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Debra Cobb

Expert Opinion

26th January 2017, Salt Lake City, UT

Beyond Base Layer: Knitted Textiles Stand Out at Winter OR Show

No one at the Outdoor Retailer (OR) Winter Market, held in Salt Lake City January 10 – 12, would deny that it’s been a rough year for the US outdoor industry. Sales are down by (1.5%) for the twelve months ending October 2016, according to the NPD Group; and continuing headwinds include retail consolidation, changing consumer habits, and uncooperative weather, along with the uncertainty provided by sourcing and trade issues.

With attendance estimated at 20,000 and 1,075 brands on display, the three day show was busy. Industry executives focused on issues such as connecting with the new consumer, preserving national lands for recreational use, and revving up innovation in order to improve sales.

“We have got to innovate; innovation is our salvation,” remarked David Parkes, founder and CEO of textile developer and marketer Concept III.

Knitwear wakes up

Bogged down in a swamp of sameness, outdoor categories where knits predominate—such as sportswear tops and sweats/active bottoms—lost ground in the twelve months ending October, with sales down by (3.1%) and (5.2%) respectively, according to NPD. Fortunately, the new fibres, fabrics, and brand offerings seen at the show inspired optimism with an emphasis on print, pattern, and performance for a changing climate.

Krimson Klover's merino wool knits in colourful patterning. © Debra Cobb

At brands such as Terramar Sport, Helly Hansen, Kari Traa, and Krimson Klover, prints took on a fashion aspect with Nordic patterns reminiscent of retro skiwear. Digital printing, such as that supplied by New Zealand-based Designer Textiles on their Biella merino and merino blend weft knits, enabled engineered or all-over patterns.

Krimson Klover’s gorgeous knitwear included prints from Designer Textiles as well as flatbed merino sweater knit pieces created in Chinese factories exclusively owned by women. The line comprised intricately patterned sweaters, dresses, leggings, and base layer. TOAD & Co’s merino wool Fair Isle leggings were also a fun alternative to tights.

TOAD & Co's fairisle leggings in merino wool. © Debra Cobb

Knitwear pieces such as Nau’s GOTS-certified superfine alpaca sweaters, and TOAD & Co’s Samba sweater in a blend of non-mulesed merino, TENCEL®, and organic cotton, provided a high warmth-to-weight ratio.

Merino wool in partnerships

While merino wool continued its upward trajectory in the outdoor world, it was newest when blended with performance fibres such as polypropylene, cellulosics, or wicking synthetics. There was also more recycled wool in evidence.

Nau's superfine GOTS-certified alpaca cardigan. © Debra Cobb

CoolVisions® by FiberVisions® dyeable polypropylene staple enlightened WoolVisions™ intimate blends with fine-micron merino at knitter Global Merino. The knitter’s latest creations combined CoolVisions® dyeable filament polypropylene with wool; the merino wool face creates a natural hand, while the polypropylene filament against the skin helps keep the wearer warm and dry.

CoolVisions® dyeable polypropylene staple was also front and centre in performance knits from Forces of Nature, blended with cotton in what global sales and marketing manager for CoolVisions®, Susan Lynn, called “a natural marriage.” Made in Mexico from US fibre, the range featured on-trend camouflage prints.

Digitally printed merino wool from Designer Textiles. © Debra Cobb

Royal Robbins combined merino with DuPont™ Sorona® triexta fibre, made from 37% renewable bio-based materials, in its Merinolux™ base layers. “Sorona® incorporates performance aspects and sustainability into everyday wear,” explained Renee Henze, marketing director for the fibre.

Heritage hosiery knitter Fox River updated their PrimaHIKE and PrimaSKI socks knit in a blend of PrimaLoft® performance fibre and 20 micron merino; while Farm to Feet stayed true to its American-sourced merino wool, adding colourful retro-inspired patterns this season.

FoxRiver PrimaSKI socks in merino wool with PrimaLoft fibre. © Debra Cobb

Fjällräven’s Bergtagen collection integrated merino with recycled poly in its Woolterry and Woolmesh base layer pieces; while the Övik Re-wool sweater was knit of recycled wool.

Nau’s Randygoat fleece, featuring a non-mulesed wool face and recycled polyester back, warmed up Henleys, hoodies, and stretch tights across the range.

Fjallraven's Bergtagen hybrid wool base layer. © Debra Cobb

The show’s Venture Out section housed a growing number of young, independent brands such as Duckworth, whose US-sourced Rambouillet merino collection included its super light Polaris, a merino/nylon air-trapping waffle knit. Knitwear in a blend of drirelease/cashmere was a standout at newbie Fisher + Baker’s luxurious line of performance basics.

The latest developments in Sewfree® bonding technology at Bemis Associates included the Terra Collection, formulated to work with these natural fibres. Thicker, abrasion-resistant Terratec tape was developed for fleece and heavier fabrics.

Bemis Terra Sewfree bonding tapes were designd for natural fibre fabrics. © Bemis Associates

Technical synthetics outperform

When it came to high-aerobic outdoor activities, next-to-skin synthetic layers supplied all the bells and whistles. At synthetic textile producer Hyosung, the emphasis this season was on creora® Fresh odour neutralising elastane, used in combination with other performance fibres. “The fibre’s deodorizing function does not use antimicrobials,” reiterated global marketing director Ria Stern.

Hyosung mill partner Best Pacific is launching a collection of fabrics and seamless garments for outdoor consumers which combines creora® Fresh with MIPAN Aqua X cooling, UV-protective, and moisture management nylon; freshgear® odour neutralising polyester; aerowarm® hollow-core polyester, and creora® Powerfit elastane.

Duckworth's Polaris waffle in US-sourced merino and nylon. © Debra Cobb

Hyosung also announced an MOU with cutting-edge outdoor brand BLACKYAK to develop the next generation of base layer. “Our first initiative in this partnership is to create a new FRESH base layer collection as our consumer is going from mountaineering to other, more leisure activities,” said Woon Suk Jung, President of BLACKYAK.

A technology called Climasense™ Carbon was Terramar Sports’ latest performance innovation, used across its entire 2017 line of base layer to improve thermal regulation, wicking, and odour control.

Columbia Innerwear, a new brand licensed to Delta Galil, borrowed technology such as Omni Wick™ and Omni-Freeze ZERO™ from Columbia Sportswear for its thoughtfully-designed basics, which included ergonomic seamless and micro-mesh pieces.

Terramar base layer Climasense Carbon. © Debra Cobb

Knitted body mapping and ergonomic design, a recent staple of compression gear and hosiery, is beginning to be incorporated in base layer by the likes of Arc’teryx and Falke.

Updating fleece

While fleece never really went away, it was resurrected this season in heritage fabrics using updated fibres. Polartec® reissued its original PolarFleece®, knit in Unifi’s REPREVE® recycled polyester; and Polartec® Alpha® Direct knitted insulation became a stand-alone liner, in fashion colours at brands Rab and Outdoor Research.

Sweater fleeces and Sherpa fleeces, worked in recycled polyester or wool, also referenced the 1980s.

Looking forward

Despite uncertain times, the outdoor industry continues to move forward. The Outdoor Industry Association and Emerald Expositions, who owns and operates OR, are leading the charge with a new show schedule of three dates beginning next year. The January, June, and November shows will coordinate with the shows held by the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, an organization of specialty retailers who are key to the industry.

Outdoor Research Ascendant Collection featured Polartec Alpha Direct as contrast lining. © Debra Cobb

“OR has created a home for the industry, building a community that champions an outdoor life,” claimed Marissa Nicholson, Emerald VP and group show director.

“What will never change is the heart and soul of where this industry came from—few industries can match that,” promised Chris Ann Goddard, president CGPR, a consumer active lifestyle agency working with clients that intersect between outdoor and fashion. “With our collective smarts, expertise and new thinking, we can be as vibrant and relevant as ever."

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