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Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '06: Lifestyle apparel trends

Being sporty doesn't mean lacking fashion, as you'll discover with the latest lifestyle apparel trends for spring 2007 as the SNEWS® team saw them at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '06.

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What a show this was! We don’t know about you, but our dogs are still barking after all the aisle-walking trying to hunt down booths that had moved and trends that were moving even faster. What follows, then, is a very select summary of product that caught our wandering editors’ eyes and it is by no means complete! So if you’re not mentioned, we were either too hyped up on Kinetic Koffee shots to see you, too tired to care from wandering for miles up and down aisles, didn’t think your product was trend-setting, or we were just plain clueless — you pick one. With that in mind, here’s our take on trends and new products for lifestyle apparel:

Being sporty doesn’t mean lacking fashion, as you’ll discover with the latest lifestyle apparel trends for spring 2007 as we saw them at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market ’06.

Textile tales
Admittedly, retailers in the outdoor industry have an easier time telling customers technical details of apparel than describing its fashion flair. No matter how much fashion has reared its head in outdoor lifestyle apparel, there’s a new “f” word in town – fabrication. It allows retailers to grasp some type of technical tale with which there is comfort. For spring 2007, the buzzwords being bandied about by many apparel makers were “sustainable fabrics.” Organic cotton has a lot of buddies now on the environmentally friendly textiles front, including coconuts, bamboo, soy, corn and hemp.

Many apparel makers told SNEWS® that sustainability is now a familiar and expected concept to consumers, and one which retailers are talking to them about more frequently. Yarn-maker Unifi commissioned Leisure Trends Group to conduct a sports apparel study in June 2006. More than 750 respondents were sourced from the Leisure Trends Most Active American Panel, which is made up of Americans who classify themselves as active participants in sports and leisure activities. Among the findings, 42 percent agreed they were more likely to purchase garments that are eco-friendly. Leisure Trends added that this trend is anticipated to increase as more consumers become concerned over the depletion of the earth’s environment and its natural resources, and look for ways to make a difference.

While people will say they want to use and wear socially responsible textiles, it’s an unspoken given that they also want a quality product that looks good. Fortunately, from what we saw at Summer Market, the look and feel of many of these new fabrications is amazing; however, the reputed technical benefits will have to be a game of wait-and-see until they’re tested in the field.

After championing its cause in the mid-90s, many other companies have joined Patagonia in using organic cotton. Prana said it is almost doubling its organic cotton offerings with 30 new pieces, and Blurr is close to 80 percent complete in converting its conventional cotton pieces to organic cotton. Aventura’s first spring delivery, Organic Garden, features good looking and wearable knits and stretch prints with more than 90-percent organic cotton. In addition to their own styles, newcomers Green 3 and Econscious are both offering retailers blank organic T-shirts, hoodies, hats other accessories so they can add their own graphics.

Ironically, now that others are on the organic cotton bandwagon, Patagonia is touting a new initiative to make its entire line is recyclable very soon. For spring, the company added to its Common Threads Recycling Program, has a wider offering of products made from recycled content, and added quite a few more hemp pieces. Patagonia said that its Vitaliti line is great example of its aspirations. It will have eight Vitaliti pieces in the line this season, all of which are made from a blend of organic cotton, recycled polyester and spandex. With the addition of the recycled content polyester blends, Patagonia said it is taking a huge environmental step this season.

With its extremely soft hand, bamboo-based apparel pieces were popping up in more lines. Textile-makers say that’s because the cross-section of bamboo fiber is filled with various micro-gaps and micro-holes, bamboo cloth has much better moisture absorption, and can absorb and evaporate human sweat quickly. It’s also touted as being breathable with natural antibacterial elements in the fiber and having UV protection. Just a few of the companies on the bamboo bandwagon with one or more pieces were Ojai, Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, Dude Girl, White Sierra, The North Face and Arc’Teryx. We especially liked White Sierra’s new Tecta woven shirt (suggested retail, $50) for men in the Continental Divide collection, made of its proprietary Bam Bam Weave in seersucker plaid gold and seersucker plaid sage. (Bam Bam was just one of 11 new proprietary fabrications that White Sierra offered for spring 2007.)

Apparel makers were also going cuckoo for coconuts. Using activated carbons from coconut shells, Cocona fibers and yarns are reportedly effective moisture managers, fight odor and offer UV protection. Marmot said it has the exclusive on wovens, while others, like Royal Robbins, GoLite and Sierra Designs, were using them in various shirt styles. We especially liked Royal Robbins Nelson Plaid shirt in a striking blue with a wavy print that was made using a blend of Cocona with polyester and rayon. Scott Hamlin, Royal Robbins’ director of product, said its use of Cocona is a step in the direction toward where the company would like to be in the future with sustainability. Although Cocona is a newer, more expensive technology, Hamlin said the Nelson shirt is still at an accessible price point of $60.

And not letting anything go to waste, once the beans are off, soy plant stocks are being harvested to make T-shirts for ExOfficio, Kavu and Dude Girl. Soy-based fabrics, like ExOfficio’s Tofutech, are reputed to have natural odor resistant and quick-drying properties, are wrinkle resistant and durable. For ExOfficio, the Tofutech technology will be in a line of travel knits for men for fall 2007, with company plans to expand it for fall for both men and women. The men’s Tofutech Tee (MSRP $34) is 100-percent soy jersey fabric.

Hemp is on people’s minds with Patagonia, Gramicci, Prana and Mountain Khakis just a few of the players saying they plan to do more with it in the future. Patagonia said it will be expanding its hemp products with seven pieces in the women’s line and four pieces in the men’s lifestyle line. Offering super-wide legs and a great drape, Prana’s Sutra pant (suggested retail, $60) for guys blends hemp and PET (recycled pop bottles) into a pant with style influences from karate pants. The pant’s mobility allows it to work well for yoga, climbing and casual endeavors. Prana also has a cropped knicker version for $58.

Sierra Designs went one step further with 70 percent of its Summer Market booth made of sustainable materials to emphasize its commitment to the environment and reinvigorated position in the industry. A company representative told SNEWS® that the company is going back to its roots and focusing on specialty and creating products that are technical. Sustainability will be a theme throughout its company and lines, starting with the use of Cocona and recycled materials in its fleece. Also on the fixture front, The North Face said it is offering a new eco-friendly fixture package made of pressed bamboo and hot rolled steel.

Trend watch
Fashion influence is very real and very important in the outdoor industry. An over-saturation of capris on the market has opened the door for clam diggers, Bermuda shorts and longer short in-seams — any length seems to be fair game now. Even Timberland has sat up and started to pay even more attention to detail in its spring ’07 line with swoosh designed, wavy tape seam-sealing, a dash of Western flair and a more “active fit.”

Skirts are also strong on the scene. Ojai’s Annelle Bebee told SNEWS®, “Skirts are phenomenal. They work for young and old.” The most popular skirt style is to the knee, slightly fitted at the hips and with a bit of flare toward the end. Notable skirt stylings could be found at Ojai, Horny Toad, Carve Designs and Mountain Khakis. Ojai cornered the skirt market with its Voyager skirt (suggested retail, $48), made of cotton with a smidge of spandex that folds over at the waist, the linen Gypsy skirt (suggested retail, $60) with a tie waist in two lengths, and the rayon Gored skirt (suggested retail $58) with a batik print. Horny Toad offered the Lizzie skirt (suggested retail, $54) made with a slimming eight-panel construction in a cotton/polyester blend for fluidity. With its chameleon-like styling, the Lizzie can be dressed up for a night out or look equally stylish kicking around with sneakers. And from the bottoms-down company, Mountain Khakis offered the Village skirt (suggested retail $65), a just-above-the knee length in 8.5-ounce cotton canvas with lower front rise and slight A-line shape, that just had relaxed mountain style written all over it.

For pants, if you’re tired of tattered hems because they drag on the ground, SmartWool’s women’s Spectrum pant features an “anti-drag” cuff hem that is longer in the front, but shorter in the back. Made of SmartWool’s Recovery jersey knit (95-percent SmartWool and 5-percent Lycra, the Spectrum has a tall waistband that can be rolled over and retails for $85. Considered a year-round fabric in the fashion industry, corduroy hasn’t totally caught on among outdoor companies outside of fall offerings – but that might be changing. Those working with lighter-weight corduroy pants for spring/summer are Stonewear Designs, Horny Toad and Blurr.

In mainstream apparel trends, women’s tops are getting longer and industry companies are picking up on it. Long shirts and tanks accommodate layering and lower-waisted pants, allowing the ladies to be stylish with a little extra coverage. Also, fabrics and knits are getting lighter and lighter for men and women to address the layering trend as you’ll see from Ojai, Horny Toad and SmartWool. The North Face is offering feminine details like prints and embroidery on A5 tops, while Marmot, Stonewear Designs and Arc’Teryx are paying attention to the fronts and backs of tank tops with intricate straps and other detailing.

SNEWS® quick hits:

For the guys: Breaking a bit from the Star Trek set, Arc’Teryx is offering collared shirts for men for the first time in its 24 apparel line. Wrinkle free, stretchy, breathable crisp-looking shirts in short sleeve (Motive Polo, $60) and long sleeve (Envoy, $90). Arc’Teryx said the new additions allow the 24 line to stand on its own and maintain real estate on retailers’ racks year-round. We also saw snaps replacing buttons on men’s shirts, but in more mainstream stylings rather than just western-inspired shirts. Those ahead of the curve were Weekendz Off and Arc’Teryx. Also, Life Is Good offered unstructured polos with water-based screen prints.

Color it up: Colorways were a mixed bag at Summer Market. While you had many apparel companies leaning toward more grayed-down pastels, chocolates and rose tones, others added a jolt of color by including kiwi and apple greens. Bright colors, like orange and vibrant greens, could be found at SmartWool, The North Face, Contourwear, Isis, Topo Ranch and Life Is Good. Horny Toad said its color palette is aligning with the mainstream market and has toned down pink to an accent rather a featured color. We also saw many variations on blue, as well as sherbet-like hues.

If the shoe fits: For Isis, a company that is exclusively about women, the story is really about fit… in apparel that is. It has now expanded its line on both ends, covering down to 2 and up to 16, has two rises on many pants (regular at the hip and lower), and has slim, regular and relaxed cuts.

Textile textures: Looking to add design sizzle to pieces for men and women, texturized fabrics ran rampant on the trade show floor: embroidery, nubby, dobby, jacquard, slub and irregular yarns. Fabric textures allow designers to add dimension to tops and bottoms to bump up interest and make a statement. One apparel maker said textures make their apparel offerings, “Perfectly imperfect.” Weekendz Off is definitely a leader in this trend, especially in its men’s line, saying the multitude of textures allows it to be different and compete in the market. It has more than 25 prints and textures to choose from in traditional short-sleeve, button-down shirts and polos, like the Cotton Dobby shirt in terra cotta and tarragon for $48. Who else is following the texturing trend? Horny Toad, Life is Good, Gramicci, Prana and Woolrich, to name a few.

Companies, like Ojai and Dude Girl, are also using a technique called burnout that eats away parts of the fabric to make it sheer and a bit see-through in some areas, then adding prints. Check out Ojai’s Wildflower Burnout Tee (suggested retail, $38) in tan and violet with a flower print and script.

Take the plunge: Both Carve Designs and Aventura did swimmingly well with swimwear, saying outdoor retailers are buying bathing suit tops and bottoms again. Although the category is a departure for Aventura, its new swimsuit separates, like the retro-styled Skyler halter top and keep-you-covered bikini brief (suggested retail, $32/each), were received with enthusiasm by retailers. Carve Designs added that rash guards are also being used as sun protection, and nearly 70 percent of its sales are to non-surf, landlocked stores.

Young at heart: Styles from Mooloolaba, an Australian surf-inspired line, looked fresh with a ’70s retro feel in stretch ripstop, fun pocket detailing and sport casual street looks cut for the 30-plus female customer. Finally, cool looks for women past 25! Stonewear Designs’ Kitty Bradley noted, “It’s a feminine time right now. Women like to look feminine, not like a jock. There’s a blend of ages and attitude. A 50-year-old woman does not have a 50 headset.”

Say what you mean: Various apparel makers not only communicated with design, but also threw in a few words to help get their message across. Dude Girl took the yin and yang approach, putting a positive word on the front of its shirts and the polar opposite on the back. For example, one style had the word “love” on the chest and “hate” on the back spelled backward, allowing wearers to turn their back on the negativity. Newcomer Beckons Yoga featured relaxed lifestyle and yoga apparel with tags sewn on the outer seam that said love, strength or wisdom. Life is Good is still relaying its positive namesake message, but trying new scripts, like a girly cursive or a manly block print. Topo Ranch designer Alex Kump is incorporating his family’s rancher heritage into his apparel pieces with fabric labels that feature maps of the family homestead and a copy of his great-grandfather’s sheriff license sewn inside a jacket. And, apparel newcomer Adventure Babe is trying to encourage women to become active, choose an adventure and tackle it with a positive can-do attitude using the character K.D. Featured on T-shirts and tank tops, a K.D.ism is a statement made by K.D. which motivates and empowers women to challenge themselves with life and their adventures, like “Life’s an Adventure -Bring it On!”

That’s life: Following in the footsteps of its lifestyle socks, SmartWool is now toning down the tech and offering a few lifestyle apparel pieces in merino wool. Picking up on many of the popular apparel trends out there, SmartWool’s same design team is making pieces like longer, very lightweight tanks and long sleeve shirts to wear with low-waist pants.

Spruce it up: In the past, when Woolrich has strayed too far from its heritage, the buying public — retail and consumer — has rebelled. Still, after asking its customers what they wanted in outdoor clothing, the company decided to produce a separate collection to address consumer requests for more technical attributes, but still grounded in Woolrich style. The Spruce Creek collection has 15 styles for women and 11 for men, many of which incorporate 3XDry, a textile with water and stain resistance, wicking and temperature control properties, and UV protection. Woolrich told us that Spruce Creek was well received by retailers and exceeded sales projections.