New Yoga Zone at ORWM '13 echoes increase in products on outdoor shelves

Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2013 with select stories. Today we bring you a recap of the new Yoga Zone at the show.

Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 23-26. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

New for Winter Market 2013, Outdoor Retailer introduced its new Yoga Zone — a place for the one of the fastest-growing categories in the industry.

The zone reflects what’s happening in outdoor retail stores across the nation.

Head to Appalachian Outdoors, a 39-year-old retail store in State College, Pa., and you’ll likely stumble on an in-store yoga class. For the last year, one of the local studios has been teaching in the shop’s recently expanded space because of a growing interest in yoga in the area and nationwide. Outdoor consumers, retailers, athletes and everyone in between has been pumping energy into the balance-challenging, heart-opening practice.

“The men’s Sutra pant is one of the best-selling pants at REI,” said Kat Guay of Prana, “Our longtime men’s yoga pant is outgrowing women’s sales.” That says something. Not only about a jump in yoga apparel sales, but also about the growth in participation beyond what had been strongly a female market up until now. Armed with that knowledge, the potential seems exponential.

Sponsored by Yoga Journal — a national publication under the AIM Media umbrella, producers of this publication, Backpacker and Climbing — the Yoga Zone has a mixture of classes, product presentations, merchandising workshops and demonstrations running every half-hour throughout the show. And its faux-wood studio-like floor is hugged on all sides by yoga-specific booths, creating a zen-inducing haven for buyers to dive into the category.

“The Yoga Zone gives me a guide,” said Jen Watts-Matisse, a buyer at Appalachian Outdoors, “so I can comprehensively envision all of the ways we can branch into the yoga market beyond apparel and bags, like mats for instance.”

But because this communal gathering of yoga brands is so new and sprinkled with gym- and CrossFit-focused fitness brands like Puma and Reebok, there’s some gray area as to how it relates to the outdoor world.

“Yoga conjures up an image of a mountaintop or the ocean,” said Patrice Christensen, the senior marketing manager at Lucy, “But more importantly, you can use breathing techniques you learn in yoga when you’re on a cornice to calm yourself down.” Case in point: The athletes at The North Face told their product director, Kevin Joyce, that they were practicing yoga to become better athletes, so the company launched a collection a few seasons ago. “It’s been growing strongly ever since,” said Joyce.

A few new brands like Zobha, a premium yoga line out of Mill Valley, Calif., joined the show just because of the Yoga Zone. “We found out about it last fall,” said Jennifer Brasch, the brand’s western region account manager. “And we felt like it was a good opportunity because we would be able to capture the attention of a wide range of buyers from boutiques to larger sporting goods stores to e-commerce websites.”

Has the Yoga Zone lived up to its potential? It’s getting there. “People who were surprised to find it yesterday while wandering the show brought their yoga pants this morning and came to class,” said Haley Brockmeier, the marketing director at Yoga Journal, who is also helming the booth. “And a lot of companies are inquiring about getting on the demo schedule at the next show.”

Yoga teachers include everyone from the YogaSlackers, who represent Prana in their long-standing Rejuvenation Room, to sponsored athletes like Payge McMahon, a Canada Goose and Osprey multi-sport athlete who dogsleds, runs ultra-marathons and has done forearm stands from Nepal to, now, the OR show floor. Her response to the Yoga Zone? “Finally!”

Will longtime Outdoor Retailer exhibitors who carry yoga apparel start migrating over there? It’s unclear. Women’s brand Carve Designs mentioned it could see stationing a model at the Yoga Zone pointing people to their booth in the surf-centric area of the show. But because they sell so much lifestyle apparel, they don’t want to scare away buyers who aren’t interested in yogawear. The North Face and Prana — while both very excited about the promotion of the sport by the dedicated area — said they’ll keep it in their collections within their larger brand booths. And Prana’s Rejuvenation Room isn’t migrating anywhere yet — but the brand will be keeping an eye on the evolution of the Yoga Zone.

Either way, the Yoga Zone is a mirror of a larger trend in the industry. “It’s the largest-growing category out there right now,” said Brasch of Zobha. And Watts-Matisse of Appalachian Outdoors sees a lot of potential: “If we aren’t having a good ski season, people will still be doing things like yoga, which aren’t weather-dependent.”

–Ali Carr Troxell