What would YOU tell an outdoor fabric manufacturer?
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Jason Klass
(jasonklass) - F

Locale: Parker, CO
What would YOU tell an outdoor fabric manufacturer? on 02/15/2009 17:45:46 MST Print View

OK, so, I was invited to be on a panel for a leading outdoor fabric company to brainstorm new ideas for technical clothing. In an effort to make the backpacking community heard, I'd like to gather some of your ideas on things you like/don't like about your rain shells, gloves, layers, etc. and present your ideas for things you'd like to see that don't exist yet.

To submit your pet peeves about outdoor clothing and suggest some ideas for improvement, please answer the 2 simple questions on my blog: http://jasonklass.blogspot.com/2009/02/outdoor-manufactures-are-listening-what.html

I will bring them to the panel and present them.

NOTE: Please reply on my blog and not the forum so I can have all of your ideas in one place--they will be a nightmare to compile otherwise.

Thanks in advance for your help! Let's see if we can get some of our dream gear out there!

Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
Re: What would YOU tell an outdoor fabric manufacturer? on 02/15/2009 19:03:32 MST Print View

I want a "No Frills" 5 ounce Event Jacket.

This can be done using the lighter 2 ply material.

Edited by awsorensen on 02/15/2009 19:04:19 MST.

Bradford Rogers
(Mocs123) - MLife

Locale: Southeast Tennessee
Also posted on the blog on 02/15/2009 22:02:52 MST Print View

I have had a problem overheating in my rain gear. I would love to see more manufactures here in the US utilize eVent, and of course would love a light weight eVent jacket with pit zips.

I have had a problem overheating in wind shirts. What happed to the days when a wind shirt was a wind shirt? Why do all gear makers think they need to make their windshirts so water repellant that they don’t breathe? In my opinion most of the windshirts out there today are too hot for all day backpacking and still not water repellant enough to replace a rain jacket, so they end up not being good for anything.

I have a problem finding basic insulation layers. I would love to see a no frills insulation layer like the BMW Cacoon pullover. No pockets, no extra stitching, just basic insulation. I find this a even bigger problem with pants. The ones I have all have pockets (which aren’t even insulated, so they are useless), a fly, and full leg zips. I would love a pair of sweatpant style insulating pants. Elastic waist, elastic cuffs no pockets, no fly, just a lot of warmth for the weight. If a piece of clothing is a mid layer, like Mico Puff, Thermawrap, etc, then it doesn’t really need pockets. Simple is better.

I have a problem finding a good pair of waterproof handwear. I would love to see a major manufacture make lightweight waterproof mitts, similar to the MLD eVent ones. They could be GT, eVent, or a proprietary material, factory taped, and slightly more durable than the MLD ones.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: What would YOU tell an outdoor fabric manufacturer? on 02/16/2009 00:05:45 MST Print View

Simplicity, functionality and minimal frills.
Freeping Creaturitis is their biggest enemy.
But the retailers don't like it.

Cheers

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
I think I'd tell them the necessity to change expectations on 02/16/2009 01:42:40 MST Print View

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.

Brian UL
(MAYNARD76)

Locale: New England
Re: I think I'd tell them the necessity to change expectations on 02/16/2009 03:35:49 MST Print View

Interesting, lightweight and simply designed gear need not be less durable or at least not by much. I would think simpler gear would make it easier to manufacture and gear that is technical need not be ugly- it need not be a fashion statement either. I mean a simple black pullover fleece can be worn in public and on the trail.
Its all a matter of striking the right balance.
Gear seems to be designed to look expensive and stylish or to look expensive and ultra technical.
I have a theory that a lot of outdoor gear is designed to make sure you look like a hiker who has a job and money to spend because stuff like hiking can make one look superficially like a dirty transient. But people who love the outdoors except being dirty and smelly as part of the sport and are more concerned with weight and function.

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Brian, I completely agree on 02/16/2009 03:41:59 MST Print View

Lightweight gear does not need to be less durable, but in some cases, it is more susceptible to damage if not cared for properly. I am probably thinking more along the lines of ultralight clothing....

I should have clarified my comments by make the distinction between the life of an item and how you care for it. Certainly, I am impressed with the ruggedness of my ULA pack, but I would say I am also careful not to abuse it.

I completely agree about your comments about the appearance of wealth. Certainly, a lot of the devices and clothing serve no other purpose than to distinguish your ability to spend lavishly.

Brian UL
(MAYNARD76)

Locale: New England
I completely agree on 02/16/2009 04:11:11 MST Print View

Ya, maybe I assume other people are as careful with their gear as I am with mine.
but, then I think of how durable and well built the gear is from ULA, Golite, ect. and think maybe some people are just too rough if they cant make these last.

Edited by MAYNARD76 on 02/16/2009 04:15:08 MST.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: I think I'd tell them the necessity to change expectations on 02/16/2009 13:32:16 MST Print View

> I have a theory that a lot of outdoor gear is designed to make sure you look like a hiker
> who has a job and money to spend

The reality is that most Main St gear shops make most of their profit margin by selling trendy macho-looking clothing to trendies for street wear. This is not a rant; it is simply reality, based on insider information.

Gone are the days when a gear shop catered just to 'real walkers'. These days most of Main St shops are really part of the fashion industry. Have a look at all the huge range of clothing brands available: there is no way all those firms could survive off walkers! The hard-core gear in the windows is often almost 'window dressing' for the yuppies who want to look 'tough'.

(Example: crampons and ice axes and ropes in the windows of some Main St shops in Sydney, when the summer heat is hitting 45 C. But inside about 75% of the floor space is fashionable clothing.)

That is one reason we love our cottage companies: they are the ones who make 'real gear'.

Cheers

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: Melbourne
What would YOU tell an outdoor fabric manufacturer? on 02/16/2009 14:34:51 MST Print View

Absolutely. Come to Melbourne and have a look at The North Face store, you have to search for gear, most of the eye level display is filled with fashion clothing.
Paddy Pallin, it used to make some lightweight gear years ago, has also gone 80% clothing 20% gear. Their Little Bourke St shop has had a major "make-over" that makes it look a bit like David Jones (something like Bloomingdales)
Can't blame them because the money is in clothing not gear. You can display 30 jackets in less space than required to set up a tent, and yes most customers are not really into backpaking, they are just after nice looking casual wear, it doesn't need to be functional.

Franco

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: What would YOU tell an outdoor fabric manufacturer? on 02/16/2009 15:01:00 MST Print View

Definitely no frills please. If I want pit zips, drawstrings, pockets, drop tail or whatever, I'll add them myself. But it would be nice to have access to extra fabric to make this easier (and less ugly).

I'm probably in the minority though as most folks that buy new clothing aren't into MYOG so much.

Tom Caldwell
(Coldspring) - F

Locale: Ozarks
What would YOU tell an outdoor fabric manufacturer? on 02/16/2009 15:06:57 MST Print View

I want something that makes an optical illusion for a nice slimming effect. That might help with impressing the ladies.

D LARSON
(epilektric) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: I think I'd tell them the necessity to change expectations on 02/16/2009 15:43:18 MST Print View

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... I always thought a well produced, HD cinematic of the most beautiful backpacking venues in America and beyond would attract viewers.


I agree with you Dirk and believe that there are many different forces at work in the shaping of peoples views; the current ecological state of our world, mainstream media, Hollywood, politics, and movements like UL backpacking.

Sometimes the best marketing and investments a company can make aren't about or in the actual product. I'd like to see new and better materials as much as the next person but there must be a market for it that can support the R&D. Promoting UL backpacking with well made HD programs, online shows or similar helps promote the idea, grows the market as individuals become interested and helps support R&D for better materials.

Of course, some people would prefer the market stay small and not blow up the way snowboarding and other outdoor activities have. My feelings are split on the topic.

Ashley Brown
(ashleyb) - F
Re: What would YOU tell an outdoor fabric manufacturer? on 02/16/2009 16:29:24 MST Print View

Roger, Franco, it seems to me that outdoor shops in Australia have for a long time been *travel* shops rather than outdoor shops.

Lots of aussies travel overseas, and lots of them go to these shops (eg. kathmandu) to kit up before they go. As you've noted, the vast majority of people probably never go walking. But it's easy to sell people all sorts of stuff they don't need when they are going on a big overseas trip.

Anyway, you can't blame the shops. There's a very small market here for genuine outdoor gear. The travel market is much bigger and that's what I would be targeting if I was a store owner too.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Man vs. Wild on 02/16/2009 16:56:58 MST Print View

I think the point of those shows is to have the same effect that occurs whenever the authorities try to tell you to stay safe, stay indoors during bad weather or something like that. It's to keep us all so scared of nature that we won't leave our cocooned little worlds of TV and shopping and wanting more and more stuff.

And I agree about the Main St. gear shops. We had one that started out having some reasonable gear, but of course nothing ultralight. Now it's mostly cotton and stuff that makes you look outdoorsy.

As far as innovative fabrics, I would love to see something that could replace buttons and velcro. Buttons pop off or are chewed off by my pet parrot and velcro sticks to my long hair. I'd love some other way to button up a shirt (other than a zipper.) Snaps always break, too. Something truly new would be great.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Look at European fabrics on 02/16/2009 19:04:10 MST Print View

European outdoor fabrics are often years ahead of those used in the U.S. For example Hilliberg's tent fabric or various fabrics used in ski wear.

And while you're at it look for a fabric that has PERMENANT DWR built into the threads. This should be something that can be laminated to Gore-Tex or eVent. I'm tired of the DWR wearing off and having to renew it each wash.

Eric

Sean Walashek
(caraz) - F

Locale: bay area
thinking today about it Jason on 02/18/2009 01:28:20 MST Print View

How about this. I don't like hearing and feeling lightweight waterproof/breathable gear that isn't well, lightweight. What about a eptfe or other membrane that was rugged enough to see use as a single ply jacket or pants. No more 2layer or 3 layer stuff, just 1 layer rough and tough but just as breathable. I'm sure someone could chime in with why thats just not possible but thats what research is for. Tell 'em to make it happen :)
Good luck with whatever influence you have.
I request credit for the idea and freebies for life if it happens pelase.
Also I think a lightweight colorchaning fabric would be cool. One that was light when it was warm and got dark when it started to cool, or viceversa for winter.