The New Wave
Gather around old timers. Remember the backpacking boom of the early 1980s? Those exciting days when the intersection of army surplus DEET, Chinese made sleeping bags and freeze-dried food allowed a diaspora of young people to go off into the wilderness and wander about for days at a time. It was the era of mail order catalogs and Nike waffle trainers. Good times.
The Outdoor Industry was in its formative years when this first wave of backpacking newbies started wandering into the local mountain shops. Those fresh enthusiasts quickly discovered that the specialized, technical product equated to a more comfortable and reliable experience when out in the woods. They were willing to pay a premium for lighter, faster, stronger product, and the subsequent sales trajectory dictated the industry’s growth for years.
Right now another outdoor wave is taking place. The pandemic has forced a great many folks to seek other options for everything from vacation travel to child care and some of the solutions that people have come up with involve some kind of active outdoor endeavor. They tried it and they liked it. In the near future these new enthusiasts will no doubt want better gear and clothing. The question is, how will they decide what to buy?
These newcomers are a much different group than the ’80s backpackers. The new outdoorists have less free time on their hands, their interests are more diverse, expectations surrounding food and comfort are way higher and most importantly; they start out fully internet-informed. The novice that walks into an outdoor specialty shop these days usually already knows the opinions, reviews and reputation of the products they seek. If they are looking for apparel, they are in the outdoor shop to try it on, touch it, and get a full 3-D understanding of garments they’ve only seen on the net.
Outdoor specialty shops are left in a position not so much to teach, but to validate. There has always been a coach-cheerleader aspect to outdoor retail. But instead of trying to instill the basics, like why layering works, or what kind of socks one should wear, shop clerks now have to pick fact from fancy for customers that have been exposed to altogether too much information. The way forward for the specialty retailer is to be a fact-checking adjunct to the internet.
From this chaos comes opportunity. As people are increasingly buying apparel that they read about first, and touch second, branded textiles and specialized fibers become more important. Fiber has the advantage of crossing over between apparel brands and it gives the specialty retailer an opening to move inquiring customers to a product the retailer has in stock, i.e. “Luckily, the garment you read about on that website is made out of Merino wool and we have some really nice Merino garments over here.”
The trick for is to get textile companies is to get their branding aligned across digital platforms in a way that it will be seen and recognized by an internet educated consumer. That means websites devoted to a fiber or technology containing all the different products imagined and available. It means creating little explanatory drawings and memorable phrases that go into the technical descriptions shown by countless internet retailers and brands. It means for retailers to effectively ride this wave, textiles need to show up in search results.
Disclaimer: Mr. Gray was once exposed to too much information, but that was back when there was less information available, so it wasn’t all that bad. Textile Insight’s Publisher may not share in his opinions or intellectual scars.