Out of Context

Textiles on the Trail

Connecting to New Customers

I don’t know what your trailhead parking lots look like, but here in Colorado ours are packed full, like Fourth of July full, every day of the week. In this state if you’re not at work or drinking expensive craft beer, you go outside. The pandemic favored the latter and combined with excellent late spring weather, the locals set out to hit our trails, roads, and rivers. I drove ten thousand miles back and forth across Colorado during the last couple of months and witnessed overflowing trailhead parking lots from Golden to Grand Junction. Safer inside just didn’t make sense to Coloradans; we knew we’d be better off outside.

A great many of those outdoor recreationalists are what we in the trade used to call “gumbies.” They are relatively inexperienced yet enthusiastic beginners, who can usually be identified by their inappropriate footwear and dazed but happy attitude. Spending longer amounts of time outdoors and going farther afield leads them to turn to better performing gear to support their new love of roaming and wandering. The specialty trade looks to nurture these newbies into enthusiasts who will spend a large portion of their earnings on a passion-slash-hobby. Specialty retail offers personal advice and a curated product choice flavored by local experience. Enthusiasts trust specialists.

Then along comes a contagion. And you know the rest.

So where does the active consumer seeking to upgrade their gear go? Can specialty product be sold without specialists?

Textiles are sold based on color and touch, function and fit. Technical fabrics add story and some sort of promise regarding performance and comfort.

The opportunity for the textile industry now comes in the story telling. With traditional retail on its heels, and the price value relationship for consumers changing, now is a good time for the textile industry to reach out and create customers.

In the past textiles have been pushed to the market almost exclusively by brands. In that widespread equation, fabric is subjugated to the brand’s image and the meaningful differences in textiles are lost in the fine print. Now, without those brands to carry the marketing load, textiles have to tell their own stories directly to the market wherever they can find it or create it. Textiles might end up with their own Amazon stores.

Those new outdoor participants will shop where they have to, although less frequently than before. They will trust specialty retailers if they can find them, and most importantly, their values will continue to change with an emphasis on more durable, more versatile and higher quality product.

The newbies will become enthusiasts with a little direction and help from the textile industry. It is the rare opportunity to change the dynamic and create new customers. They will learn what we already know; good fabric makes a big difference.

Disclaimer: Mr. Gray is unclear in the difference between roaming and wandering, however he feels he probably does both at the same time. Textile Insight’s Publisher may not share in his opinions or laissez faire.