While lifestyle apparel is generally the theme of OR Summer Market, many of the more technical companies were offering a healthy balance between performance, sport-specific apparel and more casual, lifestyle offerings. Part of this trend is linked to the research and development of green performance fabrics, while the other aspect seems to be linked to a growing popularity in backcountry summer sports.

Just a few short years ago, green fabrics were limited to organic cotton and PET fleece. Today, suppliers are able to create anything form rapidly renewable, non-chemical wicking and odor treatments, to recycled nylon, polyester and even cotton. These technical innovations on the supply side were clearly pushed by consumer (and designer) demand, but they are now working their way into nearly every brand in the outdoor industry.

These suppliers have not overlooked pure technical innovation. With new textiles from Schoeller, W.L. Gore, Toray, Primaloft, and Polartec, the industry is able to create new evolutions of the technical mainstays in every outdoor enthusiast’s closet. At the same time there are several new brands that are getting creative with new combinations of different branded components from the technical textile suppliers.

Spyder introduced a new mountain-based collection for Spring ’08. Designed for downhill mountain biking, the Freeryde line features the d3o Armored Top. Spyder collaborated with fabric technology labs d3o and SuperFabric to create a compression top that protects with reactive material. d3o contains “Intelligent Molecules” and fabric that resists the punctures and rips so prevalent in impact-prone sports.

d3o Shock Absorption pads are anatomically molded to cover the shoulder, tricep, elbow and forearm like a protective, soft exoskeleton. In action, d3o has molecules that flow when you move but reactively lock together on impact to absorb the shock energy. The intelligent molecules in d3o dynamically respond to varying levels of pressure. At low levels, d3o provides maximum comfort, and at high levels, maximum shock absorption.

Ex Officio’s BUZZ OFF Spring ’08 collection of apparel features insect repellency and sun protection built into the garment. The new BUZZ OFF Halo Ultralite Nylon shirt offers unique details hidden in the design such as a snap front closure, multi-entry chest pockets, back panel ventilation for enhanced breathability, and a no-flap hidden button down collar.   Styled for both men and women, the Halo is available in solid colors or as a check.

For muggy and buggy environments, ExOfficio created the BUZZ OFF Bayou shirt.   Made of Blended Ultralite (55% cotton/45% nylon), the Bayou is a button front shirt that features roll-up sleeve tabs and locker loop.  Colors for both men and women include white, dark marine and palm.

The BUZZ OFF Insect Shield now lasts through 70 washings – almost three times more than previously stated. ExOfficio BUZZ OFF apparel contains BUZZ OFF Insect Shield– a man-made version of Permethrin, which is a natural insect repellent found in certain chrysanthemum plants that repels mosquitoes, ticks, ants, flies, chiggers and midges (no-see-ums).  This active ingredient is tightly bound to the fibers in the fabric.  It is also the first line of insect repellent apparel registered with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Westcomb worked with Polartec and Primaloft to create a new breed of insulated soft shell for winter 2008 while they also combined eVent hardshell fabric with a light weight Merino wool backing to create a high-mountain spring/summer shell. They are also launching two new shells for more all around use – one designed for climbing and one for backpacking. In 2009, the company plans to launch a complete summer performance apparel line that will address categories other than outerwear.

Marmot is seeing strong pre-orders, especially in their “eco-casuals” line and some of the more technical recycled and renewable products like the Dri-Climb Catalyst, which is 100% recycled. The company brought their design team in-house under one roof and now the line will be merchandised and color coordinated between the outerwear collection and the sportswear collection. The company also launched its ‘People, Product, Planet’ branding initiative at the show (see BOSS_0731).  Marmot is also rolling their eco-initiative into daypacks, with a line made of PET and a line that uses organic cotton and leather.

Cloudveil is also seeing some success with their spring line as the company is looking to make a “solid move” into more youthful sports wear. According to Stephen Sullivan, Cloudveil founder and president, the brand is also using more organic cotton and green materials in their offering. The strongest growth is still coming from their technical offerings and the company is continuing to sell some of their most popular winter items into the summer months. Particularly, the ‘Run, Don’t Walk’ line and the Powerstretch items are selling well.

MontBell had a bit of a buzz going on the floor with their new line of ultralight ProShell jackets. While Gore’s re-branding of XCR to ProShell initially seemed to be a new lining with the same laminate, technical apparel designers are beginning to see some real weight savings from the narrower seam tape allowances. MontBell created a 12 oz. ProShell and stretch PacLite jacket. They have also created a sub 10 oz. fully welded waterproof/breathable jacket using their in-house laminate. This year, the North American group was able to work closely with the Japanese design team to create a specific fit and color story for the region.

SmartWool Sport Apparel was showing new sports specific and sport basic categories. The new cycling line features tops made of SmartWool’s Microweight fabric offering breathability, moisture management and thermoregulation. With designs for both road and mountain biking, the new cycling jerseys feature men’s- and women’s-specific cuts, ergonomic pockets, and front zippers for ventilation.

Small details like removable chamois cloths in the pocket of the mountain biking jerseys for wiping eyeglasses and exhaust vents integrated into the side panel of the Men’s sleeveless road jersey reflect Smartwool’s understanding of cycling. The new running line targets the long distance runner. Offered in men’s and women’s specific cuts, the running tops are available in a sleeveless microweight or short sleeved lightweight option. The running tops are lightweight with attention to details such as snaps instead of a zipper and less seams for chafe-free runs. Both men’s and women’s feature a fitted look with a slightly cropped fit on the sleeveless jersey and a longer silhouette on the tee.

Ibex has developed a new B2B site in-house that allows their dealers to order and see product availability and real-time inventories. They are also actively working with their on-line retailers on finding search engine keywords that are most effective at generating sales. On the product side, the company continues to develop high-end Merino base layers through shells for the outdoor and cycling markets, including Merino cycling bibs, seamless women’s wear and Merino print tees.

Icebreaker is pushing their designs a little more towards the performance end of the spectrum with both running and cycling oriented pieces. At the same time, they are pushing their women’s line into much more feminine silhouettes. The company is also launching an interesting new consumer marketing initiative called the ‘Baah-code’ program. This allows the end customer to track the garment they purchase on-line all the way back to the New Zealand station where the sheep were raised to make the garment. The new site includes aerial photography of the ranch, bios and photos of the ranch owners, and video interviews and tours of the operation.

Topo Ranch is still a relatively small player in the outdoor world, but they are quickly making a name for themselves with their irreverent attitude and annual growth. The company’s flagship store opened in Southern California in November and they continue to open new accounts across the country. Currently their men’s line is stronger, driven by fleece and tees, with four-fold growth last year. They are also planning on opening more owned-retail stores in 2008.

Merrell Apparel is segmenting its line into Outventure and Fusion categories, similar to the footwear lines with more technical aerobic styles and silhouettes. This includes a women’s running skirt – which seems to be growing exponentially as a category – and men’s wind jacket. The line as a whole is using bright color ‘pops’ with deeper colors as the base. Merrell developed some interesting new fabric technologies, like Coppertech, which uses copper and Merino wool to control odor and wick. Plaids are also gaining steam in Merrell’s line for both men and women, particularly in shorts.

Mountain Khakis showed up in Salt Lake City with a new brand and new product line in their portfolio. The company made an initial investment in Mountain Sprouts last year in March, but earlier this year acquired the brand. Now Mountain Khakis is using Mountain Sprouts’ design team to roll out a children’s line of their own. For adults, MTK rolled out a higher-end twill pant and some cord board shorts. They area also seeing great results from their fixturing program and their rapid replenishment program, both of which boost turns in nearly every account that signs on.

With vendors and suppliers now on the same track in terms of technical and eco-innovation, outdoor apparel brands seem to be gaining even more traction with consumers.