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Major Brands Want a Slice of the Growing Outdoor Apparel Industry — Here’s How Smaller Companies Can Compete

As the pandemic wears on and people maintain an increased interest in outdoor activities, the demand for outdoor apparel is increasing. Adventurers today seek products with specific performance capabilities to take their outdoor experiences to new levels. At the same time, consumers have become increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of global apparel and footwear industries, which don’t necessarily have a sterling track record in that department. Outdoor apparel brands that want to capitalize on the booming interest must also consider how to do so sustainably.

Not surprisingly, major brands such as Nike, Adidas and Under Armour are increasingly creating new product lines that feature temperature control, compression, waterproof capabilities and even infrared fabrics, making them more suitable for outdoor performance. Big brands are also keenly aware of the push toward sustainability in the fashion industry.

In the notoriously competitive apparel industry, the rich usually get richer as market leaders have massive research and development budgets and equally massive marketing and PR budgets. So what does this all mean for outdoor apparel brands that don’t have the resources of those legacy companies? You’ll need a few creative strategies to get and stay ahead.

1. Build community through authentic connection.
Invest as much as possible in customer research to learn about what your customers value, and find alignment with your own brand values. Look for partners who care about the same things your customers care about, such as sustainable sourcing. Use these insights to guide everything from product design to marketing initiatives to in-store experiences. When you have opportunities to engage with customers — whether that’s via social media channels, in-store interactions, or elsewhere — try to make those interactions highly personalized and memorable.

2. Lean on your heritage.
Any brand can enter a new market, but trust is earned over time through unwavering dedication to a market segment. It can’t be manufactured. When it comes to performance apparel and footwear in particular, consumers trust companies with a track record of specialized knowledge and products that meet their unique needs.

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3. Collaborate with unconventional partners.
Brand-on-brand collaboration is completely oversaturated and will hardly register in the minds of most consumers. However, collaboration can still be a highly effective tactic for expanding your customer base. Look for partnerships with up-and-coming artists, publications, charities or social organizations that have a harmonious and logical connection with your brand. You might also consider incorporating an ingredient technology that differentiates your products even more. It might feel risky at times, but this is a proven way to earn attention in a crowded marketplace.

4. Maintain a healthy, employee-first work environment.
Talented job seekers have more options than ever for employment. Do some research on what your competition is offering prospective employees and design compelling packages to attract the best of the best. Prioritize building a healthy company culture to encourage employee loyalty and personal investment in your mission. Regularly check in with your team to determine their satisfaction levels and create a safe and open environment where feedback can be exchanged freely.

New shifts in consumer behavior are creating new opportunities for outdoor apparel brands, but they’re also attracting bigger fish to the market. That doesn’t mean you should panic. Incorporate the tips above into your business strategy entering 2022, and you’ll be better positioned to capture a slice of the growing pie.


Lucas Tyson is a Senior Business Developer for Hologenix, a materials science company dedicated to developing products that amplify human potential and improve health and wellness. CELLIANT®, its flagship technology, is an infrared ingredient brand that enhances textile-based products with health and wellness benefits across performance, recovery, and sleep.

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