "The grunge look was far too extreme," said David Leibowitz, managing director at Burnham Securities. "This has a wider appeal, and you are seeing it everywhere, from the college campuses to the streets. And so far, it hasn't met with consumer derision." To compete with the clutter of new products, the pioneers of the outdoor look aren't sitting still. One way to hold on to market share is through aggressive marketing. "The consumer is very disloyal. All they want is to wear a product that has good value and looks good," said industry consultant Macdonald. "In order to stay ahead of the game, these firms have to keep promoting their name and associating it back to the outdoors." The apparel at Timberland, Woolrich, Eddie Bauer and Lands' End is generally in the better-to-moderate price range. After four years of no consumer advertising, Eddie Bauer, based in Redmond, Wash., is back into it. Bauer is launching TV commercials in St. Louis, Denver, Toronto and Vancouver in October and November, while starting a major print campaign in such magazines as Ski and Rolling Stone during the same two-month period. The TV effort depicts a man in a chaotic urban environment, then in a peaceful nature scene. The tag line: "It's what's inside that matters." The print ad shows outdoor scenes photographed inside a woman's lambswool sweater, carrying the same message. "Everybody is using outdoor imagery. You flip through a magazine, and you see it everywhere," said Marsha Savery, vice president of advertising at Eddie Bauer."We have to be sensitive to the overuse, but yet we don't want to walk away from our Northwest roots. There are different ways to project 'outdoors,' and it is not necessarily about surviving." Timberland is hoping to break through the clutter of new outdoor-inspired clothes through two print campaigns, both of which appeared in major fashion magazines in October. Both campaigns avoid survival themes. One ad plays off the vagaries of fashion, with copy that reads: "In this year, out this year," and then ends with an outdoor scene and the line "Out there." The other, called "Model People's Campaign, highlights 25 ordinary people who have done extraordinary things, from rescuing children in Bosnia to digging ditches along the Appalachian Trail to protect it from destructive weather. Mauer said the new strategy differs from campaigns used over the past few years. "Our messages had stressed survival," he said. "Now, we are taking a different tack." Woolrich is going back to a logo similar to one it used 30 years ago to underscore its return to its roots. The logo now shows the Woolrich name in script against its trademark red and black checked background. For the past 15 years, it had a logo with a sheep above the company name, but Moore said that "it just didn't serve us well." The new logo started breaking in some of Woolrich's holiday print ads, but will be totally rolled out for spring in such magazines as Rolling Stone and Outside Magazine. For the first time, the company is launching a radio and billboard campaign. It's in three markets--Charlotte, N.C.; Denver, and Cincinnati--this fall. Eddie Bauer, Timberland and Woolrich are also sprucing up their merchandise to meet the competition's challenge. Bauer, which has evolved over the past 10 years from survival gear to lifestyle fashions with an outdoor feel, is updating its look. For years, it sold basic backpacks in rugged nylon and simple flannel shirts; now it offers sueded mini-backpacks and flannel shirts with banded collars. In Bauer's recent fall catalog, fashion items include ribbed leggings in cotton and Lycra spandex, brushed sweatshirts in polyester, French terry mock turtlenecks and wool bouclé crewneck sweaters. "We are watching people on the street more now," said Savery."And we are also closely watching what our other competitors are doing." Eddie Bauer is hoping to increase sales through major store expansion plans. The company aims to move to 650 stores from its current 320 within five years. Sixty-two will have been opened this year, and 75 are slated for 1995. The expansion includes all four Bauer formats: the flagship chain, Eddie Bauer Home, All Week Long (career clothes) and Eddie Bauer Sport (activewear). Included is the opening of five Premier stores, which feature the four Bauer concepts under one roof. Timberland began developing its women's merchandise a year ago, and its efforts can now be seen at all eight stores. Patti Carpenter, director of women's merchandise, has brought Timberland's style a long way beyond the barn jacket. She was formerly in the design department of Adrienne Vittadini. The collection includes items like wool tweed stitch vests with ombré striping, ribbed crewneck bodysuits, heather twill blouses with flap pockets, canoe coats with three-quarter semiswing design and mini leather-suede backpacks. Women's and men's merchandise at the stores are now equally divided. Until a few seasons ago, men's merchandise at the stores accounted for up to 70 percent of the inventory. "In the past, the majority of apparel was in men's," said Mauer. "A lot of women would just go and buy the men's clothes." Its wholesale business, which is now about 80 percent men's, is expected to feature more women's apparel, Mauer said, although he declined to give details. Over the past four years, Woolrich had tried to be more fashion-forward, but it is now "getting into the full realm of rugged outdoors," according to a spokesman. "We were drifting more into fashion outerwear and sportswear, but we are going back to our roots." Company officials said they will home in on the classic items, like cargo shorts featuring lots of pockets and thermal knit tops, while expanding styles, silhouettes and colors. Its classic, functional outdoor category used to operate separately from the sportswear collection. But as part of the new merchandising strategy, it is now an extension of the sportswear line. This has eliminated many of the duplications, which accounted for as much as 60 percent of the classic line. Lands' End Inc., headquartered in Dodgeville, Wis., purchased Territory Ahead in March 1993 and is counting on the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based private label division to spur sales. This division, which offers higher-priced, more sophisticated apparel, complements the Lands' End core business, which is more classically styled. "We are a traditional, classic-styled weekend wear firm," said a spokeswoman for Lands' End. "But in order to grow, we need to segment our businesses." Territory Ahead apparel features more fashion-forward items, like corduroy vests and short cropped leather jackets. Lands' End officials said outdoor fashions have had a positive effect on the core group, with denim and flannel shirts, Harris tweed coats and flannel jumpers some of the bestsellers.
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