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Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '05 Trends: Technical apparel

Now that the market is saturated with soft shells, the new buzz is all about welded and bonded seams. There must have been a lot of factories installing the new technology machinery -- or just amping up their capacity -- in the past year because there is scarcely an apparel line that isn't touting new construction on its premier pieces. In a few more seasons, old-fashioned cut-and-sew garments may be passé.

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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 technical apparel in all categories — be it welded, bonded, soft shell, waterproof/breathable, seamless or otherwise:

Now that the market is saturated with soft shells, the new buzz is all about welded and bonded seams. There must have been a lot of factories installing the new technology machinery — or just amping up their capacity — in the past year because there is scarcely an apparel line that isn’t touting new construction on its premier pieces. In a few more seasons, old-fashioned cut-and-sew garments may be passé.

With all the no-name soft shell fabrics that are emerging in affordable jackets, this category is getting reworked just as the hard/storm shell category was after Marmot’s PreCip hit the market. The big names in soft shell fabrics (Schoeller, Polartec and now Gore-Tex) are having to work harder to differentiate their products and justify the higher costs.

The other continuing trend in technical wear in different layers is greater use of seamless knitting technology in, of course, undergarments (see SNEWS® story, Feb. 28, “ORWM Trends: Underwear”), but also in all kinds of other apparel. No longer is plain ol’ polyester underwear good enough for marketing. It’s variable-knit, body-mapped, odor-fighting, muscle-squishing (er, compression) base layers that win the hype and attention.

Arc’Teryx — As with many outdoor apparel companies, much of the emphasis now is on ski wear. Featuring Gore Soft Shell, the new Stingray Jacket ($500) and Pant ($350) are certainly aimed at the discriminating skier, both male and female. For the faster Nordic crowd, the Velox Jacket ($250) and Velox Pant ($225) feature stretch Windstopper front panels with stretch material elsewhere…looks nice but we’re not sure who decided a Nehru collar was back in fashion. Following another industry trend, Arc’Teryx is starting to use proprietary soft shell fabrics for better price points; just two styles so far, the hooded Epsilon SV ($200) and hoodless Epsilon AR ($180) Jacket.

BASK — The obvious quality of the one-piece down suit was what caught our eye; this wasn’t the typical “just designed to garner attention” display piece. Investigating further, this Russian company’s down clothing is certainly in the league of the high-end brands like Feathered Friends. This decade-old brand started as an offshoot of a student whitewater club and has now become a manufacturer of a full range of well-designed, quality manufactured product. BASK offers a broad selection of down clothing and sleeping bags, as well as clothing, tents, packs and even big wall portaledges. Like all the other international brands wanting to break into the U.S. market, having great product is only a small part of the battle. So we’ll see how this goes.

Bergans — While not a big player in the United States, this Norwegian brand is strong in northern Europe. While many of the styles we saw may be simply too Scandinavian in appearance to sell in this market — at least outside of, say, Manhattan — the sizable collection does feature a number of select products that we believe could do very well here. For example the Snowdrift Jacket ($350) and Anatomic Jacket ($340) are well-detailed and even have optional faux fur collars for when the fashion urge strikes.

Blurr — No longer a new company, Blurr is still trying to show the climbing world that fashion and function DO mix — something that others in the same arena are doing and some quite well. Unlike most yoga-inspired clothing, Blurr styles lean toward casual that feature both athletic fit and freedom of movement. The new fall line continues with that theme as exemplified by the retro Loki jacket ($65) and styled Otto Pants ($70); both in men’s and women’s sizing. This is a brand that tries to stay ahead of the trends instead of playing catch up.

Climaware — Soy underwear? Yep, the fabric in one style is made from 65-percent soy, 30-percent nylon and 5-percent spandex; it had a nice hand and standard construction. The other style uses polypro instead of soy and takes advantage of seamless technology to engineer the fabric; it appears as sophisticated as anything else in the building. This new division of Domestic Converters, a large Canadian yarn manufacturer, is a showcase for its technology.

Cloudveil –Already well known for soft shells, the signature Ice Floe Jacket and Bibs have been slightly revised to become the Black Ice Jacket and Bibs. Complementing these are the new Rayzar Jacket and Pant for those who don’t want a hood or bibs. The new Boundary Jacket uses Schoeller WB-400 so it leans more to the water-resistant side of the fence. Insulated shells get major improvements with better materials and styling for the SpaceWalk jackets (Primaloft), which replace the Enclosure, and new Down Patrol, its first foray into down insulation. All-in-all, a very impressive collection.

CW-X — After managing to convert a lot of outdoor/running enthusiasts to its patented “conditioning” compression tights in such a short time, CW-X is adding more to its already expanded line that includes sport bras (adjusted slightly from last year) and tops. For fall/winter ’05, you’ll find a new Insulator tight that has what the company calls “auto sensor” characteristics to allow it to sense your temperature and change it, warming or cooling down based on your needs. The fabric is said to want to stay at 77 degrees Fahrenheit (no word what happens if you want to be warmer or cooler.) Made in Korea, the Ventex fabric is being introduced to the United States exclusively by CW-X. The line also has the patented support system and is anti-microbial with both men’s and women’s versions.

Ground — This line of technical clothing and packs has garnered attention for the unique styling featuring curvaceous lines. Starting in the fall, it will also be one of the few performance-oriented brands using Event fabrics. The new Adverse EVX shell is a high-end three-ply mountaineering piece with brushed inner surface removable pads. The Repel Shell is a stylish ultralight hard shell that stuffs into its own pocket. And the Climate is an Event soft shell jacket with sealed seams. Overall, the line looks well thought out, is visually different, and appears to understand the U.S. market. Perhaps working a block from where Sierra Designs spent a decade has helped with inspiration.

Hind — One of the biggest pieces of news here is the company’s elimination of its bike line, changing its focus to running, fitness and fitness/lifestyle. Aside from its growing emphasis on underwear and base layer, Hind is also on the welded bandwagon, showing some pieces that have reflectivity welded in (Reflective Radiant Sportop with a back reflective section and splices on the arm), as well as welded-in venting (Welded Vent Long Sleeve, $50). Looks cool to us (oh, ha). The company also is emphasizing its perforated technology in all kinds of pieces in all kinds of strategic places (e.g., a women’s Perfect Shell, $75) to position itself as a leader in breathability for those high-octane endeavors. One other bit of news: Hind is for the first time in the Animal Short’s nearly 30-year history re-tweaking it. The first compression short — and a popular one at that — the Animal PLUS Shorts are more of a undergarment with the addition of venting.

Hot Chillys — Taking its outer- and mid-layer wear to an entirely new level, Hot Chillys rolled out men’s and women’s apparel with names like Slammers, Shooters and Sidecars. The Slammers are the outer shells in polyester laminate (and a nifty magnetic closure system on the front, we might add) ranging from $175 to $225, in men’s and women’s styles and colors, with seam-sealing and detachable fleece-lined hoods. Shooters are a selection of interchangeable zip-in linings (that can also worn alone), including Primaloft taffeta quilted ones and Thermal Pro selections ($110 to $175, men’s and women’s, in sleeveless vests and long-sleeve jacket styles). The Sidecar line is made up of stand-alone mid-layer pieces, some reversible (men’s, $190; women’s, $140) with different quilt patterns or colors.

Icebreaker — After getting the North American market to start to accept merino wool as a base layer in the last two years, Icebreaker is tiptoeing into new territory with mid-layers also in merino. Its EXP (expedition weight) mid-layer has a looped back and thick woven mesh inserts that are 100-percent merino — a refined and technical look and feel that is for merino newbies perhaps a bit eye-opening. There’s even a hood on one zip-front Soft Top ($200) that has a fashionable mesh insert. The Vortex Vest, in men’s and women’s styling ($160), is particularly remarkable and hardly says what most people see as “wool.” The whole line has collars, zips, fashionable designs and color, color, color that was one of the best things at the show and bound to catch on. “We had to be functional and plain first,” explained CEO Jeremy Moon, “and now we’ve got style.”

Isis For Women — Knowing women get cold, Isis is expanding its outer and insulating layers. The Snow Queen Coat ($250), with 650 down fill in a DWR finished polyester taffeta, has an urban flair with a knee-length style and a zip-off down-filled hood. Have a more fashionable urge? Zip on the faux fur ruff. The Monarch Park ($225) is basically a shorter, hip-length version (with a drawcord hem) of the Snow Queen. Its soft shell line (with standbys, Sophie jacket, $185, and Lucy pant, $155) has received a slight fabric update to make its pieces softer.

Keela — The Scots know a thing or two about cold, rainy weather and they are less than impressed with most of the waterproof/breathable membranes and coatings — their very public statements have raised the ire of Gore in Europe we’ve learned. One solution from Paramo doesn’t use any waterproof/breathable at all but that’s proved a hard sell. Keela has gone the other direction with two membranes: the first layer wicks moisture away from the body and prevents it from re-entering (sort of like Gore Next2Skin) and the second waterproof/breathable layer keeps external moisture out while venting the trapped moisture. All of this is built into nicely detailed jackets designed to keep condensation away from the wearer. For those who play in climates like Scotland, this line is worth a look.

Marmot — Continuing with its, Signature Collections from athletes the mainstream population have never heard of, the new Marmot line features an array of fabrics that few folks have even heard of — and that’s not a bad thing. The emphasis on proprietary fabrics is most evident in its soft shell garments, such as the lightly insulated OZ Jacket ($325) and more water-resistant Genesis Jacket ($275). Among the more interesting insulated pieces at Winter Market was the hybrid Headwall Jacket ($200), which features down insulation in the body and Primaloft in the sleeves with soft shell fabric in high wear areas. Despite all the tech, though, it is the urban-focused, knee-length, down-insulated Morning Frost Coat ($300) that could be Marmot’s biggest hit — with women. You could hear the ooo’s and ahh’s all the way around the show floor from those who saw it.

Moonstone — Much of the line remains the same, though soft shells get a new high-end and a number of price-point pieces. The Exposure Jacket ($350) features Gore soft shell fabric, while the Talek Jacket ($125) uses a proprietary fabric. For a company that has seen so much change in recent years, stability is a good thing.

Mountain Hardwear — Next winter will be the season of snow Betties judging by the new Hardwear line. An extensive selection of performance yet a bit girly snow products (could be the only way to describe the new Flip, $165, and Monkey Pro Fleece jackets, $140) in fashion colors seems to be targeted at the women’s market that Isis covers so well. Oh yeah, the guys get a few new pieces too, such as the Maneuver Jacket ($395) and Pant ($295) made with Gore soft shell fabric; the jacket features an iPod pocket that should boost demand — we’re not sure whether that is a good or bad thing.

Mount Seven — A new name to many at Winter Market, but we can tell you that the company has been around since 1984 making products for some of the other major brands in the market. With a lot of cut-and-sew business going to China, the company decided to enter the market on its own (the company is named for the seven highest peaks in the world, in case you were wondering). Since it owns factories in California and Canada, the production is the easy part. Working on styling and marketing may prove the bigger challenge.

MovingComfort — With emphasis of late on its ever-growing underwear and sport bra category (it is a huge percent of the company’s sales), Moving Comfort hasn’t forgotten about other categories, at least not totally. Its so-called Nochill mid-layer fabric line, after a slight hiatus, has returned, redesigned, including a Hoody ($80) with a full-zip front and classy looking top vented with a short zipper center front ($70) with spliced color details that will flatter most women. The Cumulus pullover ($90) is exactly that — a puffy white-cloud-like, polyester fiberfill, reversible sweater that is soft and cuddly while still being completely packable into the wearer’s right pocket.

Patagonia — Much of the ski wear line introduced this season gets a makeover with updated fabrics and several pieces going to bonded seam construction. New to the ski line are two insulated jackets for men and women: the Puff Rider (a hard/soft shell hybrid with synthetic fill) and Puffski (a waterproof/breathable hard shell with light Primaloft fill), which also comes in pants. Popular climbing-oriented shells, such as the MixMaster/MixMistress and Dimension Jackets, also get fabric and construction upgrades.

Phorm — A division of Scent-lok, which has done gangbuster business with Cabela’s, Phorm is its attempt to enter the outdoor market. The Phorm clothing is made with fabric that has an antimicrobial treatment to minimize odors (nothing new there) and activated carbon imbedded in the fibers to actually soak up smells. The idea is to wear the garments until they are filthy or begin to stink instead of washing after every workout. Seems kinda gross, but here’s the real catch: to reactivate the carbon requires 30 to 40 minutes in a dryer on medium heat. The samples we received feature a fairly heavy and boardy fabric with stiff hand and just isn’t something we’d grab out of the closet for a workout. Even on an expedition or for extended travel where regular washing isn’t an option, the Phorm apparel could be a hard sell due to the fabric’s feel and hefty cost ($65 for a basic T-shirt).

Salomon — The company may have run out of creativity (or beer during the meetings) for coming up with names for its new products (eg, the Gore Softshell Jacket … yawn), but the design and urban styling do set Salomon apart. Most of the winter apparel line remains the same next season, but with just a few tweaks here and there. The Expert XCR Jacket ($450) is laminated with Primaloft to eliminate quilt lines. What surprised us is that even though Salomon has an extensive Nordic and alpine ski selection, you’d hardly know it by looking through the booth at Winter Market. Considering the emphasis placed on the new Nordic skis, and the popularity of models like the Pocket Rocket with the telemark crowd, it’s surprising that these products aren’t prominent at a show where they’d get a lot of attention.

SierraDesigns — The reincarnated SD is starting to emerge and it’s looking more like a lifestyle brand than a core outdoor supplier — at least on the clothing side of the fence. Lots of new Woolrich-style casual clothing highlights the trend. Even the soft shell line, which is all proprietary fabrics, has a color palette seemingly built around the lifestyle selection. With four soft shell jackets retailing between $125 and $150, and two insulated models under $225, the pricing and brand recognition will doubtless entice consumers though and that may be, after all, the name of the game.

Shwalla — Once we got past our initial skepticism (oh great, another soft shell line, just what we need), we have to admit that this new line does actually have something solid going for it — soft shells for serious outdoor athletes who demand maximum performance. The designs are based on clothing worn by Olympic athletes: snug fit, hybrid stretch fabric construction, men’s and women sizing, fast styling. The line is divided into temperature ranges with the 20 degree Hybrid top ($300) and pants ($280) as the premier pieces; the top uses Schoeller WB-400 with an anti-microbial finish and the pants use Schoeller Dynamic. The 40 degree Hybrid top ($244) and pant ($194) are also Schoeller with antimicrobial, but lighter weight and the pants are mid-calf knickers. The 60 degree Hybrid short sleeve ($75) and shorts ($56) use Coolmax fabrics from Summit Knitting Mills. The Bloc° vest ($175) will keep the riffraff out and a base layer to match the 20 degree Hybrid is on the way. Perhaps as intriguing as the product is who sits on the advisory board: Hap Klopp (of TNF fame) and Brian Cousins (co-founder of Cloudveil).

Sugoi — Tapping into the tech side, Sugoi introduced a line of “wired” clothing that includes a couple of jackets ($120 and $150), a couple of tights, and a pocket top ($70). All are designed with pockets and Velcro straps that will allow a wearer to take music along without having to hold it, tuck it in some odd pocket, or have it wobbling around. Plus, the pockets have stitched holes made to thread ear pieces along the inside and to your ears. Honestly, we’re just not sure about this trend to carry sound, considering the possible danger to yourself or others on the slopes, trails or street. But it’s in demand, so companies like Sugoi are taking on lines like this.

The North Face — Snow bunnies will rejoice over the new Nyla Jacket, a down ski parka with faux fur muff on the detachable hood and Recco reflector. More technical skiers may opt for the Sirius Jacket (women’s) — some of us love the fact it has a hood — or Sedition Jacket (men’s), both made with the new Gore soft shell fabric and also featuring Recco. The men’s and women’s Inconceivable Jacket is designed for more serious alpine use; it also uses Gore soft shell and has the “won’t leak” promise.

Wild Things — The no-frills Alpinist Jacket ($350) features Event fabric and is a hard shell that climbers will trust better than something featured in a glitzy marketing campaign.

180s — Known more for its accessories, including ear warmers, glove and sunglasses, 180s took a quiet step at the show with its first piece of apparel — the Quantum Vent Jacket ($100) — aimed to launch at specialty retail for fall/winter 2005. Here’s the main tweak on it (you knew this was coming with the piece being from 180s, didn’t you?): There are little pull cords top and bottom in the back so you can open and close a mesh panel all across your back to whatever degree you want, to achieve whatever degree of venting (or not) you want. That feature, as the company says, eliminates the need to layer and then un-layer or re-layer during a run. We’re actually not sure how many people would really use the venting option, but we’re sure a lot would find it enough of a kick to want one, especially at that price.

66 Degrees North — A company whose clothing is on practically every corner, every person and in every store in his home country of Iceland, 66 Degrees North is in a short time making quite a hit in the United States. In fact, during Winter Market, it scored an inside cover feature story (Jan. 28) in the Wall Street Journal. What doesn’t hurt is the whole story it tells about Iceland, its great ad campaigns showing stunning terrain and cute kids, and its whole emphasis on a Euro style that many (oh heck, most) U.S. companies just miss totally. That doesn’t mean complicated style. There is a simplicity but class in design and color, without all of the color-blocking that U.S. companies seem to love. Likely you love it or you think it’s boring. We love it. One standout that is of course technical but with a fashion flair is the women’s Kjolur Coat, a thigh-length jacket with a slimmer fit and snap front of Polartec Wind Pro that is reminiscent of the Matrix movie look ($280). Everybody has seen the “famous” Iceland sweater look, and the company also does tech versions of that to retain the heritage but take them a step into the future — the Kaldi and Vindurs ($250 to $325). If you haven’t seen the line (only at U.S. retail for a few months now after nearly four decades in Iceland), take a minute to do so.