Outdoor Industry Isn’t Promoting Sustainability Enough, Expert Says

Walking the floor at the 2018 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in Denver this week, it’s clear that sustainable products are on-trend. But one industry expert believes brands and retailers aren’t doing enough to promote eco-friendly messaging.

“I encourage brands and retailers to do a much better job of calling out products that are sustainable in their mix,” The NPD Group Inc.’s VP and senior sports industry adviser, Matt Powell, said today during the Industry Trend Breakfast.

Powell said he would like to see this because his company’s research shows there is a demand for green goods.

“There is an inclination on the part of the consumer to want to buy sustainable products,” Powell explained, “and if we could offer sustainable products that were at or close to conventional products, I think that presents a big opportunity.”

Just how much of the market wants eco-friendly products?

According to a study from The NPD, 33 percent of women said they would pay more for clothing that was described as sustainable than clothes that were not. And the same goes for 28 percent of men.

And of the women who would shop green, NPD said almost 40 percent were millennials.

“If you want to win over the young consumer, [promoting sustainable products] is a great way to capture this consumer,” Powell said.

However, some insiders are skeptical on whether or not consumers are as invested in eco-friendly goods as NPD’s study shows.

“This is a very difficult challenge, as often sustainability is not considered a top attribute in many buying decisions at the point of sale,” explained Ira Rosh, divisional merchandise manager at Paragon Sports. “Advances are being made on this front with stronger marketing, sales clinics and hang tags, but it is still a work in progress.”

And other players in the market believe the outdoor industry faces a bigger problem concerning sustainability than marketing.

“Sustainability is a marketing message, crudely put, and everyone is starting to do a good job with selling sustainable products. But I don’t think there’s enough understanding and knowledge out there to really understand what sustainability is,” explained Vivobarefoot co-founder and design director Asher Clark.

He continued, “I don’t think the outdoor industry is doing enough to look at smarter, cleaner ways to make product and better materials because we’re not far enough down the line with it yet. We’re scratching the surface with putting a few plastic bottles in and recycled rubber here and there. There’s so much potential to close the loop and make really exciting materials that have zero impact on the planet.”

Brands that are delivering fall ’19 sustainable shoe styles include Vivobarefoot with its plant-based Bio footwear lineup, and Merrell, most notably with its Bare Access XTR Sweeper trail runner (which features a Vibram EcoDura outsole and an upper and laces made with recycled materials).

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