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Why It Pays for Fashion Brands to Embrace the Great Outdoors

The crisp air is luring consumers back to trails, camping grounds and national parks, teeing up new opportunities for apparel brands and retailers to serve up “gorpcore” essentials.

Coined by The Cut in 2017 as a catchall phrase to describe outdoor-inspired fashion with street appeal, gorpcore is playing a large role in the outdoor apparel category’s growth spurt. In 2018, the outdoor clothing market was valued at approximately $12.7 billion and was forecast to reach a value of $19.6 billion by 2026, Statisa reported.

Indeed, the Great Outdoors is having a moment. The NPD Group reported that the outdoor market generated $6.1 billion in U.S. retail sales in 2020. With hiking, cycling, climbing and trail running being some of the few somewhat safe, socially distanced respites during the pandemic, all signs point to a booming future for outdoor individual sports or activities that can be enjoyed in small groups.

“As consumers have sought ways to be active, outside, and practice social distancing both in their backyards and other outdoor settings, camping, water sports and additional areas of the market experienced year-over-year growth in sales,” NPD stated.

Fashion is capitalizing on the outdoor movement with gorpcore product assortments and marketing campaigns. “Retailers have been quick to capitalize on the Great Outdoors trend, identifying the market as a key opportunity in recent financial statements,” retail analytics firm Edited stated, noting that Kohl’s anticipates “top line growth” for its expanded outdoor active range and that VF Corp has slated outdoor revenue to increase 23-25 percent in the 2022 fiscal year.

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The booming outdoor category puts the Wrangler ATG line in an optimal position for expansion, and the brand is swiftly acting with the introduction of two new distribution partners: American sporting goods store chain Academy Sports and Swiss sporting goods retailer Intersport. Specifically, consumers are spending much of their time outdoors fishing—an activity Wrangler is celebrating with its Wrangler Angler collection announced on Investor Day in May. Launching next year, the collection aims to be the go-to apparel choice for fishing garb for men and women.

The growing popularity of outdoor activities tee up new opportunities for apparel brands and retailers to serve up “gorpcore” essentials.
Wrangler Courtesy

Performance denim brand Duer is in expansion mode as well. Along with plans to open a new store in California, the brand recently opened a new flagship in Vancouver “transformed into a sensory experience” with a “performance playground” that includes Rad Power bikes and 3D installations built from eucalyptus, recycled plastic bottles, and wood chips.

Selling gorpcore

Gorpcore is the product of blurring lines between outdoor and fashion. Lightweight fabrics, water-repellent technology and stretch are elements of gorpcore’s DNA that also resonate with city commuters.

“Comfort emerges as a priority across core industry players, alongside adjustable and functional elements such as zips, hoods and pockets,” Edited stated.

Meanwhile, fleece jackets, performance leggings, gilets, footwear with heavy tread soles and accessories like water bottles are ways that mass retailers are getting into the gorpcore game.

In March, Madewell partnered with Parks Project, a National Parks conservation organization, to celebrate parks with a wanderlust collection of sustainable tops and accessories. The collection included 100 percent recycled cotton staples for men and women, including a retro Yosemite National Park hooded sweatshirt and T-shirts with graphics that pay homage to Joshua Tree, Saguaro and Zion National Parks. The collection also offered a reusable BPA-free plastic bottle. Each purchase came with a co-branded “Leave it Better” cleanup pack, complete with a biodegradable trash bag and gloves to encourage shoppers to take care of the environment.

The growing popularity of outdoor activities tee up new opportunities for apparel brands and retailers to serve up “gorpcore” essentials.
Madewell Courtesy

Supporting national parks is among the outdoor themes retailers are using in their gorpcore marketing. Urban Outfitters touted items like Teva sandals and trail shorts in a camping edit earlier this year, while Timberland encouraged consumers to get out and explore on National Boot Day (April 13).

This fall, Lucky Brand debuted “Play for the Parks,” a digital content series featuring Grammy-nominated musician Andrew Bird and Iron & Wine performing acoustic sets inside California’s Yosemite National Park. The campaign included a $25,000 donation by the denim brand to support efforts to preserve national parks.

Other retailers are taking an outdoors-y approach to promote staple items like loungewear. For instance, Fashion Nova “pushed seamless bike shorts and crop tops suitable for ‘a hike and a picnic’ alongside knit sneakers and a bucket hat,” Edited stated.

What’s next for gorpcore

While puffer coats will be a mainstay in fall/winter gorpcore assortments, Edited sees a seaside theme “bubbling up” for Spring/Summer 2022.

For Gen Z, this means bright colors and literal under-the-sea motifs like starfish and shells that harness a vacation vibe. Bermuda shirts, bikinis and swim shorts call for tropical prints, while layered jewelry made with natural materials will introduce an eclectic bohemian look.

For millennials, “look to achieve a middle ground between functional and fashionable, pairing seasonal color palettes and silhouettes with high-performance materials and products,” Edited stated, adding that garments made with quick-drying fabrics will appeal to consumers escaping cities for quieter coastal living.

Preppy classics like Breton tops, chinos and boat shoes—all in a nautical color palette—make up the seaside wardrobe for boomers. “This generation is focused on spending quality time with friends and family, enjoying life’s simple pleasures—nature being top of the list,” Edited stated.