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Roundtable: How fashion influences outdoor design trends

Roundtable: How fashion influences outdoor design trends

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Trends in street fashion will determine what your buyers will want next year—and beyond. We talk to three outdoor designers and curators to find out how they interpret fashion trends for the outdoor market.

tk. // Photo: caption
The Westerlind store in New York City, where technical outdoor gear and apparel meet a style-minded boutique. // Photo: Courtesy

Everyone wants to know what the next hot trend will be, because big dollars are at stake: Choose right, and the new looks fly off the shelves, while unpopular styles languish on clearance racks—and cut into stores’ profitability. Knowing what buyers will want next year is the million-dollar mystery. And the clues are hidden in the neon-lit world of big-city fashion.

Manhattan and Tokyo may seem to have no relevance at all to outdoor sports and the markets that serve them. But Mark Woodman, a trend forecaster with the Color Marketing Group, says that urban trends influence runway couture, which in turn sways industries such as home design and outdoors. “The fashion world is very good at reading the street,” says Woodman. That’s why top designers in the outdoor sphere pay attention to what people are wearing in cities as diverse as Vancouver, Canada and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“A lot of ideas stem from runway,” agrees Ember Todd, Chaco’s color and trend manager. “Without even realizing it, people are affected by runway designs, even in the outdoor sphere,” says Todd.

Plus, outdoor buyers are increasingly insisting on versatility from their technical apparel, giving rise to “trail to town” styles that transition comfortably from summits to shopping malls.

Urbanites, meanwhile, have been taking their style cues from the outdoors, making the exchange of ideas more of a two-way street. In 2011, activewear brands represented 49 percent of total apparel brands in the U.S., but by 2016, that proportion increased to 57 percent (source: The NPD Group, Inc. / Consumer Tracking Service).

Clearly, the boundaries between the outdoor and fashion worlds are crumbling. So we asked three outdoor designers and curators to predict how fashion trends will steer next year’s apparel collections.

Edita Hadravska is design manager for Arc’teryx; Lindsey Elliott co-founded, an e-commerce site that curates sustainably-made women’s gear; Andrea Westerlind opened four Westerlind retail stores (in Manhattan, Powder Mountain Utah, and Marin, California) that sell outdoors apparel and gear to fashion-conscious urban buyers. All keep a foot in both the outdoor and fashion realms.

Where do you look to find out what people will be buying in a year or two from now?

Edita Hadravska, design manager, Arc’teryx: Rather then looking for shifts in buying patterns and trends, we look for shifts in customer needs and evolution of the activities we design for. This applies to core outdoor activities as well as outdoor lifestyle.

We obviously do our due diligence of looking at our own sales history and complex business intelligence to inform our decisions, but our duty as designers is to envision future needs of our customers and answer these needs with the best possible design solution using the most appropriate materials and most effective construction at the time.

Andrea Westerlind, buyer and founder, Westerlind: I travel constantly to look for inspiration and direction. Japan and Scandinavia are two markets that are usually ahead of the curve.

Lindsey Elliott, curator and co-founder, Wylder Goods: We head to all different styles of trade shows that include Outdoor Retailer, Outpost Trade, Magic, Project, and Grassroots Connect. We also keep tabs on urban trends when we’re traveling, especially in Portland and the Bay Area.

How closely do you follow what’s happening in the fashion world, and how does it affect your decisions?

Elliott: While it is important to pay attention to consumer trends, Wylder is fundamentally disrupting the disposability and planned obsolescence of the fashion world. We curate specifically for classic, lifelong products that are built to last, not designed to go out with next season’s fads. Ultimately, we want to curb the culture around “fast fashion.”

There’s a great avant-garde publication called Range Mag that we love reading for its unique and forward-thinking style.

Westerlind: Pretty closely. My company merges fashion and outdoors, so it’s important for me to follow both. I have two homes in the U.S., one in N.Y.C. and one in Utah. Splitting my time between them gives me a natural input of both mountain and urban lifestyles. I’m very happy with how my life has worked out this way, where I can live and work in this two polar opposite places.

tk // Photo: Courtesy
Arc’teryx’s Andra Coat from the spring ’18 collection // Photo: Courtesy

Hadravska: Our design choices and decisions are defined by performance needs–yet in order to resonate, product must be lustful, and it must be relevant. There is also a whole spectrum of emotional needs, especially in relation to women’s product, that are powerful drivers of any consumer purchase.

While we are careful with the “F” word here at Arc’teryx, we understand that world of fashion strongly influences the worlds of our customers.

In short: Yes, I follow what is happening in fashion quite closely, yet look at it from the perspective of a design manager at a performance-driven technical company. As a person and a designer, I find playfulness and creativity in fashion incredibly inspiring.

Outside of the fashion and outdoor industries, are there any other industries you look to guide your buying and design decisions?

Elliott: As a curatorial marketplace that focuses on apparel and gear but also home goods and provisions, we keep a close eye on the “local” and “artisan” movements for beautiful, handmade, and cottage industry goods. [Below is a Santa Crus, California ceramic company she follows on Instagram.] We’re kind of like an online farmer’s market or Whole Foods for outdoor women. We also pay specific attention to emerging female entrepreneurs and craftswomen.

Hadravska: I look for inspiration everywhere: art, architecture, industrial design, wellness and mindfulness. But most importantly I look at life–how people live, how they travel, how they recreate, what drives them and makes them smile. People-watching is one of my favorite pastimes.

Westerlind: We look at design in general. This job is more like a lifestyle where inspiration comes from all kinds of places, people and industries.

How important is a product’s sustainability? Can its social or environmental assets improve its sales?

Westerlind: Definitely. I personally prefer products that are designed better and of a high quality (which usually means higher price point) so they not only last longer, but you want to keep them longer.

Hadravska: Luckily, sustainability is becoming more and more important. Consumers have the ultimate power here, and I certainly hope that they keep the pressure on!

Elliott: Wylder is a benefit corporation (B Corp) that focuses primarily on a product’s environmental impact. So sustainability is huge for us, and core to the mission of what our marketplace provides. We focus first on how a product is produced, and the social and environmental initiatives that surround it. The success of our store is proof that women want this kind of transparency and altruism built into consumer models, and amongst millennials, pro-social buying power is one of the fastest growing trends.

tk // Photo: Courtesy
Elliott points to Filson’s Women’s Lined Seattle Cruiser as an example of a trend towards \”a shared color story between men’s and women’s lines.\” // Photo: Courtesy

What’s going to be hot in 2018? What trends or design elements are influencing next season’s collections?

Westerlind: I think mixing technical with vintage military or even bohemian design is going to be a hit. I’m in Japan right now, and seeing it done well in many lines and shops. Also preppy New England meets workwear or streetwear.

Hadravska: Our new silhouettes in both spring and fall are influenced by androgenous sensibility, athleticism, and urban mobility. Some of these silhouette are less traditionally outdoor then what peoiple are used to from us, especially for women: straight and A-line GORE shells, oversized fleece pieces, re-thought concepts of basics.

From a technology point of view, we especially proud of our new urban-focused GORE developments and new ways of building fleece.

Elliott: More and more, we’re seeing a shared color story between men’s and women’s lines, and love that as an industry, the transition from gendered color theory is evolving. Women want the same large plaid patterns, the rusty reds, burnt oranges, and forest greens that men always get.

We also want elegant and real functionality designed into our products. Some brands (such as Filson) are doing this for women in an incredibly beautiful way with lasting materials, and that really excites us.