The 113-year-old publication is launching a full-fledged apparel collection for outdoor enthusiasts and hard-core climbers. Some 300 explorers and photographers are wear-testing the line on their far-flung expeditions to give the company some performance feedback. How else will National Geographic know if its Kevlar-lined snakebite-prevention pants really work?
There’s also attire for life-threatening predicaments such as squalls, monsoons or maybe an attack by vicious encephalitic mosquitoes. Those items fall in the brand’s technical offerings. But the other camp, sportswear, addresses less adrenaline-fueled experiences, such as what to wear to the grocery store or to the homecoming game.
Launched earlier this month at the Outdoor Retailer show here, the line is being produced by Trento, Italy-based D.E. International. The apparel joins an expanding National Geographic Society empire spanning 24 product categories. The company also has a domestic cable channel reaching 150 million households, along with its signature periodical. Licensing revenues are expected to bring in $200 million at retail for fiscal 2002, according to John Dumbacher, senior vice president of licensing. Profits are plowed back into research, education and exploration.
To build on the heritage of the yellow-bound publication, designers delved into some of the 10 million archival images from 7,000 expeditions, many of which never even saw the printed page. An example was the shot of tourists hamming it up in front of the Statue of Liberty circa 1950. Although not exactly expedition-oriented, such images differentiate the new sportswear from National Geographic’s T-shirt line with a different licensee, which features silk-screened nature shots like the one with an image of sharks with the caption: “Let’s Do Lunch.”
Done in an “English Patient” palette of tomato soup, curry, chocolate and taupe, the women’s sportswear targets an affluent 35- to 45 year-old with a conservative, casual aesthetic. For a vintage feel, the colors of the National Geographic Society’s flag — brown, green and blue — are used for certain garments, as well as for ribbon trim on select items. Wholesale prices range from $37 for five-pocket, denim jeans to $141 for a plaid trenchcoat, among the roughly 100 stockkeeping units for women.
Retail distribution is still in the works. Tony Molinari, vice president of sales and marketing, said he’s targeting better department stores, as well as key outdoor accounts.
The technical line is grouped according to environmental hazard, with pieces designed for climbing, sailing and trekking through tropical swamps. The sailor’s jacket, for instance, includes reflective-tape closures and a built-in inflatable life vest. It’s $250 wholesale with the vest and half that price without it. Pieces in the tropical group are treated with antimicrobial and antimosquito agents. Pants legs can be zipped off at the knee and exchanged for Kevlar-lined legs, designed to block snake bites.
About 300 explorers and photographers are in the field each day, according to Dumbacher. Feedback from their experiences will be gathered and used to revise products.
The caveat: the technical pieces are unisex, which disappointed some women’s buyers. Trish Melynkov, shopping for women-specific pieces for her Thin Air Outfitter’s boutique in Tahoe, Nev., said she was “sick and tired of dealing with men’s clothing.”
Eryn Gregory, private label outerwear designer for retailer REI, hadn’t seen the line, but expressed surprise at the decision to make unisex pieces.
“That’s the 1989 version of how to design for women,” she said. “I don’t think we have a single unisex piece left in outerwear for REI.”
Molinari said he believes women will buy the extra-small sizes, adding: “We’re taking a wait-and-see approach.”