The athleisure trend is still very strong right now. Sports brands like Adidas or Lululemon are making the most of it. Taking some inspiration from brands such as Canada Goose or Moncler, which are growing fast and making huge profits by focusing on a certain high-margin segment of the fashion market, more outdoor brands are moving into the outdoor lifestyle environment, but they could do it more efficiently.
Haysun Hahn, a fashion consultant based in New York, suggested in a speech at the European Outdoor Summit (EOS) in Treviso last October that they should also adopt some of the techniques that fashion companies are using to be more relevant for consumers, particularly in an era when the customer is more than ever the king.
Fashion is trendy and consumer-centric, Hahn said, whereas outdoor is technology-driven and activity-centric. Both have lifestyle priorities, functional aspects, a sustainability agenda and brand identity. Outdoor is more idealistic and aspirational than fashion, she added. In turn, fashion is in a way more pragmatic in its approach, and this allows it to resonate with the customer in a stronger way.
“We hear you and we are you,” says the fashion brand. In contrast, the message of the outdoor brand sounds more like “You need us for survival or for protection against the elements and we know stuff that you don't know.” This attitude may keep the customer away.
In some ways, the wider world of fashion has become more democratic in its approach to the market. It offers new trends that customers can embrace through a segmentation of the product that allows people, including status-seekers, to identify with certain brands and to accept their price positioning.
Hahn scolded the audience at the EOS for being “too convinced that the customer is like you,” probably referring to a tendency among outdoor brands, with the notable exception of Italy's Montura, to sponsor top athletes and adventurers. “You are preaching to adults, so you need some kind of inclusive messaging,” she said, to make them really feel part of a community.
It is important is listen to the customer and to know the customer, studying the emotional connection to the products, she stated. She also recalled that any brand must have a unique proposition, and protect it. Outdoor brands should have their own identity and find new ways to express their aesthetic legacy, rather than copying other brands, as is so often the case in our industry.
While following fashion trends, people will want to act as individuals without being rejected by the community, says Hahn. So, individualized styles have to be developed with a sense of “tribal participation,” she added, citing as an example the typical patterns of certain outdoor shirts.
In contrast to the outdoor sector, the fashion sector maintains brand power by changing products as often as possible, she said, although we feel that this doesn't necessarily apply to fashion-oriented brands like Canada Goose or Moncler, which are highly sought after by status seekers who want to belong to a certain tribe. It may be an opportunity for the others to make their mark by innovating more often while maintaining their signature.
Hahn suggested at the EOS convention that some outdoor brands may even want to explore both the virtual and natural terrains. In this regard, the outdoor industry can develop a new business model based on experiential services that will appeal to some customers.
The fashion expert recommended using design as a style strategy because good design adds value to a brand. This is why Givenchy can offer a men's coat for $4,250, for example, or why Maison Margiela is offering a beautiful “romantic” reversible windbraker for $2,575.
According to Hahn, the time seems to have come for a “marriage” between sport and fashion, or outdoor and fashion. She noted that the two sectors have been “flirting” with each other for many years now, with fashion brands adopting functional elements to protect the wearer from the cold, the rain or the wind. The process has been going on since the 1990s, and it will be interesting to see how it will evolve in the future.
As Hahn put it, trend forecasting is calculating the lifecycles of objects that affect people, based on tendencies, current affairs and the value matrix. Based on this, she offered her vision for the next years through 2040.
In summary, in five years' time, fashion brands will sell more weather-focused product than the outdoor brands. Specific and functional value will become critical.
In ten years, the outdoor market will lose up to 50 percent of the present “outdoor lifestyle” brands and almost 30 percent of the brands that claim to be technical performance brands.
In 15 years, there will be more exclusivity and specialization. Outdoor brands and products will be based on specific activities and sports such as hiking, climbing, cycling and kayaking.
In 20 years, with the advent of the 2.0 industry, the outdoor industry will take on new categories of outdoor activity, but it will transition toward a market for advanced “biotech” products, enhancing the human experience
Hahn's consultancy is called Fast Forward Trending (FFT). She regards herself as “an agent of change” for the companies that her company has been consulting for. The list includes Helly Hansen, Sorel, Patagonia, Jack Wolfskin, Samsung, LVMH, Nike, Reebok, New Balance, The North Face, Cabela's, Motorola, Canada Goose, Fila and L'Oreal, among others. She has been in the design business for over 30 years, working also in internal positions at Adidas, Promostyl, Rockport, Cotton Inc. and others.