SALT LAKE CITY – Once an afterthought in the historically male-dominated outdoor retail industry, women have become a sought-after force with companies vying to tap into a market that has grown to $4.6 billion in annual sales.
A wide array of clothing, gear and equipment specifically designed for women adventurers is on display this weekend at the summer version of the world’s largest outdoor gear show for retailers that attracts 30,000 people a year to Salt Lake City.
Large images of women rock climbing, paddle boarding and doing yoga in exotic locations adorn the elaborate setups at company booths inside the convention center for the Outdoor Retailer show.
The sales of women-specific goods has grown from about $400 million some 15 years ago to $4.6 billion this year, said Julia Clark Day, executive director of business development for the sports division of the research firm NPD Group.
She says the gap has decreased considerable between that figure and the annual $7.9 billion in annual sales of men-specific gear.
Companies make women’s apparel in a wide pallet of colors and with feminine prints, stitching and features, but most outdoor brands have moved away from the “pink it and shrink it” philosophy that frustrated female outdoor enthusiasts for so long.
“Every single company knows that we are expecting more from them,” said Laurie Tewksbury, chief operating officer of the Outdoor Women’s Alliance. “We’re not just looking for things that are cute, it better work well too.”
The way skis and bikes are made, for example, has evolved in recent years to not just be smaller than men’s gear but made to fit women’s bodies and features.
Within women’s sales, active wear or “athleisure” is the current hot trend, Clark Day said. That includes yoga pants, versatile shorts, dresses and pants. Most come with high-performance features such as moisture wicking materials and fabrics that stretch for hiking or ride a bike.
“We call it trails to cocktails,” said Clark Day, who is also on the board of directors at Camber Outdoors, previously known as the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition. “It’s that ability to go out hiking and then look great when you meet your friends at the bar afterward for a drink.”
Adidas Outdoor decided to focus on the burgeoning women’s market when it launched six years ago, a decision that has paid dividends, said Greg Thomsen, managing director of the division. Their booth features colorful shoes designed especially for women’s feet and a host of shirts, jackets and pants. Large images of a professional female rock climber – a brand ambassador – cover the walls.
At California-based PrAna, yoga pants, lightweight dresses and stylish blouses that can be layered on top of sports bras were on display.
Women “want performance. They want something they can wear comfortably through whatever activity they are doing over the course of the day,” said Sasha Dietschi-Cooper, vice president of sales for the company. “Equally important, they want something that looks great.”
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