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Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '05 Trends: Fabrics and insulations

FabricLink's Winter Market panel offered insight into trends, and Primaloft is becoming the insulation of choice for apparel manufacturers.

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FabricLink’s Winter Market panel offered insight into trends
Trends, niche markets and education were some of the topics discussed at the fourth Industry Panel — FabricLink’s fifth such event is already planned for Summer Market. The six-member panel represented all aspects of the supply chain — fabric suppliers, manufacturers and retailers. What follows are a few outtakes from the hour-long presentation.

Overall trends — Trends in fabric and apparel designs will continue to push performance boundaries with more than just a casual emphasis on the importance of style, even in technical garments. It appears the panel was in agreement that it is fashion and color that drives sales and that is leading to a continued blurring of the line between fashion and function.

  • John Anderson, vice president of new products for Wellman, observed that over the next five years, the market will see continued interest in developing a variety of shell fabrics; base layers that manage moisture and control odor to keep consumers fresh; and natural wool and wool blends for mid-layers that are washable and offered at reasonable price points. There will also be high interest in recycled and sustainable products, an interest that is being driven by the “echo boomers,” age 16 to 26.
  • Karen Deniz, president of the European division for Optimer Performance Fibers, said that it is important for manufacturers and retailers to realize that consumers have little time to shop and want garments to work for them without giving up style.
  • Sion Shaman, vice president of design/product development for Shamrod/Castlerock, noted that today’s performance market is very fragmented and is now crossing over to new markets, such as the missy and junior markets, as well as the hip-hop market.
  • Pat Nugent, president/designer of Sarah Truitt Textiles, added that it is the consumer that is driving the trends of fabric and apparel development in a constant quest for convenience and comfort at all levels and in age groups. As a result, functional technical clothing needs to become lifestyle sportswear. But don’t try to pull one over on the consumers, as more and more they require honesty about what the fabrics can and cannot do. Technical fibers and fabrics are moving to fashion, as designers look for comfort. Stretch technology is taken for granted, but fashion would be limited without it. Merchandisers need to think about what coordinates, even if it is mismatched. People coming to the store or the web don’t have time to spend looking at what goes with what.

The retailer/supplier relationship within the supply chain is in need of an overhaul and improvement if the industry expects good results and winning product development.

  • Steve Sullivan, founder/global brand director of Cloudveil Mountain, said he believes that good dialogue with retailers has always been a day late and a dollar short. About a year after a trend has emerged, manufacturers start to hear feedback. Solutions that Cloudveil is implementing are retailer summits and bringing reps in a lot earlier to preview a line.
  • Dave Matz, president of ROI, noted that retailers are editors and not good writers. They’ll give an opinion of what they like and don’t like, but they depend on the supply chain to come out with what’s new.
  • The group also noted that it is the job of the suppliers and manufacturers to be visionary, but at the same time, they also need to educate retailers better about what’s coming. At the same time, it was noted that retailers do receive quite a bit of information, but not enough feedback is coming back to the manufacturers and supply chain.

Quick sound bite of note: “Messages so get muddy. Fashion drives sales. People get too mired worrying about every technological feature. This industry is so about technology. Sometimes it’s just mind numbing. If it looks good, is water- and weather-resistant — sweet, wear it!” –Steve Sullivan, Cloudveil

Primaloft is becoming the insulation of choice for apparel manufacturers
It only took hours on the trade show floor to realize the latest apparel trend. “Insulation is coming back this year,” said Jen Rapp of Patagonia as she showed us the new Puffski Jacket, an insulated, waterproof/breathable piece whose hood, collar and sleeves are packed with Primaloft.

As we moved from booth to booth, it became very obvious that Rapp is right — insulated garments are hot, and we’re not talking just gloves and puffy parkas. All the major players — Mountain Hardwear, The North Face, Marmot — have introduced an array of insulated jackets and pants that serve a wide range of activities. And when we talked insulation with manufacturers, one name kept popping up — Primaloft.

John Cooley of Marmot told SNEWS® that Primaloft is getting more attention now because people are realizing it’s “durable, easy to care for, quiet and reasonably priced.” This year Marmot introduced the Needle jacket ($300), which weighs just 29 ounces and features a PreCip Shell and Primaloft Sport Insulation. The new Headwall jacket ($200) is a low-bulk piece for multiple uses that features Primaloft Sport insulation in the arms, goose down in other areas and a wicking DriClime liner.

Prior to the Backcountry Basecamp, we attended a Mountain Hardwear breakfast where the company reported that its insulated outerwear program has grown 65 percent. This year it added to its women’s snowsports line the Fantasy Fire Parka ($230) with Primaloft One insulation, a Coolmax lining and two-layer Conduit laminate.

One of the great things about the new clothing with Primaloft is the weight. If you’re looking for a hooded jacket to wear under a shell in cold conditions, The North Face Men’s Redpoint Jacket only weighs 20 ounces. And the Outdoor Research Zero Jacket ($169) is just 20.3 ounces. The company’s Neoplume jacket with no hood ($139) is a mere 16.1 ounces.

While Primaloft has drawn attention because of its performance attributes, it’s also benefiting from the idea that outdoor enthusiasts simply want something new to wear as an insulating layer — something other than their well-worn fleece. That’s the opinion of Tom Mendl, marketing director for Primaloft. And Mendl should have an informed opinion on the matter, since he worked for Malden Mills when fleece was reaching its peak. He’s now trying to ensure that Primaloft makes strong moves in the market to propel the trend toward alternate insulation.

While Primaloft has traditionally used only trade advertising, it did launch a consumer advertising campaign. Meanwhile, the brand increased its presence at trade shows and established Camp Primaloft, a media event in New York City. And what has been the result?

“We grew 25 percent in sales from 2003 to 2004, and we’re expecting healthy growth again this year,” Mendl said.

We wouldn’t be surprised if Primaloft spread even further throughout companies’ apparel lines. Cloudveil is a good example — the success of the Zero G jacket led to this year’s Zero G pant ($255) with 60 grams of Primaloft and Schoeller Dynamic outer fabric. Also, fashion is becoming an important element for insulated clothing, and you’ll see more things like Cloudveil’s Spacewalk jacket, a stylish piece for men and women lightly insulated with Primaloft One.

Designers have clearly warmed up to this material that was once found only in gloves and sleeping bags.