There’s no denying that outdoor is “in” — and the industry is rapidly evolving into a larger-than-life category as it deftly darts through the many challenges stemming from the coronavirus pandemic and concurrently caters to a growing, diversified customer base.
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that the outdoor recreation industry generates more than $788 billion a year in consumer spending in the U.S., and the Outdoor Industry Association says the sector is poised for continued growth.
Here, c-level executives from L.L. Bean, Patagonia, Cotopaxi, Ministry of Supply and Arc’teryx weigh in on this year’s industry trends, changes, and the ever-evolving outdoor shopper.
WWD: What consumer changes has L.L. Bean noted during the pandemic? What are shoppers buying?
Stephen Smith: In a year of unprecedented stress, we saw consumers searching for outdoor connections and indoor comfort. Throughout the pandemic, people have been reintroduced to the outdoors — and the wellness benefits that time outside can provide. As such, in the spring, when lockdown orders were in place, we saw many people gravitate toward their backyards or patios with sales increasing in outdoor furniture and backyard games.
Throughout the summer, as restrictions began to lift, we saw a surge in outdoor gear and apparel — such as bikes, boats, fishing equipment and stand-up paddleboards. We also saw an increase in active apparel as everyone geared up to go outside (our women’s active apparel nearly doubled over the summer). In early fall, we continued to see strength in our water and warm weather categories in addition to early purchasing of cold-weather equipment, such as snowshoes, sleds, skis and more. Throughout this year, we’ve also seen incredible growth in our cozy lineup such as our Wicked Good Slippers, fleece, flannel and sweatshirts — all of which is perfect for working from home.
WWD: Has L.L. Bean changed the way it communicates with consumers in the past year? What is the brand doing differently?
S.S.: We’ve wanted to serve as not only a resource for products people may need during this time, but also as a source of inspiration — encouraging customers to safely experience the restorative power of being outside. Throughout the spring and summer, our content teams worked to share tips and ideas on how to navigate the outdoors during the pandemic and make it a part of our customer’s routine. We also wanted to help offset the new pandemic paradigm that exists of work at home, school at home and play at home.
We’ve heard from so many of our employees and customers that while time outside has increased, kids and families are still finding themselves stuck behind screens more than ever. To help alleviate that, we launched a program called The Green Hour in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation that helps kids go from “screen time” to “green time” by providing new outdoor activities for kids to complete each week.
We, along with NWF, share those ideas and activities with our customers and will continue to do so throughout the winter — when it can be so difficult to find the inspiration to get outside.
WWD: L.L. Bean has been in the outdoor business for decades. What do you envision as the future of the outdoor market? What can we expect to see from L.L. Bean?
S.S.: We’ve been in business for 108 years, and our brand has experienced many significant cultural moments: both World Wars, the Great Depression, Great Recession, the coronavirus pandemic and many moments in between. The outdoors will continue to play a prominent role in our lives, so offering products that are versatile and comfortable will continue to be important.
There will be increased focus around providing innovative solutions for customers as well — such as integrating more SunSmart technology or insect repellant fabric into lines. You’ll see us continue to offer our classic, heritage designs as well as taking some of those pieces and offering them up with new and modern twists. That could come in the form of introducing new colorways and patterns, drawing on our archives for vintage inspiration or partnering with like-minded designers who offer a new take — like Todd Snyder.
We have some of the best designers in the business, and they’ll continue to master the art of keeping us true to our outdoor heritage and Americana style, but doing so in a way that is desirable and approachable.
WWD: What consumer trends has Patagonia noted during COVID-19? Are shoppers behaving differently?
Ryan Gellert: We’ve really just seen a reinforcement of the pattern that already exists with our customer base — trending toward purchasing high-quality items that are meant to last a lifetime. And during these days of the pandemic, people are purchasing technical product that supports their outdoor pursuits, in addition to investing in well-made casual items that suit the working from home atmosphere.
We’ve also seen a big shift in our business towards purchasing online, as expected.
WWD: How would you describe the state of the outdoor market? What changes have you seen?
R.G.: At the start of 2020, the outdoor industry was incredibly strong and growing fast, driving a lot of consumer spending. Then the pandemic happened, closing stores and restricted many of us from doing what we love — spending time with friends, in the outdoors. The last nine months have been rough for the industry and Patagonia, like so many of its peers, hasn’t been immune to the economic damage the coronavirus has caused.
We’ve had to delay new store openings and warehouse upgrades as cash got tight and inventory piled up while our stores were closed. But our business is resilient, and I have been amazed at how quickly we have been able to adapt to this new normal — and I have seen that same resilience across our industry. And on the positive side, spending time outside is more important than ever as we continue to tend to our mental health.
I suspect that the outdoor industry will thrive through the end of 2020 and into 2021 as we embrace a new sense of purpose. I also suspect we will see many retailers consider new ways of doing business — it’s time to chart a new course in recognition of our new reality, even as we move past COVID-19.
WWD: What will we see from Patagonia in the near future?
R.G.: I would like to highlight three things you will see from us in the near future, all focused on our core commitment to our mission statement: “We Are in Business to Save Our Home Planet.”
In coming seasons, we are making less product — we can get more done with less.
We are challenging ourselves to push the envelope with regards to our product’s environmental footprint. As such, we’ve developed an Environmental Profit and Loss Statement (EPLS) that our product team is now using to make more precise product decisions, starting with the fall 2022 season. This new tool will help us to better understand our carbon and water-usage impact at a product-by-product level, which will have a profound impact on our business. We will be sharing more about the EPLS tool in the coming year.
We are working to embed our Worn Wear program more directly into the heart of our business. Worn Wear is a program and relationship that we’ve had with our customers for years now in an effort to keep product in use longer. Putting this program right at the center of our business doesn’t just make good business sense – it’s the right thing to do and the future of shopping. The four tenants of Worn Wear are to reduce (consumption), repair, reuse and recycle. We plan to build on this program in the coming year.
WWD: What are some of the major consumer trends Cotopaxi saw emerge during the pandemic? Has the outdoor consumer changed?
James Hampton: Overall, the pandemic has forced us to adventure closer to home. In the early days while most of us were living under quarantine, there was a noticeable increase in activities that promoted getting out of the house for short periods of time like walking, jogging, hiking and biking. As restrictions began to ease and we got into the summer months, there was a significant increase in car camping and other outdoor recreational activity.
Consumer dollars shifted from travel and entertainment to outdoor and welcomed a new generation of outdoor participants that aren’t looking to necessarily stand on top of the mountain, but prefer to get out of the house, relax in nature, and have a good time.
WWD: How did Cotopaxi pivot its operations in the last year?
J.H.: In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cotopaxi, like most companies, took quick action to address the initial impacts we experienced. We developed a comprehensive plan to address the economic realities of the situation across the entire business. We held daily standups with our executive team and held weekly touchpoints with our entire company to discuss results and develop strategies to address the constantly changing conditions.
How we met and interacted around the situation presented to us really bonded the team and allowed us to make decisions from an objective standpoint. These actions have helped us throughout COVID-19 but will also make us a healthier business for the long term. We developed a new product — our Teca Face Mask — that helped sales, but also accelerated our total impact for the year by providing a face mask to someone in need for every Cotopaxi face mask sold.
WWD: Has the pandemic changed the way Cotopaxi communicates with its customer?
J.H.: Being a mission-led company with a great culture of customer experience, COVID-19 didn’t alter how Cotopaxi provides customer service. We also maintained our perspective on our target customer which leads strategies across product design and marketing programs. We did incorporate shifts in customer behavior during COVID to reposition key products and develop capsule programs to better support how our customer is spending their time.
Ministry of Supply
WWD: How is Ministry of Supply differentiated in the outdoor/outerwear market?
Aman Advani: We use the latest in textile science and production techniques to solve everyday wardrobe problems. For example, we introduced the Mercury Intelligent Heated Jacket to address the common issue of temperature control (i.e. temperature changes on the commute to work as well as personal microclimates in a shared setting, like an office). Not only is this jacket voice-controlled, but it also automatically heats to the right temperature and learns the wearer’s behavior over time for optimized comfort.
Another example is our Great Auk Down-Less Parka. Many parkas on the market use down and other animal products. We wanted to create an ethical, sustainable option for consumers that doesn’t compromise performance (it insulates against 10ºF to -10ºF) with no hidden ecological costs. The parka is made with recycled materials and features a NASA-invented Aerogel that mimics how lofty down and weather-proof feathers protect birds.
WWD: Would you share how sustainability is embedded within the Ministry of Supply brand?
A.A.: Sustainability is deeply embedded within our mission, as well as our supply chain. Over the past few years, we’ve focused on developing smarter, cutting-edge manufacturing techniques that not only yield better garments but also make for more efficient and sustainable manufacturing. We dramatically cut down on material waste with a huge investment in 3-D knitting, reduced excess inventory with on-demand manufacturing, and have consistently created timeless, durable pieces that will endure.
We also launched our Built-to-Order line as a sustainable way to provide affordable personalization to customers. This on-demand model enables rapid prototyping, allowing us to bring new garments and styles to market faster and better control inventory. It also cuts down on inventory waste, with no need to forecast demand, order excess inventories in advance or manage warehouse inventories.
This year, we became Climate Neutral Certified, meaning we have measured the greenhouse gases emitted when we make and deliver products to our customers. Our carbon footprint of 2,534 metric tonnes of CO2e has been fully offset. Our cofounder, Gihan, was also just elected to Climate Neutral’s Board of Directors, in large part due to his unique approach in using science as a driver for promoting our planet’s wellbeing.
WWD: Has the Ministry of Supply shopper changed in the past year, and has the brand itself had to pivot to meet new needs?
A.A.: The Ministry of Supply consumer hasn’t necessarily changed this year, but their lifestyle has. People are no longer spending their days in an office environment or traveling for work — two use-cases a lot of our garments were optimized for. To meet the needs of these new lifestyles, we introduced a line of clothing designed for working from just about anywhere. Our Fusion Overshirt is a great example of a piece that not only looks good on Zoom, but is also versatile enough to layer for outdoor dining.
We were in a unique position to make these shifts, thanks to our agile supply chain. Our supply chain agility allowed us to be incredibly nimble and reactive to shifts in demand and consumer shopping over the past six months. Because we’re ahead of the curve in this sense, we have room to take a more conscientious approach to retail even in the midst of such uncertain times. We thoroughly think through the impact that our products and manufacturing processes have on the environment, the end-user and the industry at-large.
WWD: How do you see the outdoor market evolving? How has it changed in the past year?
Jon Hoerauf: The outdoor market has now become the “outside” market. People are looking to reconnect with nature wherever they live. It can be in the mountains, or a city park, or in their own garden. People have embraced weaving nature much more into their daily lives.
WWD: Has the Arc’teryx consumer changed its needs, priorities or product selections? Did the brand see a new type of outdoor consumer emerge during the pandemic?
J.H.: Yes and no. Our guest has always prioritized getting outside and quality over quantity. I believe people have used this time to hit the pause button and take a look at themselves and what is important to them. People have become more intentional in their work, families and the choices they make when spending their hard-earned money. A brand like ours has actually expanded our reach during this pandemic as people have leaned on their values to make decisions and they see Arc’teryx as a brand that aligns with them.
WWD: Let’s talk about the outdoor luxury sector. What trends have you noted, and what can we expect to see next from Arc’teryx?
J.H.: The word “luxury” has a few different meanings. The one we like is great comfort. People are living and working in their performance wear daily. Quality, fit, responsibility and ease of care are super important. People do also want to look good and be able to move effortlessly throughout their life. We see that continuing. As for what is next — our goal is to always create experiences and solve problems that people didn’t even know existed; and then be amazed when they discover it.
For more Business news from WWD, see:
Outdoor Brands Talk Coronavirus Impacts
Brick-and-Mortar, Digital Retailers Adjust Strategies in Wake of Coronavirus
Field Notes: How Fabric Is Helping Save the Planet
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