Of retailers and consumers who want everything to be backed up by a 100 percent lifetime guarantee. To warrant against manufacturing defect is one thing, to promise the equipment to hold up forever even under normal use quite another.
I'd imagine most people here understand the difference, but for a manufacturer trying to sell to broad audiences through major channels such as REI.com, this is more difficult. REI has a very generous exchange/return policy. This creates an expectation, in my mind, that isn't realistic. It is far less expensive for a manufacturer to overbuild a piece of gear than to have it returned. I have no knowledge of REI's charge-back policy when it comes to such returns; it may charge the returns back to the manufacturer in some instances or it may incur the loss on the return (and make up some of it in the Yard Sale).
The issue is that the frequency of returns may heavily influence future business with REI (or any other retailer for that matter). Manufacturers are competing for a finite amount of retailer shelf/rack space. A retailer is going to bring clothing/goods that are (a) hot sellers and good for business (b) are able to be produced in sufficient demand and (c) result in good margins. Returns erode margins; besides the actual refund they take time and resources to process.
Thus a manufacturer who wants to stay in the good graces of a retailer probably would be inclined to overbuild products that appeal to the widest audience possible (not just Joe-Lightweight-Hiking type). These products have features (alas, feature creep) that differentiate it from other brands.
Unless consumers understand or even care to understand the differences between technical clothing (I think the "will-this-attract-babes-factor" accounts for 98 percent of reason men buy anything)I don't see how manufacturers are going to sell more expensive, less indestructible, lower-frills gear to the public.
Now, there are thousands of products that do not appeal to wide audiences, but appeal to very segmented markets. The trick is to find a way to be profitable while focusing on these segments. Certainly people here are willing to spend significant sums for improved performance and lighter loads. But I'd say that the audience here is on the fringe; up there with audiophiles who argue over the tonal quality of tube and digital gear. These are groups willing to spend proportionately much more on gear than the average consumer, are vastly more versed in the subject material, but represent a tiny percentage of the buying public.
Fortunately, the recession may force some manufacturers to re-think their strategies. They may need to focus on smaller niche markets to boost sales.
However, long-term the only chance of making greater inroads is to change the paradigm of what a wilderness experience is supposed to entail. In the waffle stomper generation of the 1970s the outdoors wasn't cast in such a threatening light. Today we have Man vs. Wild which makes one believe that death on the trail is lurking behind every tree and rock. This does shape attitudes of prospective backpackers. Some might be lured by the "adventure" of the outdoors offered by the show, but I suggest more are made afraid of what they may encounter in the wild.. Suggesting that they might enjoy their experience more by picking up some lightweight gear is counterintuitive to everything they've seen on television. Bear Grills and Les Stroud (who seems profoundly more affable)seem hell-bent on showing you the misery of the situation.
I am so far spinning away from the original question...but if I had the money, I'd really work on creating television programming that promotes lightweight gear in the context of people enjoying some of the most beautiful places in the world. I always thought a well produced, HD cinematic of the most beautiful backpacking venues in America and beyond would attract viewers. I honestly don't think danger needs to be the draw; rather, the grandness of "being there." But hey, I used to think "Sunday Morning" with Charles Kerault was fantastic when he would end the show with narration-free scenes from one place or anotehr; it would be something like "spring from Wyoming" and it would show show-capped mountains, rivers melting out, the song of birds and an occasional fox." Heck, I guess I am just getting old.