3 Ways Outdoor Apparel Brands are Embracing Their New Challenges
Like many of you, we want our year to be filled with outdoor excursions, which means we need adventure-ready attire. In that excitement, we rounded up an expert panel to chat about how outdoor industry studios are innovating to meet new challenges in content creation.
In this piece, we were joined by:
- Clair Carter-Ginn, Partner, Forecast
- Colleen Devanie, Manager, Studio Operations, REI
- Lindsey Di Ruscio, Photo Studio Manager, Trove
- Scott Willson, Director of Photo Studio, Patagonia
They covered a wide range of topics, so here we round a few key challenges facing outdoor apparel—and inventive solutions to overcome those obstacles.
Recommerce—Loose Threads and All—Brings New Business
Outdoor apparel is, in large part, by and for people who want to appreciate the planet. So brands in this space are always looking to improve their conservation efforts, and that means limiting waste from returned garments.
A growing market for recommerce is pushing outdoor brands toward a bunch of innovative solutions, including partnerships with third parties such as Di Ruscio’s Trove, which manages brands’ recommerce sites, including Patagonia’s Worn Wear and REI’s Good & Used.
“If the product is in great shape, if it can be resold, then it goes down the shoot to Lindsey [and the rest of the Trove team], and she puts it on their site and takes care of all that,” Willson says.
If a returned garment can’t be resold as-is, that doesn’t mean it’s heading for a landfill, Willson explains. “Maybe half of the jacket is in great shape, but the other half is falling apart,” he says. “Rather than throw that away, Patagonia disassembles these pieces and rebuilds them into new pieces.”
Here’s where even more creative troubleshooting comes in. Patagonia has design and production teams that recraft five or six new garment styles out of salvaged components. “They’re not just Frankesteining together a bunch of different products to an existing style,” Willson says. “You can't just automate this. Someone has to look at their available colors and choose colorways for pockets, sleeves, collars, and the whole thing.”
When it comes to content creation for these items, it’s another way the industry is growing—comfortable with imperfection. The goal with recommerce product shots is no longer to perfectly mimic the style guide for new product imagery. Instead of hiding that loose thread in post-production, let’s highlight it, the trend suggests.
“For Patagonia, for example, we do the photography for their used gear,” Di Ruscio says. “If a puffy jacket comes in and has some thread pulls or a professional patch on it, we’ll photograph the item and also take a detailed shot of the flaw.”
The big idea behind these busted threads is consumer trust. Acknowledge a garment’s deformities, and the recommerce shopper who buys it won’t have remorse.
We predict that the growth of recommerce—especially in outdoor apparel, but even more broadly—will continue in 2021 and beyond. And according to the recent McKinsey & Company State of Fashion 2021 report, which they jointly publish with the Business of Fashion, broader themes in sustainability are trends that have taken hold across fashion over the past year.
Fresh Air for All!
One of the key benefits to the rise of recommerce mentioned above is that, at used gear price points, the outdoors (and gear-intensive outdoor activities) become accessible to even more people. “I think that one of the ‘great’ things about the great outdoors is simply that it is available to everybody if they step outside,” Carter-Ginn says.
But of course, not everyone feels equally entitled to the outdoors, or to particular outdoor activities, if they don’t feel represented by outdoor apparel providers.
That’s why, at REI, Devanie and her team are looking at diversity and inclusion efforts in the studio—“both in front of and behind the camera,” Devanie says.
But a remaining challenge for depicting diversity on models is a lack of range in sample sizes, Devanie explains. “We’re all used to getting sample sizes,” Devanie says, “and oftentimes those are the only samples available in the timeframe that you need to get your work done.”
When possible, as a workaround, REI’s studio team waits until their distribution center has the item, allowing them to order more sizes. And at Patagonia, Willson has pushed for diversity beyond the binary bookends of a women’s small and, say, double-extra large. “That to me felt more inclusive rather than saying there are two buckets of sizes, and we're going to shine spotlights on these two extreme ends of it, which isn't realistic,” Willson says.
If more of us feel like we belong in the wilderness, that’s good for people and the planet. So count us among those applauding the panelists’ companies for their work in inclusion.
A Sunny Forecast is the New Seasonal
When the pandemic forced outdoor apparel teams to work from home, piles of to-be-shot products built up in unreachable offices. As the backlog mounted, seasons stacked, and once-timely styles for summer sat with would’ve-been-featured ensembles for fall.
So when Willson’s Patagonia team returned to the office in July, they faced what Willson called a “black hole” of backlogged merchandise. “We spent most of [summer 2020] trying to get caught up on what was still left of the line,” Willson says.
The fix? Forget any slated seasonal promotions. Start shooting whichever items have the best sales projections. At Patagonia, fresh collections were created out of products new and old—whatever it took to feature those high-forecast items—leaving content creation teams to use discretion in new ways.
“This last year changed the idea of the key item, because the key items were so clear before for merchandising, in terms of what they wanted all of us to highlight in content creation, and how many images, and what they needed,” Carter-Ginn says. “Now it's like, ‘All right, what do we have in the distribution center that we need to get online?’ because we've still got it.’”
Our panelists have seen the backlog addressed through other time-saving hacks, like shooting kids SKUs (they require less styling) and eliminating less crucial shots (see: arm folds). But Willson’s team has carried this practice of prioritizing by revenue forecast into 2021.
And this catch-up, think-beyond-seasonal strategies will still matter this year, because the backlog problem continues. As a March article in The Wall Street Journal points out, fashion merchandise is one of many industries still affected by lagging supply chains. (Willson’s team, for instance, is currently shooting their fall 2021 line but has only half of their items.)
Devanie and her REI team are seeing the continued lag as well. “Inventory issues have been real this year, and have caused us to react and adjust where we're getting our content from,” Devanie says. But there’s an urgency to post content, she says, “because the entire world is realizing how important it is to get outside right now, and they need the gear to do that.”
So whether you’re jumping in a kayak or simply picking up your coffee in your best outdoorsy threads, it’s nice to know that the industry’s leaders are so conscientious. While a lot of their merchandise has a time-tested aesthetic, the people behind it are boundary-pushing innovators.
“You just have to get to the point where you start fresh every day,” Willson says. “The things that work, you keep, and the things that don’t—whether they're old and legacy or whether they're new—you get rid of. It permits you to get rid of stuff that you wanted to, but that some people hold onto.”