FN Panel: Innovation Key to Outdoor Growth

Big opportunities lie ahead for outdoor players, but the industry must push innovation like never before.
That was the message from a group of footwear insiders who participated in a Footwear News panel, moderated by outdoor editor Jennifer Ernst Beaudry, this morning as part of the Outdoor Retailer seminar series.
The discussion featured four outdoor experts: Andy Tate, footwear development director for The North Face; Matt Powell, an analyst at SportsOneSource; Matthew Schreiner, global footwear product specialist for Gore-Tex; and Travis Zarins, footwear and apparel buyer for Great Outdoor Provision Co.
“The pressure to stay fresh has never been greater,” Powell said. “It’s about design innovation, but even more important than that is speed to market.”
The panel zeroed in on the rise of minimalism and lightweight looks, and all agreed that those categories would drive future growth.
But evolution also means more competition, said Schreiner, who noted that the athletic and outdoor worlds continue to converge.
“As the outdoor industry gets more successful, [more athletic companies] are going to find their way in,” he said, adding that outdoor firms must pay more attention to the price-value equation to stay competitive and attract new customers.
The dramatically changing sourcing landscape was another hot topic, and several members of the panel suggested that more companies will shift production closer to home.
“The sourcing base is going to change,” Tate said, adding that interest in U.S. manufacturing is on the rise. “I don’t know if Asia will be a production hub [for the long-term.]”
Zarins said his North Carolina customer base gravitates toward locally made products, and “doesn’t mind paying more” for them.
But Powell said China will continue to be the dominant player, thanks to its technical prowess.
“It’s not like you can pick out a new country tomorrow,” he said.
FN will take a more in-depth look at the panel discussion in an upcoming issue.

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