I should probably start out by explaining that when I say ‘Brit brand trio’, I’m referring to Rab, Mountain Equipment and Montane. These three brands are the standard-bearers for the UK outdoor industry, and between them they account for over half of the products ranged on Webtogs.co.uk at any given time. It was these brands, along with another of our suppliers; US brand Marmot, that Webtogs MD Keith and I set out to visit last Sunday on a 5-day buying road-trip. I can report that it was epic thanks to the exciting new products on show… and the added bonus of getting to take the bike out on some awesome trails in the Lakes (Altura Trail, Whinlatter & The North Face Trail, Grizedale) and Peak District!
Over the course of four days, and four 4-hour meetings with brand reps, we viewed a huge number of products, some of which were very forgettable, and others memorable for all the wrong reasons. Luckily there were also some gems within the Montane, Marmot, Rab and M.E. winter 2014 ranges that stood out either through their innovative design, exceptional quality, or use of tech that appealed to the gear geek within me! Over the next few weeks and possibly months (I did see a lot of products), I’ll be writing a series of ‘First Look’ posts on these standout pieces, hopefully allowing you to get to grips with the headlining products and technologies of the winter 2014/15 season, long before they hit the shops!
Rab, Mountain Equipment, Montane and Marmot’s product collections for winter 2014 each have their own distinct flavour, but there are a few wider trends evident across the outdoor brands’ offerings for the season. First of all, Polartec’s two flagship technologies, Alpha insulation and Neoshell waterproof fabric, have been more widely adopted across all four brands (as by others, including The North Face). Certain brands tentatively launched Alpha products at the beginning of this season (winter 13), Montane and Marmot included: only Rab launching a major marketing campaign for its Alpha product, in the form of Project Strata. Next winter season however, it will feature in loads more products across most of the major brands. It’ll also be offered in different weights for different applications, and used in combination with other insulating materials and technical fabrics to produce technical ‘hybrid’ insulation pieces. It seems that Rab, Mountain Equipment, Montane and Marmot are all now vying for the biggest slice of the Polartec Alpha pie.
The story with Polartec Neoshell is much the same, and despite having been around for over a year now in one form or another, it’s finally starting to assume a similar position to that of the more mainstream waterproof technologies (i.e. eVent, Gore-Tex) in terms of it’s prevalence in the brands’ product ranges. This reflects the fact that Polartec have ironed-out production issues that had adversely affected Neoshell’s durability and long-term water-repellency in the past, making it a far more appealing option for use in more useable, durably waterproof shells.
Perhaps the most obvious trend in the outdoor kit market for 2014 is an increase in the wholesale cost of down that will see most down jackets rise in price by £10-20 like-for-like, from this winter season to the next. This can be attributed in part to the rise in ethical goose and duck farming, and the corresponding decline in live plucking and force-feeding practices. Pressures on manufacturers and suppliers to adhere to ethical down sourcing also mean that down supply chains are being better traced and monitored than in the past – again contributing to a more expensive, but more ethical end product. Mountain Equipment’s Down Project is a perfect illustration of how modern outdoor brands approach the sourcing of down.
Another theme amongst the products we viewed, is that there were a number of ‘hybrid’ products in the brands’ product lines for next winter, made from multiple material/insulation types to suit the differing demands of different body zones. These will feature prominently in my upcoming ‘First Look’ posts, as many are quite techy and exciting. Winter 2014 stock also sees a move away from ‘branded’ fleece and face fabrics, such as Polartec and Pertex on the part of M.E, Montane and Marmot – which they again attribute to increased production costs. Many of the alternatives offered by these brands are arguably a match for similar branded fabrics, at least on paper… so the brand reps tell me anyway! Only time and wear will tell which ones live up to their billing.
There’s probably various other trends in the winter 14 outdoor kit market that I failed to pick up on – but those I’ve mentioned seemed the most obvious. In my next post I’ll stop generalizing and get stuck into specific products!
Thanks for reading