Charles Ross presses his mouth on the fabric of a jacket and with bloated cheeks tries to blow through the fabric onto his hand. Of course, in his laboratory there are highly sensitive machines, says the fabric expert from London. "But for a first impression of whether the jacket is really windproof, this works quite well."
Charles normally teaches design at the Royal College of Art, he is an expert in fabrics and sustainable textiles and is well-known in the outdoor industry. On this December day, he is part of the Apparel Jury for the ISPO Award 2020 and together with seven colleagues from all over the world, he is standing in the north of Messe München to find the best products for the coming year.
The Apparel jury has a long day ahead of it. The coat racks in the room stand in seemingly endless rows, laden with hundreds of new jackets, baselayers, shirts, pants and tops. The jury grips, pulls, rubs, feels and tries on. They look very closely at which yarns were used and how they were sewn.
The first two hours of the day are particularly long – more than 20 minutes per part is nothing special in the individual specialist groups. You have to get to know each other, find a common tone. Decisions are only made rather quickly when everyone agrees that a new product is not so good. But this has become increasingly rare in the recent years. Today, it is much more important to identify the outstanding candidates among the almost consistently good products.
In order to find them, hearing can also play a role for the clothing experts. "I see many great designs and details here," says Louisa Smith, a textile trend consultant. But not all substances seem suitable for her. "Personally, some surfaces are just too loud for me," she explains. After all, it's sportswear. "I don't like it when there's a rattling or too much rustling when you're actively moving."
Every year, the ISPO Award is presented in recognition of outstanding product innovations in the sports business. And the effort that is put into the award is immense. For three days, four international expert juries will evaluate the applications from the four segments Snowsports, Outdoor, Running and Fitness & Teamsports. In addition, there will be the Experience Days in Obergurgl and Garmisch, where the jury will test on site.
But the effort is worth it. The international and diverse jury has made the ISPO Award one of the most important seals of quality for manufacturers, retailers and customers. Among the jurors are a total of 40 experts from 14 countries; athletes, journalists, heavy users, consultants, scientists and experienced dealers. In addition, there are two so-called special teams: the Apparel experts and a separate Sustainability Jury, which is responsible for judging the sustainability of the products.
"It is the many different perspectives that make the judgement so valuable," says Franziska Zindl, who is responsible for the ISPO Award at Messe München. "Thanks to the great jury and our transparency, we are free in our decisions. We simply select the best products, no matter who else has applied," says the exhibition manager.
The way, in which the individual juries work, is clearly regulated. "Be open, be positive and see the innovation," is a message to the individual members. A Code of Conduct regulates how discussions and disputes are to be conducted, that everyone treats their colleagues with respect and that conflicts of interest must be disclosed – no juror evaluates a product in which she or he is professionally involved.
While the Apparel Jury continues to work its way through the mountains of clothes, the atmosphere in the Snowsport hall next door seems almost a little tense. There is a long and intensive discussion. In a friendly tone, but determined in matter, the question is: What makes a new product really good, what is actually an innovation and what is simply new but without new benefits? Snowboarding legend Rémi Forsans from France shrugs his shoulders. You have to take your time, he explains, then everything will be clear afterwards. "We have a responsibility. Our judgement is important for the industry, for the trade and for the customers". And it's all about seriousness, including heated discussions about functions, benefits and increasingly also the sustainability of a product.
Can sport and sports products even be sustainable? "A great change is taking place right now," says Professor Mathias Kimmerle, member of the Sustainability Jury. "We're moving away from fast fashion and toward durable, high-quality products." The professor says that companies are under increasing pressure from young customers in particular, "much more so than from the world of politics".
And so he and his six jury colleagues not only check how an individual product is manufactured. Those who want to earn the special recognition of the Sustainability Jury have to offer more. The question is not only whether the product itself has been produced sustainably, but also, for example, how the factories of the suppliers work, which raw materials are used. Whether a product can be recycled well, how long it will last and whether it can be repaired.
And it's about the development behind the jacket or the surfboard. "For me, it is always important to look at how a brand has developed in recent years, whether there is a clear direction," says Matthias Kimmerle. After all, anyone who wants to can now produce sustainably and ecologically with the existing methods and raw materials. "Everyone has the same opportunities," says Kimmerle. And that makes the industry so exciting. "Because now we need pioneers again to develop something new," explains Kimmerle. And that is precisely what that the ISPO Award aims to find.
The special feature of the Sustainability Jury's work is that the jurors can award a Special Recognition. But they don't have to. "We are not forced to award the one-eyed among the blind", Anna Rodewald puts it in a nutshell. Since 2014, she has been heading the ISPO Award Sustainability Jury. Innovation, says Anna, must not only be in the function. "It can also be a new business model that saves resources," says Anna. Or the cooperation between manufacturer and raw material supplier. "If I integrate them in the development, I can develop better products." In the end, of course, what counts is that a product tells a story that customers identify with. "It's all about developing favourites – that's sustainable," Anna is convinced.
And if this is succeeded at, the megatrend could turn into a great, new opportunity for retail as well. "It can be a customer magnet," says Matthias Kimmerle. And Anna adds: "It's a great moment when you enter a shop with your favourite part and have it repaired there and then. And this also opens up new opportunities for manufacturers. "When a lot is repaired," adds Matthias Kimmerle, "the developers get a lot of data from retail – for example, what is most likely to break, what do we need to solve better?" These are the kind of solutions and product innovations which ISPO Munich wants to promote. After all, this is the essence of ISPO Munich and the ISPO Award – to be the driving force behind the sporting goods industry.