In the sports sector too, the pandemic has reinforced developments that were already apparent before: People want to get out into nature. The entire outdoor industry is currently benefiting from this.
The situation in the sports market is ambivalent. Classic year-round segments such as team sports, fitness or even swimming are currently going through hard times in view of closed sports venues and social distancing. Other segments, on the other hand, are booming more than ever, such as running, trail running, biking, outdoor and winter sports like cross-country skiing and ski touring, which can be done without crowds.
“The outdoors and the freedom it offers have never been more understood,” says Michael Horsch, VP product and marketing at The North Face. “And with that comes an increased demand for products that support outdoor activities.“ The industry is divided that this trend will continue for the upcoming 2021/22 winter season, the question is rather: how fashionable or timeless should one buy and how much? The uncertainty is already evident in the fact that many manufacturers have not yet been able to complete their order phase and have postponed the closing date for orders by several weeks.
General trend for collections: more all-season wear
Already in the first lockdown, the sportswear industry started adapting its collections to the special situation with brick and mortar stores being stocked to the brim and partly excellent sales in the online business: More all-season wear is the motto, which means that fewer new products are developed and at the same time more attention is paid to ensuring that collections match with each other even across seasons.
At Salewa, for example, the amount of all-season wear rose to 75 percent; the target is 80 percent. “Our customers don't want a completely new product every year, and above all, they don't want to feel that their product is only worth half at the end of December,” explains Stefan Rainer, chief sales officer of the Oberalp Group, which includes the Salewa and Dynafit brands. “Our retail partners have clearly signalled that this strategy has a positive effect on value retention, and our brands have been able to achieve a higher gross profit on average as a result.” This is also said to have the effect of freeing up more resources for the development of real innovations.
Winter sports away from the crowds: ski tours, cross-country skiing and winter hiking
The ski touring segment of the winter sports sector has been growing for years and also developed at an above-average rate during the Corona winter. “Many people have discovered ski touring for themselves this winter,” says Thomas Unterweger, country sales manager Germany at Ortovox. “We expect that they will want to go touring again next winter and then perhaps add one or two additional items of equipment, for example backpacks or emergency equipment such as first aid kits and bivouac bags.”
As demand grows, so do the requirements placed on collections for this sweat-inducing sport, producing ever more sophisticated combinations of materials, cuts and functionalities. Ortovox, for example, presents a warm ski touring jacket made of highly technical Pertex Quantum material, while on the inside Swisswool Black, the rare wool of the black sheep from the Swiss Alps, is used in different grammages - adapted to the heat requirements of the different body regions.
This so-called body mapping is also one of Schöffel's focus topics. “We have developed the products so that they fit the activity optimally and the perfect materials are used on the right parts of the body,” explains Gesa von Kerkhoff, head of product management, material sourcing and design at Schöffel.
In addition, winter hiking is making a comeback, as is cross-country skiing, which has already been recording steady growth for years - especially among younger, sporty target groups.
Biking – even in winter
It was already apparent at the beginning of the pandemic that the bike segment would be one of the big winners of the crisis. The Internetstores Group alone, with online shops such as Fahrrad.de, shipped 250,000 bikes during the entire 2020 financial year, more than ever before. To meet the high demand, the company hired professional cyclists as mechanics at short notice who had time off due to the lockdown.
Many brands are now increasing their commitment to the bike market, such as Jack Wolfskin: “Demand in this area was already rising before the pandemic, and we have observed a further increase in demand as a result of the pandemic. The launch of our bike products therefore comes at exactly the right time.“ Outdoor brand Schöffel is also demonstrating perfect timing by launching bike clothing for the first time this summer. The first winter bike clothing items will follow this winter, because it is clear that cycling is not just a summer sport.
Comfort and multifunctionality are the new must-haves
Those who have become accustomed to the comfort of sweatshirts and sweatpants in the home office no longer want to do without them. At Peak Performance, demand for comfortable hoodies and essential styles increased so much that the company added significantly more items for next winter. “Due to the strong sales figures, we have significantly increased products in these categories for autumn/winter 2021 and expanded the ranges with colour options,” explains Sara Molnar, CEO of Peak Performance
Multifunctional products are very popular, too, also from a sustainable point of view. “We have tried to show multiple uses in the collections, “ says Gesa von Kerkhoff from Schöffel. Not all consumers want a separate outfit for every activity. “Overall, the pandemic has also brought about a return to more conscious shopping behaviour. The basic question is: What do I really need?,” points out Markus Schelkle, Vaude's sales manager mountain sports Germany.
Retro vibe: Sportswear in the '80s
Big logos, boxy cuts and striking colour blocking play an important role in current fashion trends, but have their origins in the sportswear of the 80s. Many classic sports brands such as Fila, Ellesse, Elho and Champion are celebrating a comeback with their early designs. Historic looks will also appear in the next winter collections. For example, eye-catching pocket solutions, colour blocking and oversized down chambers, which can now also be filled with synthetic fillings thanks to new insulation materials - for example from Thermore.
Japanese ski brand Goldwin has placed ten pockets on the front and back of its jacket and also uses “Kodenshi downs”, which, thanks to an infrared effect with ceramic particles, offers a high level of heat retention and keeps its shape even when wet. Berry tones and purple are becoming fashionable highlight colors, for example at Peak Performance, Jack Wolfskin, Schöffel or Burton. Outdoor brand Jack Wolfskin, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, is also borrowing from its early years. For the new winter collection, the brand has turned to the company archive and presents nostalgic material combinations, timeless classics and modern retro pieces - looking back in terms of 'look', and looking ahead in terms of performance.
Evolving sustainability is becoming the new standard
The real innovations for the 2021/22 winter collections take place in one area in particular: sustainability. No company can do without serious further developments in this area any more. Ortovox, for example, is presenting a freeride collection for the first time for the coming winter that will be completely climate-neutral, from backpacks to clothing to gloves. Vaude announced that for the winter collection for 2021/22, half of all products are already made with bio-based or recycled materials. It also uses a new type of insulation material that has the same properties as down but is made entirely from recycled materials.
Salewa completely dispenses with synthetic insulation materials for its jackets and uses - in addition to down - exclusively wool from Tyrol. “Here, we have managed to refine the wool from mountain sheep, which was previously only treated as a waste product due to its scratchy quality, and enriched it with reflective minerals,” explains Stefan Rainer from Salewa. This has given mountain farmers a new source of income. Fjällräven is also experimenting with new materials and is launching its cult bag Kånken for the first time as “Tree-Kånken” made from the plant-based raw material Pine Weave. Water-saving dyeing techniques in particular have become more widespread, the proportion of recycled materials has been increased and environmentally harmful PFC coatings have been reduced or eliminated altogether.
Sustainability also applies to packaging: Jack Wolfskin wants to deliver almost all apparel products in recycled poly bags from next winter. Silica gel bags will be a thing of the past then.
This article was originally published on FashionUnited.DE, translated and edited to English.
Photo 1: Mammut
Photo 2: Vaude/Attenberger
Photo 4: Burton
Photo 5: Peak Performance
Photo 6: Jack Wolfskin
Photo 7: Fjällräven