MUNICH — Professional alpine gear was key for on and off the slopes as trade fair ISPO coincided with the Ski World Cup in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, this month.
ISPO, which ran here Feb. 6 to 9, attracted a record 80,000 visitors, a 25 percent increase from the previous high. Textile innovation and high-tech hardware were the talking points of the giant show, which boasted more than 2,200 exhibitors.
“We are seeing huge improvements in lightweight and highly breathable down insulation,” said Mark McCarthy, senior product manager at The North Face.
U.K. outdoor specialist Berghaus pushed its new Hydrophobic Down Jacket, which product line manager Sebastien Willefert said “combines the best of both worlds.”
“It’s as warm as a down jacket, but as waterproof as a rain jacket,” asserted Willefert.
Patagonia partnered with Gore on two different membranes for next winter.
“We had developed our own membrane previously, but promoting it was tough,” said Eva-Maria Hartwich, Patagonia’s marketing manager for Germany. “Now that we have Gore on board, things should be easier as Gore is so well-known with customers.”
For fall-winter, Patagonia is also launching a new line of colorful, 150-gram down insulation jackets, easily packable into attached nylon bags.
High-tech innovation is becoming more important from a consumer standpoint and shoppers are increasingly well-informed even before setting foot into a store, retailers noted.
“We’ve seen lots of customers come in, specifically looking for products with a 20,000 mm water column,” said Sabine Böse, buyer for Citabel Sports, a 43,000-square-foot sports retailer in Luxemburg, referring to a high level of waterproofing. “They now look this up on the Internet.”
For example, Peter Hahn, a European mail order and online retailer, has an introduction page in its catalogue explaining high-tech fabrics, noted Maximiliane Ways, managing director.
Fashion remained the highlight of the Bogner Fire + Ice and main collections. The Munich-based brand explored digital prints, putting photographs of denim fabric on ski pants that look convincingly like jeans but retain all the skiwear benefits.
Last year, Bogner’s revenues rose 10 percent to 151 million euros, or $200.5 million at an average exchange for the period.
“We have done a lot for the brand at POS,” said Oliver Pabst, a board member of Bogner, which is gunning for 10 percent growth in the year ahead.
“Specialty sportswear retailers still need assistance in product presentation,” said Thomas Roider, head designer of Bogner Fire + Ice. “In the past, a sportswear shop put up a sign saying size 38, with everything this size hanging there. That’s over. The celebration of sport as lifestyle is key.”
Adrian Lockstone, director of Landmark, an outdoor retailer from the U.K., said, “I’m looking for impulse buys, pieces you need, pieces you want rather than need. That’s the way to make customers part with their money.”
The concept of versatility, such as wearing active sportswear in the city, also emerged as a main trend.
“If you look around at the airport, you see businessmen in double-layered down jackets,” said Arno Pichler, chief executive officer of the Austrian outdoor label Northland. “A few seasons ago, this was unthinkable. Everyone was wearing wool coats.”
“The outdoor in the city trend is incredibly strong,” agreed Marcel Aust, owner of the Lübeck board shop Boardrider. “So jackets need to be fit for the street, the mountains and possibly also a beach walk.”
Nike 6.0 is a prime example. Launched last year, the line represents the six action sports: surfing, snowboarding, BMX-riding, motocross racing, wakeboarding and skiing. However, its new bright print jackets come with easily removable, zip-up snow skirts. “In the city, they are normal jackets,” noted Nike 6.0’s category merchandiser Malte Stern.
“The items we’re interested in need to be functional and fashionable,” said Stefan Kaelin, owner of his namesake store in Aspen, Co., while Peter Hahn’s Ways observed that as soon as an item is versatile, consumers are prepared to spend a lot more money. The trend reaches beyond winter sports to other activities, including yoga.
“We want to take women from sports activity to everyday life,” said Nathalie Binda, vice president of marketing for yoga collection Lolë.
The Quebec-based brand recently opened two doors in Montreal and Zurich where sales are processed via iPhones instead of cash registers and regular free yoga classes are a way to further engage customers at point of sale. But don’t call them shops. “We call them ateliers,” said Binda.
Lolë works with organic fibers and awareness for sustainability is also picking up elsewhere. Bluesign, which examines and approves fabrics based on their eco standards, has “seen global growth,” according to ceo Peter Waeber.
Besides Patagonia and The North Face, Poivre Blanc was a Bluesign-approved exhibitor at ISPO. The French women’s and kids brand is planning to increase its amount of Bluesign fabrics from 20 to 80 percent by fall 2012.
“Once we’re up to 80 percent we will include hang tags on garments,” said Michael Elsaesser, ceo of Poivre Blanc. “Everyone is talking about sustainability.”
Celebrity athletes remain key players in the European activewear market. Starting in March, Northland is airing TV commercials in Germany featuring its sponsored sky diver, Felix Baumgartner, and Bogner installed a 360-degree theater at ISPO showing films with its sponsored athletes. Come fall, the brand is planning to take the theater on the road, placing it in key locations across Europe.
The energy at ISPO suggested continued momentum for Europe’s active sportswear. According to the European Federation of Sporting Goods Retailers, or Fedas, sector retail sales in Europe increased by 3 percent last year to 38.75 billion euros, or $51.45 billion.