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Outdoor Retailer/SLC and NYC

Coming to a garment (or shoe)... near you...

Over the few years that we have been reviewing performance wear/gear...what's getting consumers to fork over serious dinero often results from breakthroughs in the materials used...that make the apparel/footwear easier to put on/off, more comfortable- imbued with ergonomic and thermo-physiological functionalities that are key to keeping the wearers protected from the elements, and odor free.

All while getting manufactured-from cradle to delivery (as in from dirt to shirt, i.e.)-in a way-that harms our planet less...and is traceable.

At a Concept III /American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC) sponsored seminar, hosted by Emily Walzer of Textile Insight Magazine,  that kicked things off for us at the most recent OR...several speakers spoke about textile trends, designs and the "payoff" in the performance textile biz.

Starting off....was David Parkes-CEO and founder of Concept III- reminding the packed meeting room-that what is different about the broadly monikered "Outdoor Industry" from other apparel the people -who are passionately involved in the outdoors- why they are employed accordingly, ---and therefore very passionate about our forests, lakes, streams, oceans etc, vs bottom line, profit driven. In fact no one we have ever met at this tradeshow ever wanted to get rich quick (or more slowly...) as a reason to work for a company in this biz...

But as companies need to earn their keep...Parkes pointed out what we are sure everyone there knew---that great textiles differentiate a brand----as well as the marketing and branding of brands, particularly in the USA.

Next up was Dr. Andreas Schmit, Director of function and care at the Hohenstein Institute -an international German based company that test textiles, under real life simulated conditions....for performance aspects like UV protection, breathability and strength of garments made via body mapping technology (where we heat up/sweat first-or get cold, need "more strength-like shoulder areas on backpacking jackets...).

Interesting (and a tad depressing)--- were the new technologies developed to measure the comfort and protection levels of materials that are needed to not only provide thermal insulation, improve drying times, and moisture management  efficiencies...but also to cool us down, and for how long it chills-in a time of global warming....under the term "buffering capacity." 

This is an important new test, Schmitt thought as "...cooling technologies are BIG." 

Agreed-nothing like doing an Ironman in hot humid weather---to appreciate an outfit that claims to reduce surface body temps by a degree or three. Companies already thinking along these lines---Schoeller ( coldblack™), and Columbia Sportswear-who debuted their  Omni-Freeze Zero Freeze Degree material at this show's Demo Day...made of a polyester wicking material that (magically) uses wearer's body heat to expand the doughnut shaped rings (visible in the material) to rid the garment of moisture-resulting in a measurable cooling effect. 

The importance of brand value is never underestimated, and Dr. Sam Moore an associate professor, at North Carolina State University pointed out how "sustainability" is important to customers of outdoor brands.

Lastly, and most interesting to us---was branding expert, Dr. Mats Georgson, founder, Georgson & Co. Consultants, Sweden-speech---who began by pointing out that most of everyday industry is "a herd" one has to think in different ways to break out and truly create a brand. His thinking...this goes beyond quality, preformance, design and value---as these kinds of products...eventually all look the same and rely on similar looking marketing. 

To break the mold is a "process driven thinking...not just we make 'X' be very good at something for some specific people and not be very good at just stuff."

Thus to make something for specific customers is what drives individuals to create products that create strong brands....with two different approaches:

Wide-that's quality, performance and design driven---for those with a budget (need $s)...and a realization that consumers are not the revolutionary drivers. Georgson sites Apple and its founder, Steve Jobs who famously quipped, " is not the customer’s job to know what they want.”

And...Tall=what drives a brand is what one is better at-what product one would win a gold medal at. To be strategically smarter about why a product exists---also results in what Georgson called a halo effect-where a company is best at one thing but consumers will think that they are better at everything.

Other thoughts-don't see branding as something one sticks on a label-in the end---but start to think about it first. As in one of his clients-Urbanears™---that makes a rainbow's worth of fashion driven earphones for portable devices...and Patagonia- with a credibility that resonates with consumers (and its brand competitors, for that matter).

All made possible by value centered leadership driving the innovative process with niche products...that are special as a reason for being. And as Tom Chappel of Tom's of Maine fame noted at an Oeko-Tex seminar we attended a few weeks back-in NYC---for companies to make products that are good for consumers, adhere to environmentally sound practices...and also to identify beyond those same products they make.  

At the show itself-PrimaLoft® served up a performance fleece made of its new yarn that really blew us a good way. In addition to this now privately owned company's used by like everyone-short staple insulations, and continuous filament insulations...the new PrimaLoft® YARN (patented)-genius-ly performs like its insulation brethren=moisture wicking, warm when wet, super easy care, and durable. And beyond soft--- cashmere-like is not an understatement. 

FYI-it's a knittable yarn made from micro denier PrimaLoft® fibers that are finer than cashmere. And how warm---usually when we layer up for cooler temps---we are not even hot-even though we are still in the heated indoors. The curse (and benefits) of no body heat. But when we put on the demo fleece PrimaLoft gave us ---made from this new yarn-we were warmed up right away-without lifting up more than our arms to get the pull-over on. Hallelujah. And super thin, stretchy enough... we cannot wait for some fashion label to use it to make a seamed, flattering long trench like coat for the market. No static either...and water resistant. 

After the show...we met up with folks from Rogers Corporation's, high performance Poron®  cushioning and anti-impact materials---that end up in a slew of footwear, insoles, protective occupational, safety, and defense equipment and sporting gear, and apparel. 

How important impact equipment is ---just ask any beginner snowboarder who rides on East coast ice---a very big deal---and now Poron® packed apparel is lightweight, flexible, contouring and properly sized...making it comfy too, versus the hockey padding bulk we used to wear.

There's a new PORON® Vive Energy Activated Cushioning specifically for athletic footwear applications such as insoles and midsoles that offer the best combination of long-lasting cushioning, shock absorption and energy return. And it's resilient too. So important---and since its based on open-cell technology-it allows for comfortable airflow too. Personally-we cannot wait to try in running shoes...where we can def. feel the difference in energy returns---as in wearing a new pair of kickers---vs running in a pair that's logged in 500 miles.

-J. Ecochard