I just returned from Denver after a great weekend at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market. For those that are unfamiliar, Outdoor Retailer is a conference where outdoor industry brands and manufacturers come together to meet buyers, suppliers, and media. This is an opportunity for these brands to showcase new products, and is also an opportunity to reach a wider and more diverse retail audience.
Looking back at my post from last year’s Winter Market highlights, it’s amazing to see just how fast this year has gone by. A lot of last year’s featured gear is now in my gear closet, and a few items have already been reviewed here on the blog. Looking back at last year, my highlights were very product focused. This year, I find myself focusing more on the important topics and ideas in the Outdoor Industry. I’ve put together a list of the 5 major highlights that stood out for me.
1. Sustainability Is Taking Off
Sustainability has been a bit of a buzzword in the Outdoor Industry over the past few years. There are a lot of companies that have commited to greener manufacturing processes in an effort to reduce their environmental impact. It was really nice to see their efforts showcased at this year’s conference. Vivobarefoot really stood out to me at Outdoor Retailer for their Bio shoe range. According to Vivobarefoot, “the Bio range is made from a combination of three innovative bio-based materials that reduce reliance on petrochemicals and ultimately create more efficient and sustainable products. Each shoe in Vivobarefoot’s new line is nearly 50 percent plant-based, making it Vivobarefoot’s latest stride in their quest to use 90 percent sustainable materials across its entire product range by 2020.”
It’s really cool to see that Vivobarefoot isn’t just talking the talk for marketing purposes, and is actually (and literally) creating greener products. Their new Bio shoes even come with an ingredients list so you can see which materials are being used in the shoe’s manufacturing process.
This isn’t Vivobarefoot’s first go at this either. Vivo pioneered the use of repurposed algae with theEach pair recirculated 57 gallons of fresh water back into natural habitats. Vivo also has an made of 50 percent recycled plastic. Last year, Vivo diverted over 2 million plastic bottles from landfills into their shoes.
2. Ethical Supply Chain Transparency On Display
Another positive trend I saw from a few companies was supply chain transparency. The outdoor industry has a long way to go to ensure an ethical supply chain from beginning to end, but some manufacturers are doing a really good job right now. Sherpa Adventure Gear is one company that really stood out to me. Sherpa Adventure Gear was founded in 2003 by Tashi Sherpa, as a way to honor the sherpa guides of Mt. Everest. His focus was to provide “economic and social stability to the people of Nepal through steady employment, quality working conditions, and educational opportunities for future generations”.
One storyline that really struck a chord with me was on the Sherpa Adventure Gear Fund. This fund is setup to provide a fully paid education for 10 Nepalese children from elementary school to high school or college. Another important storyline from Sherpa Adventure Gear that caught my attention was that they employ 914 people in Nepal. 808 of those employees are women. It’s really nice to know that purchasing gear from Sherpa Adventure Gear means you’re supporting the ethical treatment and compensation of workers in Nepal.
After meeting with Sherpa Adventure Gear, I met with The Woolmark Company. The Woolmark Company is the global authority on all things Merino Wool, and ensures that all Merino wool bearing their logo represents the highest quality of end product and supply. The Woolmark Company stood out to me for their focus on an ethical supply chain and for the advancements of their naturally sustainable wool fabric.
Many people may be familiar with Merino wool in the travel, hiking, and backpacking communities, but I’ve since received an education on the fabric that has made my appreciation of Merino wool products grow deeper. If you know the basics, you’ll know that Merino wool is naturally anti-microbial (no stink), can absorb 35% of its moisture in weight before feeling wet, resists stains, and will keep you cool in the heat and warm in the cold.
Merino wool is also a natural fiber grown year round by Australia’s 70 million sheep that only consume water, air, sunshine, and grass. The fiber is also biodegradable and renewable. This is a major advantage over many synthetic fabrics. There are 50,000 Australian wool growers, most of which are family farms. Many of these farms have been tended by the same family for more than a century.
Outdoor Retailer is often about new technologies, fabrics, and manufacturing processes. My close look at Merino wool showed me that sometimes the natural fabrics can be pretty tough to beat.
The Woolmark Company also invests in R&D with major manufacturers to push the boundaries of Merino wool applications. A new fabric called Nuyarn was my favorite of the entire show. I went home with a Nuyarn Black Diamond shirt called the Rhythm Tee, and I can say it’s the most comfortable shirt I’ve ever worn. The Rhythm Tee will be available in January, and I hope to have a review posted some time around then.
3. Meeting Industry Role Models
One of my favorite parts of Outdoor Retailer is seeing sponsored athletes roaming the show floor. So often I only get to see these athletes on social media, and it’s always a treat to say hello in person. In Denver this weekend, I got a chance to meet Kilian Jornet, the world’s greatest athlete (in my opinion). Kilian has won just about every major ultra running event, as well as setting records on mountains like Denali, Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, and Everest. In real life, he is a humble and down to earth person. He is expecting his first child with super athlete Emelie Forsberg, so it was cool to chat for a short while about fatherhood.
I also ran into James Edward Mills of The Joy Trip Project. James is a journalist and writer in the outdoor industry who’s best known for The Adventure Gap. In The Adventure Gap, James chronicles the first all-African American team of climbers to take on Alaska’s Denali.
One of the most pressing topics in the outdoor industry over the last few years has been the inclusion (or lack thereof) of women and people of color. James has been a trailblazer in more than a few ways, and is someone I really look up to and admire.
4. Family Time Meets Hobby Time
Managing Trail to Peak is a hobby of mine that takes up quite a bit of time. It’s a labor of love and something I really enjoy doing. On top of my day job, I don’t have a lot of free time, so it’s nice to make Trail to Peak a part of my family togetherness time. Last year was Owen’s first visit to Outdoor Retailer, and it was fun to see him enjoying it even more this year.
5. Lots Of Exciting New Shoes And Apparel
In the end, Outdoor Retailer is about new gear, and this show did not disappoint. Footwear is and probably always will be my favorite gear category. At this show, there were at least 20 pairs of shoes I wanted to walk away with. It’s going to be a long wait until they’re available in 2019. I will be highlighting these shoes in a few preview posts later this week. The two that had me most excited were the La Sportiva Bushido II and the Salomon X Alpine Pro. Both shoes are built on stable and protective midsoles with aggressive and grippy outsoles. They look perfectly suited for a few Sierra Nevada projects I’m planning to take on for 2019.