The outdoor industry looks to designers to outfit the “less is more” trend with female-focused apparel that withstands the test of time.
By Aubrey Volger
Photo by Dominic Haydn Rawle, courtesy Electric
Long known as a male-dominated arena, the outdoor industry has shifted the game over the last decade to meet women’s needs and expand high-end product offerings for this crucial consumer group. Companies latched onto this growing demographic in the early 2000s and saw a 60 percent increase in women’s specific sales over a two-year span, according to research from the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). Companies like FiveTen, who introduced the first women’s-specific climbing shoe, are not only creating female-specific products, but are also selling better to women.
Brands and retailers are joining forces for a focus on the female consumer. With 65 percent of women saying they look to store displays for apparel inspiration and 36 percent believing specifically designed gear can enhance performance, again noted by OIA findings, designers look directly to the buyer for ideas, while retailers drive sales through interaction.
“‘He’ is easy to cater to… Staying ahead of ‘her’ is much more difficult.”
– James Fisher, VP Product, Ibex Outdoor Clothing
Kelty’s Tru.Comfort Sleeping Bag
Kelty now supports the push, teaming with REI to promote and sell a women’s-specific sleeping bag. Kelty’s Tru.Comfort Sleeping Bag is new for 2016, featuring the combination of warmth and compressibility with ThermaPro fiber blend engineered to retain warmth and provide packability. Meanwhile, a built-in two-layer blanket system helps regulate temperature. The Tru.Comfort will launch exclusively at REI for women in January 2016, and be released for wider distribution in Spring 2016, with unisex and kids options available Fall 2016. Kelty’s Tru.Comfort Zip is the first in the ‘Built for Women’ line of products designed with fit, function and fashion in mind.
More recently, the women’s market has highlighted a less is more mentality. Inspired by the athleisure movement and driven by the industry’s environmentally friendly attitude, the concept that one versatile piece can cater to multiple needs is reaching across brands from core to casual. The challenge lies in designers’ hands to meet high-tech quality standards and consumers’ savvy demands.
Jenna Johnson, Patagonia global business unit director for technical outdoor said, “as athletes, we need gear that is versatile and functions for multiple uses.” Patagonia’s philosophy to make high quality, durable gear to last, means it won’t need to be replaced and end up in a landfill. “We are proud our gear is so versatile, and we want our customers to be proud they purchase great looking, comfortable, core essentials that serve many activities and last for many years,” Johnson said.
Patagonia’s Nano-Air Hoody continues to stand high in the rankings of most versatile jacket in the women’s market for Fall/Winter 2016. The award-winning design is an innovative combination of warmth, stretch and breathability. Powered by 60g FullRange insulation and four-way mechanical stretch that requires minimal stitching for stabilization. The Hoody offers warmth that stretches and breathes with the body during any high-output, start-stop alpine mission.
James Fisher, VP of product for Ibex Outdoor Clothing, expanded on the multi-function revolution. “Ibex customers demand the highest quality and designs that can be worn for years to come,” he said. Ibex designers refer to heritage pieces as investments to help maintain focus on an entire experience. The challenge remains on designers to meet demands. Fisher expanded, “‘He’ is as simple as he has been in a decade. ‘He’ is easy to cater to for now, staying ahead of ‘her’ is much more difficult”.
Ibex rises to the challenge by offering the Women’s Taos Plaid Shirt. Made of high-tech wool flannel with snap front closure, the plaid shirt offers style and comfort, with high-performance capabilities.
Electric Sunglasses follows suit by introducing their S-Line Sunglasses. The performance collection includes fashionable styles with silicone ear and nosepieces, and a double-action hinge system that allows you to both rock the shades during sweaty activities or around town. The Knoxville S Glasses, while technically a unisex style, are made for smaller faces (so the company might see more women purchasing than men) and designed with the six base mold injected Grilamid frame for ultra-light durability.
Stonewear joins in the movement with a new Spacer Fabric that has a neoprene-like firm, thick characteristic. The Spacer is a soft fabric that offers extra breathability when working hard and traps body heat for insulation in cold temps. Coming to consumers in Winter 2016 is Stonewear’s Stellar Jacket made with Spacer Fabric. This sporty-chic jacket has an oversized hood, thumbholes and zippered front pockets.
A question arises as to whether the less is more trend is actually being pushed more by women in the industry, or if men are helping alter tastes.
Jessica Magruder, SmartWool lifestyle product line manager said, “guys have always done well with simple needs and, with the general public becoming aware of their footprint, a man’s simple mind is helping drive women to adjust opinions.” She continued, “women consumers are starting a shift to need less, but continue to hold image high so designers have to match their tastes. As people start to narrow their needs, we’ll see the element of function with fewer choices, but fashion will remain an importance.”
Introducing the Basin Daisy Legging, SmartWool continues to focus on making versatile pieces for Winter 2016. Made of SmartWool’s Run Capri Fabric that concentrates Merino wool against skin and nylon/elastane against the elements, the legging has a waistband that moves with the body during activity, and functional pockets to meet casual attire needs.
Across the industry, designers agree the trend is beneficial. Chris Pew, director of product at Trew, noted, “it’s good for companies to use more performance textiles in casual garments, and a more versatile and casual style in performance garments. Our goal at Trew has always been to create timeless pieces by using the best materials available, and to make sure our styles reflect the current and future trends of our customer. By creating garments that last, the customer gets the benefit of buying less, we get the benefit of having a longer relationship with them, and everyone benefits from less waste.”
Trew’s Backcountry Button Up meets women’s demands – being a durable companion for city-to-mountain adventures. However, this fashionable piece holds ultra-high performance. Both hollow core and wicking polyester yarns are combined with wool to create a base fabric, that is then overlaid with a water-resistant nylon taslan fabric on the shoulder-yoke.
The million-dollar question remains if the trend will stick, or if the sense of variety in fashion will outweigh simplicity. Ibex’s Fisher summed it up; “This one is here to stick around for a long run. Think about how much more efficient it makes us, and that’s more important now than ever. ‘She’ is more simple than she’s ever been. Less truly is more when it comes to wardrobe quiver.”