Despite the economic downturn and a drastic pullback in inventories, the design and innovation machine hasn’t been turned off for outdoor apparel manufacturers. As expected, many of the same themes – lighter, moisture-management, eco-friendly, sun protection, etc. – continue to be heard regarding the latest around advances in apparel with promises of better styling, comfort and durability.

But apparel manufacturers are also cognizant of the economic climate their retail customers are operating in and are scrambling to be more accommodating to support them in these times.
In some cases, they're giving retailers greater discounts and opportunities to maintain or improve margins. Some are swapping old for new inventory.


Many are also helping set up programs to help retailers get back into hot product through re-orders and partnering closer in many other ways. There also seems to be a greater urgency to come up with unique and differentiated product to entice shoppers. A big emphasis continues to be the focus on developing versatile product for many uses and situations.  Still, there trends are elusive as the weather this spring and a shift in shopping trends impacts the ability of vendors and retailers to accurately forecast product direction.

Mike Wallenfels, president of Mountain Hardwear, said the recent OIA Top Line Report for May and the preliminary SportScanINFO numbers for June both clearly demonstrate that there is a great deal of fluctuation in apparel sales. “The debate each month is which category is gaining or losing depending on an ever changing consumer,” remarked Wallenfels.

Among the core themes Wallenfels' team is hearing from retailers is that women's is outpacing men’s in apparel while technical is outselling casual. Also, new technical styles with a story are outpacing traditional or tried and true styles. Wallenfels said, “Retailers that matched one or more of these trends have been having a good selling season in apparel.”

At the same time, many vendors are scrambling to find places for their inventory and improve sell-through at existing retailers.

“Larger retailers are introducing more house brands so strategy needs to change when some of your biggest retailers are also your competitors,” said Melodie Miller, director of product development for apparel with Sierra Designs. “Specialty and online retailers are becoming more valuable by the day as are more non-traditional sporting goods outlets.  With shrinking sales, retailers are less likely than ever to place large orders so it's becoming more important to sell through as many retailers as possible to keep numbers up. We're more reliant on our sales team than ever to open new accounts.” 

George Curleigh, director of North America wholesale at Arc'Teryx, said pricing is holding for the brand despite the climate. “Our consumers are focused on value and utilitarian quality right now,” said Curleigh. “They realize that to get quality product you gotta’ pay for it, and these days people are paying for things that are going to last.”   But Curleigh admitted that in this environment, inventory and margins become more important than driving sales. “We see that in these tough times we need to step up to the plate and support the retailers that are having troubles,” said Curleigh. “We are very empathetic of the effect of the sluggish economy and we are working hard in partnership with our retailers to make things easier, so we can all be in a healthier situation when the market turns for the better. We are trying to help our partners with swapping inventory and trying to share the risk.”

“Retailers are scraping for everything they can get right now,” adds Jud Taylor, director of sales and marketing at Royal Robbins.  “They are in survival mode.  Inventory positions are tight everywhere.”  She said her company is buying closer to what the retailer wants more than ever. “No one wants to be stuck with an excess of inventory at the end of the season,” said Taylor. “In working with our retailers we are providing more dating on booked orders as well as larger discounts.  Also, we are providing a marketing plan to help move product in the Spring season at no cost to the retailer.  We feel that at this time, more than ever, we need to work even closer with the retailer.”