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Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '05 Trends: Hats, gloves & socks

The SNEWS® team of eight editors spent the entire four days of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2005 scouting out the trade show scene. Here's our take on trends and new products for hats, gloves and socks.

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The SNEWS® team of eight editors spent the entire four days of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2005 scouting out the trade show scene. Each week, since the show ended, we’ve been publishing our take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations that caught our eyes. No, each report is not complete and we apologize in advance if a company feels its product was not mentioned when it should have been. We’re only covering product that stood out to us, so if you’re not mentioned, we either did not see you, we didn’t think your product stood out sufficiently, or we were just plain clueless — you pick one. With that in mind, here’s our take on trends and new products for hats, gloves and socks:

Wintertime wouldn’t be complete without the right hat anointing your head, and the outdoor industry doesn’t fall short on offerings. Chunky hand-knits — the floppier the better — are still going strong. Bula told us its chunky line has grown 30 percent since last year. Brims on knit hats are still big with popularity continuing to grow. Who didn’t have at least one hat with a brim? Bomber hats and shearling detailing/linings came up often, while argyle prints, which are hot in mainstream apparel right now, were also making their way into hat lines like SmartWool, Bula and Pistil. And everybody seems to be adding a hand-knit line from the Andes, Bolivia or Nepal. Even ball caps are getting a makeover with two styles from Teva in straw and an all-knit version from Chaos.

Pistil — We saw this company debut at the last winter show and couldn’t wait to see what was on tap this year. Still focused on women’s styles using high-quality yarns sourced from Italy, Pistil didn’t disappoint. Broken into three categories — Style, Sport and Nice — each hat looks like a little piece of art. For the outdoor boutique, check out the Nice collection’s Pearl hat and scarf made of a wool/angora blend with a knit flower embellishment topped off with a miniature pearl. Push the envelope and attract Sheryl Crow wannabes with the corduroy Betty and the faux suede Cowgirl shearling-lined cowboy hats. For the store more on the straight and narrow, the Sport collection uses wool or acrylic blends with a fleece liner in fetching colors.

Outdoor Research — Very much the high-tech company, Outdoor Research told SNEWS® that it wanted to make some big changes and bring its hats into the 21st century. For the first time, it’s using merino wool and creating knits hats (check out the Haute Hat for men and the Wallflower Beanie for women) with more planned on the horizon. It’s playing with styles like the Wooly Lux for women — a stylish bucket hat that you would not imagine could come from OR’s R&D department (in lavender, no less). But it hasn’t abandoned its techy side completely, hence the new Prism ball cap in Gore-Tex and Wind Pro Factor Cap — albeit a bit more fashion-wise than OR’s past. Also, the Seattle Sombrero received Backpacker’s Editor’s Choice 2005 Gold Award, and has moved away from its primary Lego colors to earth tones. It’s available in more fabrics and price points to mix it up, said the company.

Trailheads — Started in a small N.Y. apartment with the help of a grant from the New York State Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped, TrailHeads has a tech line of hats using performance materials like Outlast, Polartec Thermal Pro, Illuminite and 3M Scotchlite. Ed Raftery, who is legally blind due to a degenerative retinal disease, co-founded the company with his wife, Stephanie, who heads the design side. The tight line emphasizes headwear that keeps your noggin warm in the cold. Notable features in the Twilight Performance hat collection are the inclusion of Illuminite for visibility and a handy pocket for a key or a couple bucks. The company has added a kid’s line that includes some cool sublimation graphics on microfleece. Trailheads also donates 10 percent of its profits to the National Sports Center for the Disabled.

Shred Alert — With a bent toward fashion, 16-year-old Shred Alert out of Hood River, Ore., showed more than 10 collections for adults and an expanded kids’ collection. Among the head-turners was the Lambsuede collection for men and women made of washable faux suede and shearling. Included in the line are the women’s bucket and beanie hats with shearling trim and hibiscus flower appliqué. The Lambomb bomber hat inspired by classic fighter pilot helmets is an intriguing style for guys. Shred Alert is bringing back the retro wool look and lining it with microfleece, as well as adding more accessories like belts and scarves to complement its hats.

Ambler — New for this year is Ambler’s Everest hat collection produced in Nepal. The men’s and women’s hats are hand dyed and knit by workers being paid equitable wages in safe, clean working conditions. All styles are lined with fleece and a couple favorites are the Stride, a hip chunky knit in various color-ways (we like the multi-blue), and the So-Ho, a horizontal knit comfortable on the mountain or a city street. Ambler has also expanded the kids’ collection and added wool. Grandma won’t be the only one baited by these hats, especially the colorful Furka with the crazy fringe pompon.

Mental Headwear — Known for its whacky fleece hats and helmet covers (who could ever forget the fleece spikes or natty dreads?), Mental is branching out with a women’s line and the Headcase multi-purpose microfiber accessory. OK, the Headcase looks an awful lot like a certain stretchy tube accessory/headpiece we all know well (can you say Buff?), but these use a material that’s a bit softer. Mental said it debuted the Flirty women’s line to address the buying demand of women. The Marni blends a nice palette of colors (black, peach, sawdust and ice blue) into a medium gauge knit topped off with a sophisticated pompon. The Bling may even turn JLo’s head with its sparkly rhinestone accents.

Turtle Fur — When you think of Turtle Fur, irreverence does not come to mind. Definitely hanging out on a limb, Turtle Fur is featuring phrases from artist/writer /cartoonist Dug Nap on black and stone-colored beanies with views that it describes as a “wonderful, and occasionally dark, sense of humor” in its catalog. A sampling: “I don’t give a rat’s ass,” “Bare butts — not arms,” “Down with underpants” and “Porno leaves a bad taste in my mouth” (!). The company admits the hats won’t be considered Turtle Fur but ya gotta give ’em cred for giving it a shot. With 73 percent of its line new, you’ll also find many new styles in Turtle Tech, Lifestyle, and an Andean and Bolivian line.

Bula — It’s not just jackets and shoulder bags that are getting MP3-ified. Bula has six knit hat styles that come with built-in pockets for removable earphones (included with the hat). Now you can plug in and tune-out walking down the street or cruising down the slopes. They retail $20 to $25. With more than 1,800 SKUs to choose from, Bula definitely has all your hat-buying needs covered.

QUICK HITS:Artesania‘s dyed Bolivian and Alpaca hats are a colorful sight. For a little whimsy, check out the Pom Pom solid or Pom Pom Stripe with (what else?) numerous multi-colored pompon balls sewn all over the hats… If you’re looking for some authentic Scandinavian designed hats from a native, check out Jytte (pronounced you-tay) in Ketchum, Idaho… With a license agreement with Outdoor Cap Co., Teva starts its second season with causal and tech hats. Among the beanies, ball caps and visors, you’ll find sombreros and boonies made with Gore-Tex and UPF-rated fabrics… Chaos is dubbing its hats using the new FitsAll 4X “the next generation of performance knit headwear.” What’s it mean? Hats have four-way stretch because each yarn filament wraps around a spandex core, so it doesn’t expand along one axis but provides four-way stretch. The company told us the one-size-fits-all hats are virtually seamless and always retain their shape with fiber memory… For the first time, Seirus is offering lifestyle knit hats solo and with pull-down fleece face masks called Quick Clavas. Forty styles are available in each line… SmartWool has four new hats made of 100-percent wool jacquard knit with double layer headband for warmth. Fun stripes and snowflake patterns are available.

More companies are following in the footsteps (or is it hand-steps?) of a directive started by Manzella three years ago — gloves designed specifically to fit the dimensions of a woman’s hand. Rather than downsizing men’s gloves, companies are starting to (finally) study women’s hands and refine patterns to fit their digits and desires. Kombi is one glove-maker that is recognizing women need a slimmer and narrower fit and told SNEWS® it thinks the category is going to keep growing: We can’t argue since many woman just live with cold hands and crave warm gloves. For 2005, leather is still very prevalent in many glove lines and we saw a lot of line revamps among companies like Patagonia, The North Face and Outdoor Research.

Manzella — OK, the company hasn’t ignored products but the bright light it showed at the show after extensive retail testing is its new Glove Selection System. What did the company discover in at-store consumer observation and at focus groups? The biggest bugaboo for consumers is getting the right glove to begin with, while retailers find the glove wall a continuing organizational challenge — one that is difficult to help consumers sort through. Now Manzella came up with a color-coded classification system calling gloves, for a starting point, very simply: warm, warmer, warmest. Well, duh. The company has racks, packaging, product labels and catalogs that help both the consumer avoid utter despair and the retailer make more smart sales. Of course, Manzella also has new product — including a number in snow sports, new soft shell offerings and some lightweight all-purpose gloves. It’s also absorbed the Snow Glory women’s snowsport glove division into the Manzella fold and now has a women’s winter glove called the Snow Glory as a part of its extensive women’s-specific line.

Kombi — It surprised Kombi’s glove division manager when he heard from folks that Gore-Tex isn’t as popular anymore, as the company has encountered quite the opposite. We were told Gore-Tex gloves are selling like crazy — more than the company imagined they would — and customers are clamoring for more. In response, Kombi is expanding its offerings of Gore-Tex and Gore-Tex XCR gloves, as well as incorporating more stretch wovens, water-resistant leather and technical soft shell fabrics.

Outdoor Research — Of 27 gloves in Outdoor Research’s line, it has eight new styles and made enhancements to another 11, including one of Ed Viesturs’ high-altitude choices the Alti glove. Check out details on the Alibi ice climbing glove in this issue’s Climbing Trends Report.

Patagonia — The majority of Patagonia’s glove line has been updated with the same textiles being used in its outerwear. These fabrications are giving outer shells more stretch and durability and the user more dexterity.

The North Face — Designers tinkered with The North Face’s glove line, focusing on fit, insulation, breathability with a little style thrown in. The line is a who’s who of textile manufacturers, including Schoeller, Gore-Tex, Pittards, Primaloft and Hyvent. Molded knuckle guards were popping up in gloves throughout the industry this season, and The North Face had a couple styles to offer in this regard: the snowsport-specific Pro Jupiter and the mountaineering Ice N Tele.

Seirus — Seirus’ Soft Shell Glove System is two gloves in one — a soft-shell inner piece with a protective shell on the outside — handy for multiple cold-weather sport applications.

Cloudveil — Cloudveil has some good new fabric combos and continues to focus on the little details, like the needle-punch technique that prevents Primaloft insulation from sliding around. Among its new offerings is the Black Ice technical mountaineering/ice climbing glove.

Gordini — Introduced last winter show, Gordini is still singing the praises of Lavawool, a wool/fleece lining blend, and Naturaloft, a goose down insulation, which are now featured in more than 30 gloves.

180s — Known for an eye-opening tweak on most any product it tackles — ones that often require a thwack on the forehead and an accompanying, why didn’t someone ever do this before?! — 180s has introduced a Convertible Glove with a little hood that pops out of a pocket on the back to offer a user windproof and water-resistant protection on demand. In addition, for the runners who are, we admit, wiping their noses and brows constantly, there is a cuff that is a fuzzy material. Great addition. The glove itself is light CoolMax. The retractable shell is four-way stretch micro polyester. The company has also expanded and refined its Exhale glove line (the ones with the vent in the back into which you exhale for they say a gush of warmth) with an Enduro cycling glove, as well as a Ski Patrol/Riding glove.

These days, a sock is just not just a sock anymore. We have socks for women, socks for kids, socks for dudes, socks for skiers, socks for runners, socks that match your mood, and even socks that have a little ‘tude. Everyone is on the sock bandwagon. And in case you’ve been wearing only sandals and have no clue what else should go on da feet, even the companies that were all about synthetic materials are jumping on the wool/merino wool bandwagon with both feet — sorry, bad pun.

Teko — Socks aren’t immune to the push for natural fibers. Enter Teko less than a year ago — a company that uses a so-called “ecomerino” wool, all from one farm in Tasmania. The company’s tagline is “best socks on the planet, best socks for the planet,” and it says it strives for highest performance with the lowest ecological impact. Says President Jim Heiden, the company works hard to make sure the wool will do what it says in fit, wear and feel, while also certifying there are no harmful or toxic materials next to your skin. New for fall 2005 is an Ecowash Wool that comes in quarter height, light hiker and hiking. All told the socks come in various types, heights and thickness, including a nifty orange color for those who want to stand out on the trail, although the company has also added some additional conservative colors like charcoal.

Bridgedale — Continuing with its push of its X-Hale sock line that is just now hitting retail, Bridgedale also has rolled out a new performance ski sock with what it calls “anatomic compression” in women’s and men’s versions. We tried on a pair and have to say — “oooo, comfy.”

Fox River — The designed by a woman for a woman snowboarding sock, the Wick Dry Revolution, should be a hot seller. With a merino wool and polypro blend, the sock is designed to fit a woman’s foot and features funky chix snowboarders on the calf and a daisy on the toe. Fox River has pledged 5 percent of the net profits from the sales of these socks to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

SmartWool — We know, in our pre-show coverage, we poked a bit of fun at “lifestyle” socks, but after seeing the colors, patterns and styles at SmartWool, we happily eat our words. The socks are cool, and yes, we placed official orders for some. Our feet couldn’t be happier.

Columbia — While the company’s wool socks are, well, basically wool socks, it was its ad in the Show Daily that we thought was worth a mention. Total attitude and Ma Boyle endorsed with the tag, “Made from virgin wool. As opposed to socks made from sheep that slept around.” Nice!

DeFeet — DeFeet has decided that it needs to get into the ski and snowboard market, and its first foray looks pretty solid — thanks to a little design help from the likes of world-class skier Bode Miller. The snowboard sock in particular, the Orbit, caught our eye since it is made with a dense weave of merino wool through the whole foot and along the shin, while the back of the calf features a proprietary twisted yarn designed to be very breathable.

Wigwam — The venerable brand has opted to add X-Static (silver permanently bonded to nylon fibers) to help athletes keep the stink out of their footwear and cut back on the potential for foot fungus — yeee-eech. The line is called, naturally, Ultimax Silver. How original.