Byline: James Fallon

MUNICH, Germany — Women’s collections were the hit of the spring ISPO, the big activewear and sporting goods show here.
An increasing number of sports apparel manufacturers now are awake to the potential of the women’s market after years of selling strictly men’s and unisex styles. Industry executives spent much of the four-day show, which closed last Friday, spouting that women represented half the potential market and should be catered to.
“Women have important purchasing power, and it is time to recognize that and take them seriously,” said Jeanette Bowden, clothing product manager at the U.K. outdoor apparel company Berghaus, which launched a women’s range of 26 pieces in clothing, footwear and accessories.
For the most part, the women’s-specific looks were centered in the sports of snowboarding and hiking. These sports were the focus of a generally quiet ISPO, which was said to reflect the continuing recession in Europe and the fact many European buyers have begun attending The Super Show in Atlanta, held earlier in February.
Manufacturers continue to bank on snowboarding and outdoor looks as the next hot streetwear, while hoping the popularity of snowboarding will boost demand for general skiwear. The skiwear market has been flat over the last several years. There now are an estimated 3 million snowboarders worldwide and the number is expected to increase to 3.6 million next year.
A recent study by Kurt Salmon Associates, a consulting and market research firm, ranked the sport among the top five fastest-growing in the view of manufacturers and retailers. Hiking and trekking were ranked second by retailers after in-line skating and sixth by manufacturers after in-line skating, soccer, snowboarding, walking and basketball.
The snowboard look has been toned down for fall-winter 1995, with more natural and earth tones in muted greens and burgundies, enlivened with an occasional splash of burnt orange. The few prints are mainly abstract.
A new line at ISPO was Embie, a women’s-only collection of snowboard apparel with a fashionable twist. The Austrian company followed a main trend at the show by splitting its line between basic casualwear in a snowboard style and true performance apparel. The casualwear included stretch polyester bell-bottoms, imitation-leather shearling vests, “Flintstones” style miniskirts and plastic cyberpunk silver jackets. The performance clothing included a Cordura nylon jacket with zip-out fleece lining to turn into a pullover, and waffle knit tops.
“We are saying that it’s OK to show your sex while snowboarding,” a company official said. “We want to move away from the unisex look.”
Wild Rose, a Swiss line, was founded as a revolt against unisex styles. Dode Kunz, owner of the company, described the collection as “the first women’s outdoor label designed exclusively by women for women.” The line focuses on performance apparel in such fabrics as Cordura, Polartec and Gore-tex. All pants are available in two leg lengths that can be adjusted; jackets are cut for a woman’s silhouette, and Gore-tex pants have integrated rubber gators and a precut knee for easier movement, Kunz said.
Tops include a stretch microfiber lined with cotton jersey to wick moisture away from the body. “There is enough of this product on the market that is fashionable, but very little that is performance,” Kunz said.
The idea of creating styles specifically for women is not new, of course. In skiwear, such established lines as Luhta, Head and Ellesse have had women’s styles for several years. The main skiwear looks were bright or metallic tones with contrast stitching; loose-cut jackets and pants, and two-piece outfits, which were more in demand than ski suits.
“People are becoming more practical,” said Jukka Luhtanen, marketing director at Finland’s Luhta Oy. “A two-piece outfit can be worn more often than a ski suit.”
Despite the ISPO trend toward women’s styles, many industry executives remain skeptical about the size of the market. Tim Boyle, president of Columbia Sportswear, said its outerwear business is only about 30 percent women’s. Columbia has women’s sizes in its Convert snowboard line as well as some women’s fleece styles, but he said these lines generally don’t perform.
“Women’s styles are more prevalent in Europe, where fashion and skiwear are more synonymous,” he said. “In the U.S., where function rules, probably 40 percent of women buy men’s styles anyway. We’ve had zero success with performance apparel for women, who don’t seem to understand it.”
But the women’s styles weren’t focused solely in outdoor and snowboard collections. Champion, a unit of Sara Lee Corp., has introduced a women’s line in Europe including fleece and jersey exercise wear as well as nylon jackets and puffa vests.
“We plan to do even more for spring-summer 1996,” said Julie Mazman, a marketing executive for the company’s Italian subsidiary that designs the European collections. “Over time we’ll need to become a little bit more fashionable in silhouette to cater to that market.”
The women’s line was launched for spring 1994 and is carried by Champion’s 60 stores throughout Italy, including a 1,200-square-foot flagship store in Milan. Champion owns six of the stores; the rest are independent retailers. The company is rolling out concept shops in Italy that are similar to franchises, said Sauro Mambrini, managing director of the Italian operation. Champion opened its own stores in Italy because of the lack of department store distribution. In other European markets, it is wholesaling to department and specialty stores, he said.