A question of speed: Why the sports industry is less affected by the crisis
In recent years, the sports and outdoor industry has repeatedly been accused of working in a way that is too traditional. In the current crisis situation, this is an advantage.
Fewer collections than in fashion
What has been interpreted as most backwards about the sports industry in recent years turns out to be an advantage in times of corona: The adherence to traditional collection cycles with only a spring/summer and an autumn/winter collection. Although there are various delivery windows in the sports industry too, one new collection per month - or even faster cycles - are a rarity. Traditional sports retail simply does not have the capacity to order new collections more than once a season. There is no interest in it even, because sport is mainly about technical innovations, and these are frequently so in need of explanation that they often have to be presented in stores for long periods of time until they reach consumers at all.
In practice, this means that if shops have been closed for weeks, the next truck will not already be waiting at the door on opening day to deliver more merchandise, as is the case for fashion retailers. Most sports and outdoor manufacturers had already delivered the bulk of the spring/summer collections by the beginning of the shutdown in Germany. So now sporting goods retailers have the entire summer to sell the accumulated goods without constantly having to expect and pay for new deliveries.
Fewer perishable goods
The slower tempo of the sports industry can be seen in a different area as well: Merchandise does not go out of style so quickly. On the one hand, this is because sport is not so much about the rapid implementation of short-term trends. For one, this is prevented by functionality, a must have for sports collections. It makes no sense to have a running top with frills, artificially aged outdoor pants or backpacks with all kinds of heavy metal decorations. Secondly, sport as a 'lifestyle giver' lives from the fact that it is recognisable as a sports article. Why is everyone wearing leggings and sneakers all of a sudden? Not just because they are comfortable, but because they signal sportiness. If fashion and sports collections would not be distinguishable from each other any more, how could one send out that signal then? So there are limits to sports design and this preserves product values over a longer period of time.
Many sports and outdoor manufacturers have increasingly been working on this aspect in recent years, despite higher fashion demands on products. The collections do not reinvent themselves every season. Compared to fashion collections, the percentage of carry-overs is much higher. Two years ago, Fjällräven celebrated the 50th anniversary of its Greenland Collection! For this long, it has been unchanged and constantly a part of the collection. (By the way, this was the only way the Kanken backpack could become such an iconic product).
This means in practice that products that have not been sold this year, can simply be sold next year without having to discount them. There is no striking difference between old and new merchandise. When building up their collections, many manufacturers also pay attention to the colour theme so that collections complement each other over the seasons and older merchandise does not immediately become a thing of the past as soon as a new collection has arrived at the store.
Postponing until next year? Possible!
This is exactly why it is now possible for many sports manufacturers and retailers to push large parts of the current spring/summer collection into the next year. Schöffel wants to equip 50 percent of the new SS 2021 collection with carry-over articles; in regular years, this share is only 25 percent. Dynafit plans to transfer 80 percent of apparel, footwear and equipment articles of the current SS 2020 collection into the coming year and at La Sportiva, 90 percent of the 2020 collection 2020 will be the new summer 2021 collection. "So the products do not have to be part of the summer clearance sale because they are still up-to-date next year - and we are counteracting the devaluation of inventory," said Dynafit managing director Benedikt Böhm a few weeks ago.
Categories where this transfer will not make sense are fashionable sport products. Sneakers will probably not be allowed to look the same next year as they do this year. There are also large portions of fashionable items in the athleisure and running categories, which will probably not work next year. The same applies to some bike wear collections.
More sustainable collections?
Some people may think to have heard all this before but in a different context and they are right: Yes, when it comes to sustainability. Basically, many sports manufacturers and retailers do exactly what slow fashion brands do in the name of sustainability for the same reason. It would surely be an exaggeration to claim that sports collections are more sustainable than fashion collections due to their slower pace. Sports collections pose their own problems when it comes to sustainability. However, in view of the current crisis, it is important to talk about whether the development of the fashion system in the last few years has not become overheated. And one should seriously consider the question whether the sports industry should really learn a lesson from fashion as many innovators in the sports industry have demanded in recent years.
This article was originally published on FashionUnited DE. Edited and translated by Simone Preuss.
Photos: Fjällräven; Dynafit