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Black Diamond lifted the veil on its closely guarded, initial line of apparel, giving its top dealers, investors and Outside Business Journal an exclusive first-look at the products in Salt Lake City last week.
The brand, best known for its climbing and winter hardgoods, will debut 24 apparel styles to consumers in fall 2013, including men’s softshell, synthetic insulation and fleece outerwear, tops and bottoms. The first slate of Black Diamond apparel will feature well-known ingredient fabrics from Schoeller, Polartec, Pertex and PrimaLoft.
Company officials also outlined Black Diamond’s future rollout schedule of additional categories, including men’s technical alpine and cotton climbing wear for spring 2014, women’s outwear along with men’s hardshells and down insulation for fall 2014 and men’s ski wear for fall 2015. The brand plans to have about 200 apparel styles by spring 2016.
Black Diamond Director of Apparel Tim Bantle premiered new apparel line at the Utah Natural History Museum in Salt Lake City, including a fashion show with plenty of substantive commentary explaining each piece. The event was preceded by tour of Black Diamond’s headquarters, offices and factory down in town.
While initial line only includes three product categories, it’s easy to glean Black Diamond’s theme for its apparel moving forward.
“We realized early on that our challenge (in designing apparel) wasn’t about competing with the outerwear market, it was about competing with Black Diamond and its 50-year history of equipment,” Bantle said. “There needed to be an overdose of quality. Design needed to be as clean, functional and reduced as possible.”
The latter is most evident on Black Diamond’s new insulation pieces such as the Stance Belay Parka (MSRP $299), Hoody (MSRP $229) and Jacket (MSRP $199). Instead of the quilted look of so many puffy products today, these pieces have a continuous smooth Pertex face with the two layers of 80-gram PrimaLoft Synergy insulation stitched from the inside. The design also reduces cold air from seeping in, much like the construction philosophy of a sleeping bag. Another insulation collection, the Access Hybrid Hoody (MSRP $249), Jacket (MSRP $219) and Vest MSRP $169) use a similar construction with lighter 60-gram PrimaLoft One insulation, plus Schoeller softshell stretch panels down the side, for a more active-use product.
Other prevalent design themes in the apparel line include slimmer athletic fits, longer sleeves and longer torsos — all that speak to the climbing crowd.
Schoeller’s involvement brings the Swiss fabric maker back to Black Diamond since the two worked together on a short-lived, small collection of clothing in 2002. In this latest line, Schoeller’s durable, stretch wovens are a natural fit for Black Diamond, Bantle said, allowing for a slim fit without restriction, such as in the new Dawn Patrol shell collection that includes various jackets and pants. The toughest is the Dawn Patrol Hybird Shell (MSRP $349) and Hybrid Bib (MSRP $329), which include body-mapped, three-layer waterproof laminate in key areas. The collection also debuts Schoeller’s new NanoSphere, said to be a long-lasting, abrasive-resistant application that repels water, dirt, and oil, along with having natural self-cleaning properties.
Polartec brings its Power Stretch and High Efficiency Power Dry materials to Black Diamond’s new mid-layer fleeces with a windproof softshell in the Crag Hoody (MSRP $189) and Jacket (MSRP $169); a beefier, grided and tough midlayer in the Solution Hoody (MSRP $189), Jacket (MSRP $169) and 1/4 Zip (MSRP $149); and a lighter, slimmer fitting layer in the CoEfficent Hoody (MSRP $159), Jacket (MSRP $139), Vest (MSRP $119) and Pant (MSRP $109).
Twelve out the 13 main materials used in the new line are Bluesign approved, said Vice President of Engineering Support Services Jeff Nash.
“From my view, Bluesign is top quality disguised as environmentalism,” Nash said. “With all those checkpoints and guidelines, you’re not only getting an environmental friendly product, but you’re getting a high-quality product as well because someone is watching.” The apparel products are being manufactured in Korea, Bangladesh and Nicaragua.
Black Diamond’s apparel debut is being closely coordinated at the retail level. Only 65 of its top retailers across the nation were invited to the launch last week with the ability to put in their first orders by Oct. 26. And while more than 1,000 specialty retailers sell Black Diamond gear, only 60 to 80 will debut the apparel next year.
“It’s not that we want to say ‘no,’” Bantle said. “It’s that we don’t want to spread ourselves thin. There are hard realities to what we can do at the start, especially if we want to do it right.”
Black Diamond will show the line to a few more retailers at Winter Market 2013, but the apparel will not be on the show floor for all to see until Winter Market 2014.
“Twenty-four new styles is not enough to justify spending a lot of money on a brand new trade show booth,” Bantle said.
Retailers who got the first look in Salt Lake City last week were mostly upbeat, saying they thought Black Diamond succeeded in embodying the equipment brand in apparel.
“It’s a logical extension of what they do well,” said Mike Donohue, co-owner of Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington, Vt. “They partnered with some really good fabric companies — you might pay a little more, but the quality is always there.”
Donohue said he didn’t see anything revolutionary, but he thought Black Diamond will easily fit into the market segment competing with Arc’Teryx, Patagonia, Rab and the United Kingdom’s Mountain Equipment.
“I’m excited to see what’s ahead, especially for women’s.”
Several retailers noted the lack of women’s items with the launch. Bantle said the decision to wait another year was predicated on Black Diamond’s designers (all women, he noted) wanting more time with the category, plus the reality that the gender represented a smaller share of customers.
All the retailers OBJ spoke to gave Black Diamond high marks for its color selections — a mix of blacks, browns, greens, blues and reds with some of the latter popping, but not too over-the-top. More importantly for retailers, there was a clear strategy and intention to have the colors match between jackets and pants with options for consumers to pair the same colors, different bright and dark tones on the same color, or high-contrast color mash-ups.
“Color is math,” Bantle said. “You balance color like a chemistry equation. I think retailers really appreciate when they can buy and sell a collection.”