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Camping & Hiking

Building Kelty's Women’s Collection: Six Things We Learned

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Photo by Kelty
Photo by Kelty

As outdoor participation continues to grow, it’s no secret that a big source of growth is women. Women are getting outside more often and participating in more activities, meaning they are buying more gear than ever before. As an industry, we have all come a long way from the days when “shrink it and pink it” was in vogue, and we should be proud of our progress – but we still have a long way to go.

There are true functional differences in how women hike, run, bike, and sleep. These differences create endless opportunities for brands to innovate in meaningful ways. At Kelty, we’ve been busy creating the Kelty Built for Women collection. We’ve taken a close look at equipment through the lens of women, and learned some interesting lessons along the way.

#1: Research, research, and research more – especially in person.

Talk to women. Lots of ‘em. But don’t just show them a sleeping bag sample and ask what they think. Start long before you have a product idea in mind, and ask them about what they like and what they hate about getting outside. Ask why they participate in their current activities, and what keeps them from participating in other things. Ask what needs aren’t being met by their current gear. Expand beyond the outdoor realm, and ask about their home, their family, and their friends. Ask what their friends do for fun and why they do those things – it’s surprising how much you can learn by asking about someone else’s behavior, as people tend to talk more openly about others vs. themselves.

Here’s the other thing: don’t just ask. Listen and watch. Do research in person, when possible, with only women in the room. Don’t worry about sticking to your list of questions, let the conversation flow naturally and see where it leads. Often, the best insights are found within topics you might never have thought to bring up.

#2: Look to other categories and industries for inspiration.

From yoga gear to technology and snowboards to household products, much can be learned from looking at innovation and marketing in other industries. Be aware of what is happening around you and absorb it. Follow influential women on social media and scroll through Pinterest. Read every article and case study you can, and on your next layover or long haul, pick up a few fashion mags for inspiration and a gut check on trends.

#3: Get the entire office involved.

Engage women throughout the company. At Kelty, we formed a women’s collective across product, design, marketing, operations, sales, dealer service, customer service, and finance. This enabled us to get quick (and let’s be honest: free) feedback whenever we needed it. With this process, the team felt even more accountable for the success of the gear, since they had a hand in its development. Plus, we discovered an amazing culture of strong women throughout the building.

Keep all of your ideas in one place so others can feed off your inspiration. Create a collaborative board at the office where everyone pins their own ideas, ripped out photos and articles. This may look like a recycling bin to some, but it is chock full of great thoughts and points of views. This can also be achieved electronically through private Facebook or Pinterest boards, where team members can add ideas and make comments.

#4: Engage retailers early and often.

Retailers are on the front lines with consumers and many are wise beyond their years. They know first hand how the female shopper approaches a shoe wall or a product display or what immediately catches their attention. Seek their opinion early on in the design process.

Many of us want to make things “perfect” before sharing outside the walls of the office. It can be difficult to explain the product vision based on a color sketch alone, and even more difficult to find time in the always-rushed product development timeline. But trust us, it’s worth it. Not only will you get valuable insight from the people who are the front lines with shoppers, but you could also earn early buy-in to create a women’s program that wins for both the brand and the retailer.

#5: Just when you thought you had enough research…do more research.

It is not just about product. It is also about the marketing package that supports the launch of the product and how it is displayed at retail, as well as online. Designs. Colors. Prints. Features. Pricing. Packaging. Copy. Photography. Merchandising. The list goes on and on. Take the time to solicit feedback on every aspect of your collection, as this is about making sure the entire package works – far beyond the product itself. The supporting elements play a critical role in how a woman executes a purchase.

#6: Engage, don’t just sell.

Brands today must do more than push out messaging about their products. It is imperative to tell a story and engage your consumer. Find women to share their first hand experiences with your products. Consider partnering with female social media influencers and bloggers. People trust other people more than they’ll ever trust a product video or ad, and this is especially true among women. Bonus points: involve influential women in your earlier research, so that they are as excited about the gear as you are by the time launch day arrives.

We could go on, but it’s time for the Kelty women’s collective to head out for our monthly lunchtime hike. The bottom line: women present an exciting opportunity for brands and for the industry, as a whole. They are participating in more activities and buying more gear than ever before, and deserve our best efforts in developing and marketing gear that’s built just for them.

Interested in learning more about how the Kelty Built for Women collection was developed for women, by women? Reach out to or come visit us at Summer OR to see the gear.