The Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2015 featured an overwhelming array of products for outdoor recreationalists that looked like an embarrassment of riches. There was the big stuff, things like tents, backpacks and skis. There were the little things such as lip balm, hats, socks, more socks, energy bars and drink powders. There was the old guard like Stanley, Carhartt, Fox River socks and Justin Original Workboots. There were the newcomers, such as the MaskIt disposal bags, My Package men’s underwear and Burnie Grill’s portable campfires. Some manufacturers showed true innovation, like the Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed sleeping bag. For others it was the same old, same old (I’ll refrain from naming names). And there was everything in between.
It wasn’t not all work with no play, however. Yes, it was a big trade show, orders were being taken from retailers and deals were done in backrooms. But there was a fun Demo Day at Solitude Mountain Resort, where participants got to try out equipment on the slopes and all kinds of social events in the evening, so many that only 20 year olds could do them all and still be awake and functioning the next day. For those who could squeeze in Educational Sessions, stimulating discussions about what drives outdoor consumers and how to get kids outside were the reward. The new Media Preview gave reporters an early view of new products.
One of the highlights was the “Conquering the Elements” Fashion Show, where models strutted their stuff on the runway, showing off the latest fashion trends for the outdoors. Another was the Outdoor Inspiration Awards program, where retailers, non-profits, individuals, manufacturers and youth were honored for special acheivements. The impressive youth honoree, Matt Moniz, 16 years old, has climbed four of the seven summits and knocked off all the US High Points by the age of 12. Jeff Lowe, one of last year’s winners, was present for the showing of his film, “Metanoia”, which chronicled his remarkable climbing achievements before ALS claimed his strength.
“Live From OR”, a live (and recorded) talk show with spirited host Timmy O’Neil, was conducted in the middle of the busy showroom floor on a special stage. One of the best events there was the interview with Kevin Jorgeson, who had recently completed the famous assault on the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite with Tommy Caldwell. His rousing interview was like a call to action as he challenged everyone to think about what their Dawn Wall was—what challenges are people trying to overcome; what fears hold them back? Adidas printed up T-shirts emblazoned with, “What’s Your Dawn Wall?”, to honor the achievement and get people thinking.
This author identified four major trends that intersect in places, not necessarily new this year:
1. Technology is everywhere. LEDs, solar panels, chargers and USB continue to appear in the oddest places, such as LL Bean’s Pathfinder baseball cap with bright, shining lights embedded in the brim. Chef Minute Meals uses a chemical warmer-oven inside the package, like those found in hand warmers, to heat up backcountry meals–no stove required. Puralytics uses UV light from the sun to decontaminate water for drinking. InCase makes small batteries that can extend the life of your electronic device on the trail.
2. Health consciousness is driving product design. Consumers are increasingly concerned with the amount of unpronounceable additives in the products they consume or wear and some manufacturers are capitalizing on this. Beyond Coastal is making natural sun-care products with ingredients that meet the Whole Foods Market Premium Body Care Standards which means that every ingredient must be necessary for the product to work and look good. Think Sport creates safe, sustainable products, including BPA-free stainless steel beverage bottles and storage dishes to replace plastic, and has line of sunscreen that meets the Whole Foods Market Premium Body Care Standards.
3. Environmental concerns are real. Retailers are responding to the “green” movement by creating products that minimize the impact to the environment. Sport Suds makes eco-friendly laundry detergent that is non-fragranced, hypoallergenic and non-toxic, made from natural ingredients—no dyes, phosphates, UV brighteners or bleach. MaskIt makes little bags from biodegradable plant-based material to contain women’s sanitary products.
4. There is a down crisis. The world’s supply of feather down is decreasing due to changing dietary habits in Asia. As the standard of living rises, Asians seek more beef and less duck so waterfowl meat production, of which feather down is a by-product, has decreased. In addition, it has come to light that feathers are often harvested from live ducks, a cruel and inhumane process. Patagonia has established the first “Traceable Down Standard”, requiring their suppliers to desist from live-plucking. North Face has established a “Responsible Down Standard” that isn’t as strict, but is a start. The fact is, there isn’t enough down available to meet demand. The Ethical Down movement will take some time to implement, given that the number suppliers who can comply is vanishingly small. In the meantime, expect manufacturers to continue to come up with creative approaches to the down crisis, such as substituting synthetic or synthetic-natural blended materials (Primaloft), limiting the use of down to strategic places in a garment, such as the torso, rather than throughout (Mammut Flexidown and others), or dispensing with down altogether (Nudown, which uses air as an insulator instead of down).
The Outdoor Retailer Winter Market show was a whirlwind week where manufacturers, retailers, press and adventurers rubbed elbows and gawked at the amazing variety of products. The examples given represent a small fraction of the innovations seen throughout the show. More products will be reviewed in depth in my Examiner.com Sierra column.
The Outdoor Retailer show is held twice a year at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah, in January and August. It is open to retailers, importers, distributors, designers, consultants, press and others. It is not open to the general public. Fees are based on qualifications.