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The great outdoors: the rapid growth of performance clothing

As new brands enter the UK and sales rise in the outdoorwear market, Drapers takes a look at a burgeoning sector.

Moose Knuckles

Moose Knuckles

Moose Knuckles

At the end of November, JD Sports Fashion acquired 58-strong chain Go Outdoors for £112.3m, adding to its existing outdoorwear chains Blacks, Millets, Ultimate Outdoors and Tiso. The deal rounded off a year of growth for this market in the UK. Specialist retailers such as Mountain Warehouse are enjoying a boom in sales, while new UK brands are emerging, and international labels such as Canadian outerwear specialist Moose Knuckles are making their debut here.

There are several reasons for this.

“There are lots of hooks for the outdoor market that are growing in popularity, such as festivals and camping in the summer and skiing and snowboarding in the winter,” explains Mark Neale, chief executive of Mountain Warehouse, which has 200 UK stores and whose sales for the six months to 30 August were up 29.5 per cent year on year.

“We’re also benefiting from more people holidaying in the UK, most recently because of the depreciation in the value of the pound. And there are bigger trends towards healthy living and outdoor activities, as well as the rise of the athleisure market, which has recently been converging with the outdoor market.”



“It’s an extension of the retro 1990s sportswear and athleisure trends,” agrees Gene Chui, head of marketing for outerwear brand Penfield. “Outdoor brands are the go-to for things such as puffa jackets, retro colours and graphics.”

He adds that consumers are becoming more aware of what they’re buying: “They don’t just want the latest trends immediately – they are buying into longevity.”

Chui argues that outdoor brands must continue to focus on performance, even when targeting a more fashion-forward consumer, “so it feels like you’re getting more for your money”.

He adds: “We’re introducing more technical elements, working with our factories and suppliers on trying to find new fabrics and development techniques. We want Penfield to appeal as an outdoors brand and because someone likes the look of it.”


Mountain Warehouse

Mountain Warehouse

Mountain Warehouse

Ayal Twik, chief executive of Moose Knuckles, which launched in the UK for autumn 16, agrees that the current trend for arctic outerwear shows no signs of slowing down. “Different areas of apparel come into fashion at different times. Until 10 years ago, no one could imagine spending hundreds of dollars on a pair of jeans, and now that’s become a staple. Premium outerwear is the new denim – it has become a real fashion trend. It started in Canada and Scandinavia, and the trend became popular – the whole movement has just blown up.”

In places such as Italy, France and the UK, where the trend is really just getting started, there’s tons of room to grow.

Ayal Twik, chief executive, Moose Knuckles

He adds: “In places such as Italy, France and the UK, where the trend is really just getting started, there’s tons of room to grow.”

JD’s investment in outdoorwear is a reflection of the market’s potential. The group has ploughed money into its outdoor division in a bid to return it to growth after a turbulent few years. For the year to 30 January, the division’s operating losses narrowed from £7.1m to £3.9m.

The group is now rolling out a new store concept for its 70-store chain Blacks. Two stores featuring the concept, which include digital screens and self-service kiosks, have opened in Aviemore, a town in the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland, and on Tottenham Court Road in London. A further 10 are planned for 2017.

“Sales and customer numbers are up,” says Lee Bagnall, chief executive of JD’s outdoor division and managing director of Blacks.

The recent acquisition of Go Outdoors, which is largely located in out-of-town retail parks, was seen as a smart move.

“The outdoor market has been growing steadily,” says independent retail analyst Richard Hyman. “Fifteen years ago it was very fragmented and underdeveloped, but that has changed. Go Outdoors is a big name with a lot of stores, so it will thrive under JD, which will give it a cash boost and tighten up the buying and sourcing.

“The move is also a defensive one, as it increases JD’s market share and control of the sector.”

Next year is expected to be a tough year for retail, as currency woes continue and Brexit uncertainty looms over the sector. However, the trend for premium outerwear and the growing interest in healthy living will help the outdoor market to weather the storm.

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