The New Outdoorist

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A long time ago I was working with European outdoor apparel design teams that wanted to define their work through the eyes of the end user. We used two basic groups to represent the differing points of view and referred to them as the recreationist and the enthusiast.

The recreationist, we reasoned, was focused on the physical nature of themselves and the world around them. These individuals were concerned about whether they were fit enough and knowledgeable enough, and were especially concerned about having the “right” gear. We put a lot of pockets and zippers into their design briefs. The Brits liked to call this community the bog walkers.

The enthusiasts were defined as being more connected to their emotional state. When out adventuring they were looking forward to an intimate mind-body experience with the natural world. Enthusiasts expected gear to be transparent to, and supportive of, their personal pursuit of passion. This group’s apparel was highly technical in fabrication and more minimalist in design. We referred to this group as go-fast-man.

There was no hard line between the two groups and we knew plenty of people somewhere in the middle. However, we felt that beginners usually enter as recreationists and become more enthusiastic and aspirational about outdoor activities as time goes by. Our merchandising plans were crafted to arrange the product offering in such a way as to promote that transition to the more technical, and more profitable, styles. We were successful.

I bring up this ancient history because it was a big mistake to merchandise this way. And, also, because the current unprecedented surge in outdoor participants provides an opportunity to change the resulting hyper-technical legacy.

The mistake was that most every company in the Outdoor Industry simultaneously realized that by adding a bunch of useless features to high priced technical apparel brands could sell it to novices and poseurs by the boatload. The result, as industry guru John Cooley so eloquently pointed out at the time is, “we began to sell jackets and we stopped selling where the jackets went.” In so doing the Industry happily turned away from entry level product and painted itself into the cultural and socio-economic corner that it currently occupies.

However, times have changed.

Today’s emerging outdoor customers, let’s call them outdoorists, will no doubt in the beginning turn to the retail channels and brands that they trust for outdoor apparel and equipment purchases. Pandemic shopping habits have overwhelmingly favored the internet platforms and big box stores over smaller, local retailers. Outdoor brands with access to these mega channels should reach out and do a deep dive into the values, opinions and needs of this new outdoor consumer.

The industry has an opportunity to change its reputation for being elitist and technically opaque. It can become more prescriptive and less descriptive in product offerings. You and I know that with more and more outdoor experience comes the desire for better and better gear. The challenge: What exactly does that mean to the new outdoor consumer?

Disclaimer: Mr. Gray once thought he had a mind-body connection but they were able to remove it at the doctor’s office. The Publisher may not share in his diagnosis or professional opinions.

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History of Cloth
Audience Expansion
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