You know how a potential “craft beer bubble” has been a topic of conversation over the past decade or so? With breweries and micro-brew brands popping up seemingly everywhere (shoutout to Tillion back in little ol’ Cannon Falls), many folks have been asking, when will this bubble burst?
Apparently, not anytime too soon, with 2019 being another year of growth for the craft beer industry. According to the Brewers Association (I know, I’m sure they have no bias whatsoever), from 2018 to 2019, their roughly 5,400 members saw an average rate of growth of 4%).
While this growth certainly doesn’t ward off the possibility of a burst bubble, it’s still a good sign that the industry is safe for the time being, and some industry experts believe the market has room for quite a few more breweries.
The craft beer industry is far from being the only market that is currently clustered and perhaps on the cusp of a bubble of sorts.
It’s been documented that the activewear and outdoor apparel markets are also very crowded and may be heading for a bubble of its own.
And there have been recent signs that this market is perhaps becoming a little too saturated. Outdoor Voices, an activewear brand that skyrocketed to success early on in the start-up’s life. Their disrupting messaging strategy centered on the idea that their products were for people who wanted to get outside and be active, but weren’t necessarily athletes. Essentially, it’s clothing for dog-walkers, weekend hikers, and hobby joggers; people who aren’t doing high-intensity circuit workouts at the gym.
In November of 2019, Tyler Haney, founder and CEO of Outdoor Voices, was the subject of an episode of NPR’s How I Built This. Roughly three months later, Haney has stepped down from the direct-to-consumer apparel brand.
Like many other direct-to-consumer brands, Outdoor Voices is hurting, having recently shut down their New York office and failed to reach the heights of their earlier valuations after another round of funding in which some investors dropped out. There is no doubt that entering a crowded field of competitors is also playing a role in Outdoor Voices’ recent struggles.
So, is this a sign of things to come for other outdoor and activewear brands?
It’s hard to say. If you look at the numbers, it seems like there really isn’t much to worry about.
While the clothing and fashion industry as a whole has struggled recently, market research studies are projecting nothing but growth for both outdoor clothing and activewear. Zion Market Research projects that the global outdoor clothing market will reach $19.45 billion, up from roughly $12 billion in 2018. Meanwhile, activewear is heading towards $94.1 billion in U.S. sales alone by 2023, a 17% increase from the industry’s 2018 sales of about $80 billion.
But, these stats only tell you part of the picture.
From a purely observational standpoint, it seems like something has to give. There are just too many brands fighting over the same target market. Simply put, there may not be enough seats at the table for all of them to thrive. And it is a growing concern that is being discussed
It’s not just big brands competing with big brands (Patagonia vs. Northface), it’s local, small brands (Minneapolis’ own Askov Finlayson) vs. medium-sized brands (Cotopaxi) vs. the titans of the industry, all vying for attention from extremely similar consumers.
3 Things Activewear and Outdoor Brands Can Do to Survive an Ever-Increasingly Crowded Industry
Embrace the Mission-Driven Mentality (Sustainability)
Climate change, global warming, ManBearPig—whatever you want to call it, it’s here, and it’s dangerous. While some out there claim we are already too far into this mess to get out of it, that mentality is what is going to end up screwing us.
It stands to reason that brands operating in the outdoor industry would be the leaders in terms of activism aimed at reversing the current course we’re on. After all, they all share a love for nature, the wilderness, and getting outside. So, it makes sense that they would be the ones most committed to doing something about it.
For this reason, embracing the mission-driven mentality is something that should come easy to most brands. However, it is still something that should continuously be made apparent. REI and Patagonia are both consistent, with their Opt to Act and Action Works campaigns, respectively, illustrating this.
It’s one thing to say you care about the environment, climate change, and conducting business is a sustainable manner. But it’s a completely different animal to actually go out and do it and prove it.
Invest in Insta
Instagram is instrumental in branding today, especially for clothing brands. Instagram isn’t immune to the same mental health side effects that plague every other social media site (in fact, it may be one of the worst offenders). But, it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and there is no denying the impact it can have for clothing companies (Fashion and Athleisure brands dominate follower-share when matched against other industries).
And, what if instead of making people envious and jealous of what others have, outdoor brands used the platform to encourage their followers to get out and be active, as well as do there part to help combat climate change. While sure, those beautiful landscape shots are going to get the likes, those posts about a roadside or beach cleanups, environmental legislation news, and overall awareness about the current state of the planet are going break through the clutter and show that they care.
Market Their Differentiation Clear
Because there are so many different brands to compete with, perhaps the most important thing an outdoor or activewear brand can do is clearly define and market what makes them different.
For example, successful smaller, local brands usually lay into the fact that they are local. Mountain Standard, which I’ve referenced before, does a solid job of being authentically “Coloradan.” They aren’t trying to cater to other markets. They stick with what they know and try and perfect that as best they can, resulting in a loyal local following.
Step inside Askov Finlayson, and it just feels like Minnesota and the “North” environment that is the subject of their slogan. Both brands’ Instagram pages reinforce their local, trustworthy vibe, as well.
For middle-sized companies, it’s all about offering something different than the big brands. Perhaps this is something Outdoor Voices may have struggled with when it came to the activewear market. An example of a brand that is in the middle of the road in terms of size is Cotopaxi, which offers retro-looking apparel and gear that feels both unique and genuine, not simply a cheap nostalgia ploy. The products basically market themselves too because they are so different.
Big brands need to not be complacent and continue to innovate with their products, as well as effectively relay those innovations. Overall, the established brands aren’t exactly in jeopardy when it comes to the increased competition.
But, as more and more brands enter the Thunderdome that is the outdoor and activewear industry, it will be interesting to see which ones make it out alive.