The winter sports industry is undergoing some changes: In recent years, winters have often been warmer, with less snow than before. Consumers are more critical than they used to be and are disturbing old production methods with their demand for more sustainability. On top of this, demographic change has also been observed – the clientele has become, on average, older.
How are manufacturers responding to these external factors, which they themselves are not able to influence? Should they be driving these influences forward? We asked two members of the ISPO AWARD JURY about these issues.
Critical Consumers Want Change
“There are some firms which are trying to reduce emissions of CO2 by using new materials or sustainable technology,” says Benjamin Marias from France’s Agence Innovation Responsable (AIR) about consumers’ influence on product development. “Furthermore, there are brands which are now using fewer toxic chemicals and are taking animal rights into consideration because of pressure from NGOs like Greenpeace and PETA.”
Dr. Junyan Hu, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Textiles & Clothing Hong Kong, agrees with Marias’ view that critical consumers have recently caused changes in the textile industry. “The most important driving force for innovation is the search for a better quality of life,” he says.
Dr. Hu sees eco-friendly textiles as a key trend. As an example, he talks about the fluorocarbons (PFCs) contained in water-resistant materials. “Recently developed materials, such as the ones used in Columbia’s OutDry Extreme Eco collection, are made using water-resistant membranes and inner linings which do not contain PFCs.”
Sympatex Technologies has announced that it will be presenting the first completely climate-neutral, “guaranteed green” membrane at ISPO MUNICH 2017. From 2017, the company will offset the total CO2 emissions it produced each year in membrane production through different climate protection certificates.
Are Changes the Same as Innovations?
Benjamin Marias believes that external factors could lead to improvements on the market, but does not want to call these changes innovations. He also mentions the changes made since the first Greenpeace report in 2012 about PFC usage in clothing.
He says that it led to chemistry companies and outdoor brands working together to find alternatives to PFCs. “Companies including Vaude, Lafuma and Picture Organic Clothing are now offering PFC-free solutions,” he explains.
Similarly, in the area of animal rights, videos from Four Paws and PETA have resulted in changes, for example the introduction of Responsible Down Standard by outdoor brands. “This didn’t bring actual innovations,” he believes. “But through the joint work, animal rights are now better respected.”
Climate Change Has Not Yet Led to New Products
Benjamin Marias has not identified any products developed directly in response to climate change – companies are not offering multifunctional textiles or products adapted to changing weather and snow conditions.
He also does not believe that climate change will lead to completely new product groups. “Instead it will be business models that will change. Selling products will not be the only way to make money.”
Marias continues: “The sharing economy enables companies to not have to sell the product, but just to hire out its usage. For consumers, this means a greater product choice and a smaller environmental impact.” For example, he mentions Houdini Rent a Shell and Stokeshare.
New Products for Older Consumers
Another influence that has lead to new products is the increasing average age of the population, as well as older people leading more active lifestyles.
“Older people are more sensitive to different materials. They want them to be lighter, softer and warmer. This is connected to physiological changes in the body, such as slower blood flow and metabolism and dryer skin,” says Dr. Hu.
His institute has developed socks for older consumers which moisturize foot skin, reduce bacteria and are especially soft.
Transparency and Eco-Products Are the Trends of the Future
Marias thinks that transparency will be a key theme for critical consumers at ISPO 2017. “For us at Greenroom Voice, this is the next challenge in the industry: Transparency regarding environmental impact and social effects during manufacturing processes is an increasingly important factor for consumers when choosing a product. France, the EU and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition are working towards this.”
Dr. Hu believes that along with further market segmentation and wearable electronics, ecological themes will play a big part. “Consumers are going wild about eco-products. These concepts will be used more and more in product development. Natural, functional fibers like wool and cotton will become more important in the outdoor segment,” asserts Dr. Hu.