with contributions from Kira Cole and Sarah Tooker
 on August 1, 2012

The technology race is on at Outdoor Retailer.

With the selling season for spring and summer 2013 starting well before the trade expo opens its four-day run today at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Outdoor Retailer has developed into a showcase for brands to trot out their latest innovations to make outdoor apparel cooler, lighter, airier and just all around better. Retailers and brands are hoping the spate of breakthroughs will convince consumers they should freshen up their outdoor wardrobes.

“There’s a lot of technology in sportswear and outerwear for moisture management, keeping cooler longer and faster. That technology is coming from everyone: North Face, Patagonia, Marmot, etc.,” said Sean Colin, men’s apparel buyer for the outdoor group at e-tailer “Seeing everyone’s take on that technology and its evolution is interesting, and I’m interested to see how it’s utilized in sportswear.”

Colin isn’t likely to be disappointed by the range of technology launches in apparel at Outdoor Retailer. Columbia Sportswear is among the brands leading the pack. “There have been a lot of technological advancements, but they have been mostly in equipment, and I think about how you bring that kind of excitement to apparel,” said Adrienne Moser, the company’s vice president of apparel and design. “We believe our innovation message is a reason for consumers to come in and buy a new shirt.”

Columbia Sportswear’s latest advancement is a cooling polymer it has dubbed Omni-Freeze Zero, which took four years to perfect. Omni-Freeze Zero will be available in 40 pieces, including performance layering, headwear and footwear items. It appears as small blue circles on fabric that generate a cooling effect triggered by sweat.

“It creates an immediate reaction. Everybody can feel the technology,” said Moser, who added, “So far, it has been incredibly well received globally.”

Moser believes Omni-Freeze Zero items are a natural fit for regions in which the temperatures are hot year-round, but she said she’s been surprised by the positive reception in countries known for colder climates — Canada, for instance — where retailers are scooping up the items for customers to layer under warm pieces, such as hockey uniforms or heavy workwear.

Somewhat counterintuitively, Patagonia is releasing its warmest jacket and pants for spring. The brand has completely redesigned its DAS parka by putting two insulation technologies — the so-called PrimaLoft Synergy and PrimaLoft One — together in the jacket. The DAS pants are insulated with PrimaLoft One as well. Patagonia is “coming out with them in the spring season to support the idea that true alpinists are in the mountains and cold and needing products like this year-round,” said Patagonia spokeswoman Jess Clayton.

Another big launch for Patagonia is a collection of eight boardshorts in 45 colors and prints. They feature a mechanical stretch fabric, instead of spandex, to increase their life spans. “We look at our boardshorts truly as a tool for surfing. They are not a fashion piece for us. They need to withstand years and years of surfing,” said Clayton.

Rab, an English brand that’s been Stateside for six years and is traditionally strong in the winter, continues to make inroads into the spring and summer. It is releasing two jackets — the Viper and the Maverick — that contain eVent DVL, a permeable, waterproof membrane. “We wanted to make a breathable yet lightweight rain shell for people who are climbing and backpacking in really warm conditions but where it’s rainy,” said Rab USA marketing manager Samantha Killgore.

At the last edition of Outdoor Retailer, The North Face’s FlashDry made its debut. For the upcoming edition of the show, The North Face has extended the technology, which is driven by porous particles that quicken drying time, to mountain-biking clothing. More generally, the brand is dipping its toes into men’s training clothing for spring before coming out with a much larger presentation for fall 2013.

“We are teeing ourselves up to do training in a much larger way,” said North Face spokeswoman Jessica Lange. “A lot of our athletes, they need stuff to wear when they are not actually doing their sport and are doing workouts to build muscle and endurance.”

It remains to be seen if new apparel technologies will spur spring and summer outdoor-apparel shoppers to buy. Although spring and summer are important for business at many outdoor brands — Columbia Sportswear, for example, registered nearly half of its annual sales in the second and third quarters of 2010 and 2011 — David Mudd, business intelligence manager at the Outdoor Industry Association, doesn’t think buying habits in the outdoor apparel sector will shift much to the warmer months. “I just honestly think the holiday season will always have the highest in sales. It’s hard to imagine anything eclipsing that,” he said.

For spring and summer 2013, the recent snow-deprived winter could play a major role in how stores stock their shelves. At Madison Heights, Mich.-based retailer Moosejaw, men’s wear buyer Erica Draper said the poor winter “hurt our first-quarter business. It will make us cautious, but we hope that this year it’ll just pour on us after having no snow last year.” Killgore reasoned, “Because we had the bad winter, a lot of shops are sitting on product that they had for winter and closing out what they had for summer rather than bringing in new stuff. That could have an impact on our overall sales for summer.”

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