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Outdoor Performance Apparel: A Look Back, and a Look Forward

The nine months since Covid-19 first shook the world certainly have sent tensions soaring in the apparel supply chain. But amid all the challenges posed on both the retail and the supply side, the outdoor performance apparel industry has stood its ground as consumers flocked to activities like hiking, cycling, camping, kayaking and swimming.

In June, the Concept III team stressed the positives that the outdoor performance industry needed to acknowledge as it persevered through the pandemic, particularly noting that these consumers still wanted to get outside and wanted quality apparel, keeping demand for workwear and durable attire high.

Now, the textile solutions provider says that there is plenty of activity in textile innovation among its clients, alongside new product development continuing within outdoor brands.

“The outdoor industry has been resilient to the pandemic, and their strong marketing of performance product is appealing to a consumer focused on spending more time outdoors,” said David Parkes, founder and CEO of Concept III. “Inventories appear to have been managed well and the industry has worked together to support a challenged supply chain within a resilient business model.”

To keep inventory in check, brands had been cautious about buying new merchandise throughout 2020, according to Parkes. While the carryover inventory levels are limiting new product adoptions for fall 2021, plenty of new programs will be more evident in fall 2022.

This means that Concept III expects a more apparent, aggressive buying pattern leading into 2021. In particular, the brands that have marketed themselves well during the past several years prior to the pandemic and have a strong online presence are optimistic for 2021.

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That’s not to say outdoor players will have it easy as they acclimate to changes within the supply chain. Disruption in the yarn supply chain in Asia will be challenging as the season progresses, Parkes said. And on top of that, there will be more brands that are consolidating their suppliers to gain a more complete insight of exactly how and where their products are made. In fact, a May McKinsey & Co. survey indicated that 73 percent of sourcing executives plan to consolidate their supplier base by at least 5 percent.

But as has been seen already throughout the pandemic, the brands that can adapt to the changing trends will continue to thrive. Outdoor apparel has already demonstrated this, as more brands pivot to the new realities of the indoors, such as the workplace.

“The new work environment and lifestyle will favor casual, comfortable and performance apparel. We have seen a revolution in workplace habits and attire—and lifestyle in general. Casual fashionable attire and online meetings from home will become more of the norm,” Parkes said.

Even with Covid-19 vaccines now set to be in the pipeline for 2021, which would bring back a sense of pre-pandemic normalcy to the world, Parkes feels that current buying trends aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

“The introduction of—and consumer confidence in—a new vaccine will renew a positive attitude to the future but will not have a short-term impact on the interest in casual, performance lifestyle apparel layers and the brands that live by this styling,” Parkes said.

Whether or not this new work-from-home culture will foster the intersection of performance textiles and casual attire in the long term, Concept III maintains that it will keep a laser focus on managing the supply chain with its customers and maintain a close eye on these trends. While Parkes admits that the supply chain has been fractured to some degree due to the pandemic, “supporting our customers’ business through servicing it even more closely is an important responsibility to us,” he said.

With the outdoor performance apparel industry maintaining its push forward, Concept III will continue to work with its mills to introduce more sustainable processing and more sustainable textiles.

“This is the critical focus of the many new textile innovations we are planning for 2022-2023—it will be a creative period,” Parkes said.

Learn more about Concept III’s role in bringing textile solutions to the outdoor performance market.