SGB reached out to key leaders in the Active Lifestyle space to share their outlook for 2023. In this third installment, here are a series of responses that gauge what they see for the year ahead. The final installment will run Friday. The first installment can be read here, and the second, here.

Mike Barnes
Co-Founder & Co-CEO, Selkirk Sport
Pickleball has been the fastest-growing sport in North America for the past five years and participation continues to surge at the recreation and professional levels. The sport provides a fun physical activity with a smooth learning curve for people of all ages and skill levels. Pickleball offers a unique combination of intergenerational play and social community. The enthusiasm and emotional investment within the sport are palpable universally and growing with every passing day.

Brian Davidson
NA President, Nikwax
We are feeling very positive about 2023 and believe the economy and supply chain will continue to come into balance. In 2022, Nikwax became an employee-owned trust which brings an increased sense of responsibility, new enthusiasm and excitement for our path forward. With the legislative deadlines in California, and just recently announced, NY, for the transition to PFC-free chemistry coming in early 2025, we’re looking forward to supporting brands as they transition away from PFAS chemicals. With our 45-year history of perfecting PFC-free chemistry and performance and the recent launch of Nikwax Hydrophobic Down industrial solutions, we will help outdoor brands meet these deadlines while exceeding customer expectations and previous performance metrics. 

Kent Ebersole
Interim Executive Director, Outdoor Industry Association (OIA)
The outdoor industry has faced numerous challenges these past few years, but we have emerged stronger than ever. Our economic impact has reached new heights to the tune of $862 billion, along with our growing community of 4.5 million employees and their families. We have also been fortunate to have strong allies in the White House and Congress who have advanced many of our key objectives. As we look ahead to 2023, several of our key priorities will be on deck. We will work closely with policymakers to ensure the historic “America’s Outdoor Recreation Act” will be enacted into law. We will continue to advocate for the “Restoring America the Beautiful” initiative to conserve 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030 and look for ways to advance our priorities in the upcoming Farm Bill. We will also continue to track and weigh in on consequential sustainability and regulatory issues that face our members nationally and across the states. We will push for bold action that prioritizes close-to-home access, green infrastructure in nature-starved areas, and climate, conservation and natural climate solutions policies at the federal and state levels.

Fabrizio Gamberini
Global Chief Brand Officer & President, Vibram Corp.
The current situation is a tricky one. Inventories are still very high in every direction. I heard about many containers of outdoor product still to be opened, coming from Asia, in front of the parking lot of one of the most prominent USA retailers. Clearly, the supply chain repercussions are now moved in the other direction—excess of product. And then inflation created very high costs, mortgages. All of this is influencing consumer behaviors. All the corporations are focusing on three major items—working capital (lower number of SKUs, less projects but deep quantities, better terms, etc.; Organization editing since sometimes organization has the tendency to grow in a mushroom format; and Sourcing, and does not mean cutting material costs, but selecting what is good versus what is not.

And in this low-spirited horizon, for the outdoors, there is an opportunity. In the past, during the major financial crisis in 2008/9, the outdoors was affected but only partially. Instead of traveling, instead of large ticket items, outdoors can become an opportunity for consumers to get peace of mind and relax. As far as trends, we see a strong series of investments in trail running, both marketing and innovation. Also, and equally important, wellness and well-being. And in all of this, we play a role with our training tool, Vibram FiveFingers. For the first time in years, especially after COVID, I see additional attention in what do we eat,how we train our bodies, how much we sleep, and our mental health.

Last but not least, sustainability and circular economy will be important. It has been very evident the related communication, and related embarrassment is somewhat slowing down, maybe imposed by very visible greenwashing cases. But I do see more interest in “extending the lifecycle of products.” A sort of regenerating life. This is evident in certain trends, i.e., resoling is one of the most visible. Again, Vibram plays a leading role with our Repair if you Care campaign, leveraging on our cobblers network.

Jason Jabaut
COO, Fleet Feet
This is an exciting time for run specialty. After a few years of limited social interaction, we’re seeing a lot of participation in group and fun runs, training programs and in-store events. When Fleet Feet opened its doors in 1976, it became a hub for the community, and our customers across the country are ready to get back to that to form connections with other people who enjoy running. It’s a really energizing feeling that I think is felt throughout the industry. From a product perspective, our customers are interested in innovative, relatively new brands and are hungry for fresh styles. Brands like Altra and Karhu are still relatively small but mighty, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see their market share increase in the coming year. We’re a bit concerned with the amount of product that’s out in the marketplace and anticipate the first half of the year to be challenging with downward price pressure based on the sheer amount that’s available. With that said, we’re simultaneously optimistic about our ability to navigate these challenges thanks in large part to strong partnerships with our vendors.

Dan Sheridan
COO & President, Brooks Running
Attracting new runners in 2023 will be both exciting and intense as I’ve not seen a more competitive field during my 25 years at Brooks. Our industry is still weathering the negative impacts of the supply chain disruption that began in 2021, and we see headwinds persisting into this year. But our category and Brooks have managed well through tough market environments before, and historical trends suggest running will continue to make the cut in people’s lives even as we face economic uncertainty. Our 2023 outlook reflects a significant investment in global expansion, including building momentum in China and the EMEA and servicing runners and retailers to better meet demand worldwide. We also look forward to delivering new product innovations and distinctive designs that will accelerate into 2024. Though categories ebb and flow, running, trail running, walking, and hiking participation will continue to grow long-term, and people will seek out products and brands they can trust.

Jean-Marie Shields
Global Community Director, Fjällräven
We’re expecting the growing interest in outdoor activities to continue in 2023. Since the pandemic, more and more people have gone outside to explore nature, and we don’t expect that momentum to slow down. Fjällräven has always seen great interest in our outdoor events, but participation has accelerated since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. With more people spending time in nature, there is an increased demand for timeless, durable, functional products that are not only made sustainably but made to make nature more appealing and accessible. Fjällräven believes that the more time people spend in nature, the more they grow to appreciate and respect it. With more people getting outside, we will continue to see a focus on how garments are produced, the durability and lifecycle of garments and their functionality.

Dave Spandorfer
Co-Founder & CEO, Janji
If the last three years have taught us anything, it’s that planning and predictions in a globalized world can be a fool’s errand. But I’ll do it anyway. In 2023, Janji expects that inventory in the running, outdoor, active space will be right-sided as retailers become conservative in buying and brands drastically cut back on purchase orders. It could take a full year to resume normal inventory rates, but if higher-income consumer spending continues at current Q4 levels, we could go from too much to not enough incredibly quickly.

I think we’ll see continual progress in sustainability and creating a more equitable outdoors and running world. But new brands who deeply hold those values might struggle to differentiate themselves, as direct-to-consumer and wholesale channels are only getting more challenging in 2023. It’s up to all retailers to continue to support value-led brands. That being said, I will give major credit to many of our retailer partners like REI for prioritizing these brands and focusing on the long-term future of our industry, despite a challenging environment in 2022.