Forget everything you think you know about fashion. Apparel sales have been decreasing for a while now, with one bright exception. Outdoor apparel is growing in popularity, and direct-to-consumer brands are leading the charge.
These companies have the ability to generate higher margins and create more authentic relationships with their customers. They are also blurring the line between fashion garments and what makes a lifestyle brand. Indeed, technology is their secret weapon.
Here’s a look at how technology is playing a hand in revolutionizing outdoor clothing options.
Take athleisure, for example. The trend of wearing clothing designed for workouts and other athletic activities in the workplace, school and elsewhere shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, athleisure accounts for 24 percent of all apparel sales, and that figure is expected to grow in the years to come.
Case in point: “I’m often asked if the athleisure trend is going to fade away, and the answer is no,” says Marshal Cohen, chief industry advisor at research firm NPD. “When you have comfort and function combined with fashion, it’s difficult to go back to anything else on a regular basis.”
The look of athleisure has also become a trend in and of itself, as more and more people find it comfortable and fashionable to wear workout clothing around the clock. While part of that desire is for achieving a certain look, many simply want to wear clothing that lets them live a more active lifestyle.
That said, the idea is not to acquire outfits in which to sweat. If that were the case, you’d just opt for purchasing sweats. Instead, people want clothing that lets them move freely, day or night. They want to attend a yoga class, walk to work, then go for a sunset hike, before going out to dinner — all while never changing clothes.
To make this happen, some of the most prominent heritage brands in business are working with high-end designers to add an extra layer of cool. For instance, legacy outdoor brand Columbia has worked with such high-profile labels like Opening Ceremony and Kith. However, it’s the modern materials that are the real stars of the show.
Modern outdoor apparel needs to be as practical as it is comfortable or fashionable. In particular, millennial consumers want clothing that works and makes sense to wear no matter the conditions. Take fleece, for instance.
Consumers want vests and sweaters that look nice but which will keep them warm and safe from the elements while hiking in a national park, bicycling on a boardwalk, working on the trading floor, or going out with friends.
Technology is letting outdoor apparel companies meet the mark by providing materials that are as functional as they are fashionable. They need to move with the wearer and be available in the colors people want to wear. The new fabrics also need to be moisture-wicking, sustainably-sourced and water-resistant without using PFCs.
Comfort and Functionality and Practicality, Oh My
These days, technology is allowing outdoor apparel to be more comfortable and functional for people to wear — and companies like Columbia have created materials that are easy to wear and practical as well as stylish. Their clothing and footwear let you go wherever the day takes you.