A RETRO WINTER: ORWM 2014 Rewind

 By Martin Vilaboy

As the Outdoor Retailer trade shows grow and expand in ancillary directions, it becomes increasingly hard to nail down any overriding themes or prevalent trends that permeate the entire event and its various attendee bases. If your business involves the slopes, for instance, the “word of the show” was likely “adaptability,” which describes the mountains of new skis, boots, packs and outerwear built to go both uphill and downhill and transition from groomed slopes to out-of-bounds.

If you sell yoga or fitness apparel, meanwhile, you certainly noted palettes of softer, nature-inspired colors, such as coral, eggshell and feathery browns. On the other hand, if performance packs, shells and jackets are your game, you saw lots of hard metallic and mineral-derived colors and prints inspired by machines, robotics, wearable tech and the coming convergence of man with computer. If you’re all about sleeping bags or outerwear, the developments occurring within insulation and down were of the utmost importance at the show, while buyers and aficionados of footwear surely noted the amount of women’s fabric-cuffed casual boots and how the fad of bright and bold athletic shoe uppers faded as fast as it emerged. Strong reds, greens, yellows, etc. have been regulated to accents and pops in favor of traditional browns, whites and shades of grey in light hiker, running and trail shoe uppers. And if your business is the backcountry, a good deal of your show floor conversation likely centered on safety, training and certification.

 

Hanwag’s Lunta Lady GTX was just one of the many cuffed boots in display

 

Still, for generalists such as an editor of an outdoor retail pub, and when considering the importance of apparel and footwear on the retail floor, the word of the show has to be something along the lines of “nouveau-retro.” Or as Promostyl trend-spotters might put it, “retro-futurism.”

 

Practically at every turn, there were garments, graphics and styles that could have been spotted in my childhood closet in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Thank goodness, however, these pieces have been updated with the latest technologies and aesthetics. In sportswear, for instance, think post-USSR Eastern Block track suits from the 1980s only updated with the sleek modern fits, seamless flow and the latest fabrications that might be found in today’s high-end tennis warm-ups worthy of being worn by Roger Federer.

 

There were also plenty of elbow-patched flannel and lumberjack-style shirts (once a trusted standby for old-fashioned outdoorsman) but with the hang and cut of today’s coolest urban crossover sportswear. In trail footwear, likewise, we saw more than a few old-school hiker styles from back in the day, only without any of the clunk. And outside of footwear and apparel, we heard terms such as “throwback” styles, “anniversary editions” and “designs from the vault” well more than a few times, from belts and bags to googles and glasses.

 

Ecōths’ Alder Reversible Jacket illustrates the combination of old fashioned outdoorsman with modern metro masculinity

 

Loosely tied to retro nostalgia, the “Made in the USA” movement only picked up steam with this winter’s product introductions. Pride in North American manufacturing, assembly, sourcing and marketing is at an all-time high. The only problem is, claims of “Made in the USA” aren’t always in compliance with how the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Customs define American-made, even when products, for all intent and purposes, are in fact creating U.S. jobs and being produced from mostly U.S.-based materials. As it turns out, many vendors are likely in violation of FTC policies and, as EK Ekccessories learned, may not even realize it.

 

It’s a confusing and convoluted issue for sure – one that was addressed in detail by a panel of experts at the show, and a topic that Inside Outdoor magazine will cover in an upcoming issue. Stay tuned.

 

Also possibly associated with retro sensibilities, OR winter displayed a return of manliness in men’s fashion, a decided shift from the metrosexual trend of late. Big burly beards, for instance, were in full force. For sure, men may still be trimming their body hair, but facial hair was a long as the day (call it the Duck Dynasty effect).

 

Did we mention whiskers were everywhere?

 

Promostyl analysts, for their part, alluded to influences of “working man masculinity,” including construction-worker themed colors, such as work-helmet yellow, site-container blue, concrete grey and plywood browns, as well as the popularity of combat fit and military training.

 

Within outdoor fashion, the trend is exemplified by silhouettes, plaids and dark palettes reminiscent of lumberjacks and mountain men of the Grizzly Adams era.

 

Beyond those few general trends, following are blasts from some of the best of our booth visits during exhibit hours:

 

Once again, wool was a huge story at OR, as the benefit package and value proposition of wool blended with synthetic and other fibers continue to pique the interest of designers and product developers. These blends are effectively pushing the use of wool into every layer. At the top of the value chain, Polartec introduced wool-polyester blended fabrics, which is pretty interesting when considering the company pioneered “synthetic wool” many years ago with its Polar Fleece offering from then Malden Mills.

 

CORDURA, likewise, is looking to bolster the performance of wool by combining merino with the known-durability and cotton-like feel of its Naturalle fabrics. We also heard rumors of CORDURA being incorporated into socks to create some bombproof abrasion resistance in those high-wear areas. Expect to see some movement here by this summer.

 

Elsewhere, Hobbs Bonded Fiber unveiled a new non-woven insulation for outdoor garments made from 100 percent domestic wool. Dubbed as “The Natural Fiber Solution,” RamTect holds its shape and retains its insulating properties without having to be quilted or baffled, says the company, two processes that can compromise a garment’s warmth by punching holes through its liner and outer fabric. RamTect garments also will weigh similar to or less than down garments.

 

Sticking with insulation, Allied Feather & Down came to Winter Market with a slew of new down technologies and options. That includes a new iteration of HyperDRY, which features a process improvement that enhances its water-resistant properties, and BioDown, an anti-microbial down that prevents microorganisms and bacteria build up and can be combined with HyperDRY to create a powerful performance package. There’s also FX Down, a price-friendly down option that blends synthetic fibers with down (at varying amounts depending on need), which Allied says solves the issue of clumping that can occur when combining down with common synthetics. And finally, the futuristic ThermaDown utilizes a natural particle-based thermo-reactive nano-coating that, through the emission of infrared energy, increases the natural benefits of down, says the company.

 

In much the same way that winter brands are searching for ways to grab year-round shelf space, accessory leader Coghlan’s is expanding its product set from largely summer camping accessories to items that address emergency preparedness when the days get shorter and weather gets less hospitable. Among such new items for 2014 are cedar and refined wax Fire Discs, designed to help start a wood fire or as an emergency source of heat for cooking; Paracord bracelets, which unravel to 9 feet and have a break strength of 500 pounds; a new hiker Air Horn; and its Bowl of Bear Bells. New lighting options are also key for Coghlan’s including its new Adhesive Signal Lights, which can serve as re-usable bread crumbs to light a way back to camp. The adhesive lights are visible up to a half mile away and shine for 80 hours (up to 400 hours in cold temperatures, says Coghlan’s).

 

Coghlan’s Signal Light beats bread crumbs and disposable light sticks

 

 

New colors available in the ECCO’s BIOM HIKE boot and BIOM TERRAIN light hiker reflect the trend back toward more muted tones in upper constructions, as opposed to the fire engine reds and bright greens that began to dominant upper materials just a few summers ago. ECCO also is moving its innovative BIOM technology, originally developed for its high-performance running and trail shoes, into new causal and outdoor lifestyle models. Since performance in footwear is much about overall comfort, stability and support, the transfer of BIOM into more everyday footwear was a logical move. Examples include both the BIOM GRIP LITE and the BIOM HYBRID walk lines for both men and women.

 

BIOM goes everyday with the ECCO BIOM GRIP LITE line

 

Elsewhere is footwear, the booth at Blundstone was blowing up. The Australian company is rebranding and re-engaging with the U.S. market, taking the classic Blundstone look into an impressive assortment of shoes, boots and gumboots in a variety of fabrications, from denim to polished leathers. So far, the strategy is working, as the mature brand experienced a 35% increase in sales in 2013, compared to its historical annual growth of 5 to 6%.

 

 

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Just a small sampling of the new Blundstone

 Much the same can be said about the Headsweats booth, where there was enough news and new offerings to make a head spin. For starters, the company unveiled some trendy new prints and colors within its women’s offerings (including coral and aqua), expanded its use of reflectivity and reflective heat transfers (talk about your logo popping); incorporated Icefil, a material that cools the wearer when its wet; and updated capabilities of its in-house sublimation, whereby graphics can be placed on elastic as well as all other parts of the hat.

 

DryGuy found a way to hit on two hot categories with one product: portable energy (certainly our most popular giveaway at the show) and portable warmers (also check out GV snowshoes reusable hand warmers). The new GreenHeat is a small portable smartphone charger that doubles as a reusable hand and body warming device. It offers two temperature settings, up to five hours of runtime and an included knit cozy and charger cord. Rather than managing and minimizing the heat produced by a charger, Dry-Guy has put it to use.

 

Cool points also go to Nite Ize for its new INOVA STS Headlamp and its Swipe-to-Shine Technology. The INOVA’s simple user interface allows the user to easily turn on the light in any color or mode with a swipe of a finger. That includes easily turning the lamp off/on, changing LED color and switching between high, variable dim, low, strobe and lockout mode. Nite Ize also introduced several clever and convenient smartphone accessories that take advantage of the popularity of the most ubiquitous device ever known to man.

 

Nite Ize Swipe-to-Shine featured on the INOVA STS

 

Back-to-school got more interesting for outdoor dealers, as Granite Gear, now under its new owners, is moving its familiar brand and rock-solid reputation into the school yard. “We see a tremendous opportunity within the back-to-school market to provide a technical bag that truly meets the loading and comfort needs of today’s students and at a very competitive price,” said Rob Coughlin, Granite Gear’s VP of sales. Each of the 13 packs within the collection offers an angular shape and taller frame, which mirror traditional backpack designs for better load-carrying comfort and distribution of weight, says the company. Other features include water-repellent fabrics and zippers and Gear-Tec technology protection to keep electronics secure and dry. SRPs range from about $40 to $75.

 

The Superior Pack leads Granite Gear’s back-to-school matriculation

 

Eagle Creek continues to make traveling almost too easy. (Kids today are so spoiled.) Efficient use of space and durable construction have become a given. The company is now focused on clever and innovative ways to improve packing organization (deeper incorporation of its Pack-It Cubes), adapt to trip conditions (updated Morphus conversion luggage and bags) and happily navigate the airport experience (check out the ExpandStand hinged foot). Next up for Eagle Creek is weaning outdoor adventure travelers off two-wheeled bags and into the four-wheeled revolution.

 

Eagle Creek Morpheus adapts to your adventure

 

If you’re looking for an insulated high-altitude jacket that does it all, check out Montane and its new Axion Neo Alpha jacket. An early adopter of Polartec’s hyper breathable NeoShell, it also features breathable Polartex Alpha insulation; breathable liner; higher than normal stitch counts on all seams; technical tailoring and articulated arms to prevent lower hem ride-up and seam constriction; fully adjustable, helmet-compatible hood; removable snow skirt; internal water bottle pocket; and that’s just the beginning. For full body protection, there’s also the new and equally impressive Alpine Neo mountaineering pant.

 

Montane Axiom features Polartec NeoShell

 

Anyone who requires the full functionality of the Axion jacket and Alpine Neo pant likely welcomes the widening availability of avalanche air bags. Seizing on this trend, Osprey introduced the Kode ABS Compatible Series utilizing ABS’s Vario system to combine Osprey innovation and attention to detail with airbag protection. Typical of Osprey, the packs leave little to be desired while utilizing the removable ABS standard zippered attachment via the backpanel to integrate the Vario system.

 

Air bags can be optional with the Osprey Kode ABS

 

Perhaps the biggest news in airbags, however, came from Black Diamond, which introduced a new JetForce technology that uses a battery powered fan to inflate a 200-liter airbag. The JetForce system allows up to four inflations with a fully charged battery, making practice economical and convenient. The lithium-ion battery may have its own travel issues when flying, but they should be simpler to deal with than canisters of pressurized gas. A nifty aspect of these packs is the use of software to control how the fan inflates the airbag. This electrically based system can sense if the airbag has been punctured and respond by staying on to maintain at least 150 liters of displacement in the event of a 5-inch gash.

 

 

Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce Pack

 

If you love the look and feel of handcrafted cutlery, be sure to check out Helle of Norway’s booth at the next OR. Beautiful and well-balanced, most Helle knives also use a proprietary triple-laminate steel consisting of a high carbon core wrapped with softer 18/8 stainless steel. The high carbon core reportedly holds an exceptionally sharp edge, while the outer layers are softer for easy re-sharpening throughout a lifetime of use.

 

And kudos go to Sierra Designs’ product marketing team for foregoing the temptation to name new products after esoteric mountain ranges or some techy-sounding acronym. This season Sierra Designs’ new products were labeled simply what they are: we were shown the new DriDown Hoody, the new DriDown Baffled Parka (both stuffed with 800-fill hydrophobic DriDown) and the new DriDown Rain Jacket (600-fill). When backed by the SD brand and history, need they really say more?

 

Sierra Design’s Women’s DriDown Hoody, ‘nuff said