SEARCHING FOR THE ELUSIVE, NEXT BIG THING
Statistics don't lie. But sometimes they certainly can be unpredictable. For instance, in 1995 skateboarding was dead. Participation rates had plummeted to a low of 4.5 million nationwide.
But here we are just six short years later, and skateboarding is alive and kicking dirt on all those other "mainstream" sports. According to NSGA research, skateboarding participation rates are currently growing as fast as those of any other sport, gaining 30 percent in the year 2000 as nationwide participation soared to 9.1 million.
If you think stats like that are hard to predict, try keeping up with the fashion trends that rapidly emerging action sports--such as skateboarding--are setting in the fashion athletic apparel marketplace. It's a bit like searching for someone or something that wishes not to be caught. With a customer base largely consisting of a younger demographic with notoriously fickle tastes, losing favor as a brand can happen overnight. Being the first to spot an emerging trend is what keeps a brand fresh. And manufacturers will stretch the limits to find it. See more: how to build a skateboard
"We do a lot of travel to Europe and the Orient," says Kirk Nozaki, apparel designer for Etnies, one of the hottest apparel and footwear brands in the skate market. "We are shopping and looking at what people are wearing and what brands are doing outside of the U.S. I'd have to say that currently, there's not any one major trend out there that's jumping out."
Rick Lohr, VP of Merchandising and Design for CA-based Rusty, whose apparel offerings run the gamut from street and skate to core surf style, just returned from a trip to New York where he also found trends to be elusive. "We went to every nook and cranny and shopped every hole in the wall," says Lohr. "And right now, trends are all over the board. There are no super hot trends at the moment."
But a lack of any discernible trend is not necessarily cause for worry.
"Trends are just that, trends," says Lawrence Motola, category manager, alternative and adventure sports at Adidas, whose retro apparel and footwear styles have hit the mark with skaters on the street.
"First you have to know your brand's history, and then you can work on the future. Hopefully, if we're good, we're going to be the ones setting the bar for everyone else to try and overcome, and that comes from living with what we have in the present, and trying to improve or push it forward from where it is right now. You have to simply open your eyes."
This philosophy applies not only to manufacturers, but to retailers and consumers as well.
"It's inevitable, whether you are talking about sport, fashion, sportswear, jeanswear or couture, the street is the major influence," says Joe Ieraci, a trend analyst for Burlington Global Denim. "Extreme sports probably most reflect the attitude of the street, but street sports such as blading and boarding probably influence the trends more as they tend to be more lifestyle-oriented and therefore more broadly followed."
With the emergence of the X Games, the mainstream marketing of skate legend Tony Hawk, and the increasingly high profile of pro skaters across the board, the eyes of the younger demographic are increasingly focused on action sports athletes. Motola estimates that kids are as influenced in their fashion choices by pro skaters as they are by pro basketball players or musicians, "which isn't a bad thing," he says. "There really isn't much difference. Music is athleticism, athleticism is music and it's good that they are influenced by all of the above."
A heavily T-shirt dependent apparel business, skate's influence can be seen in one of the hottest trends to hit the streets this past summer--an influx of ringer-style and baseball-style T-shirts, discernible by their understated color-blocking and simplified "retro punk" appeal. But while those in the know claim not to see a clear trend to follow on the horizon, most agree that as far as staple items go, one definite skate essential for Fall and Holiday will be a fleece hooded sweatshirt with applique front logo.
"The skate market is very T-shirt and jeans driven," says Tom Lacrosse, category manager for BC Surf and Sport, an 11-store action sport chain with locations in Colorado, Florida, Utah and Washing-ton. "But in skate, we'll definitely do a big business in hoodies. It is just a key item."
Also expect to see simpler, cleaner silhouettes in both tops and bottoms. "The real essentials are still a baggy cargo pant or short, but without all the accouterments," says Lohr. "The look is real clean. There is just a cross-pollination of fashion looks from every angle hitting the kids in this market. One thing for sure is that the style is not going to be to wear stuff that is crazy or oversized. I see a return to that 'Run DMC' look, where they are wearing slim-fitting adidas warmups. The style now is a complete fusion. These guys are influenced by rap music, heavy metal, even high fashion." what size skateboard should i get
And they are also experimenting with some couture fashion brands. "You have pro skaters wearing Gucci and Prada," says Evan Josloff, a senior buyer at Blades Board and Sport, a New York-based action sports retail chain. He adds that a possible trend to watch involves larger, all-over prints such as those available from couture brands including Louis Vuitton. "Burton is doing it with outerwear. That could translate from snowboard to skate."
Another trend to keep an eye on is an influx of styles for women--a previously neglected category in the skate market. Retailers say they have seen increased sales in the past few seasons, though the strongest women's-specific offerings in this market still come from surf-inspired brands such as Hurley, Rusty and Roxy.
"Women's is definitely growing," says Etnies' Nozaki. "It has sort of been ignored in the past. But we see it as an opportunity. We'll be doing more women's-specific in the future."
BC Surf and Sport's Lacrosse agrees. "There's room for growth. I'd say we do 85 percent of business in men's and boys', but we are doing a lot more women's business lately."
Finally, a trend we can get a handle on. But as far as predictions go, that's as far as we'll venture.
"It's all about connectiveness," says Rusty's Lohr. "It sounds corny, but when you are looking for trends, you see things pop up here and then there and get a gut feeling. All of a sudden you just kind of know."
PUTTING SOME 'POP' IN THE MARKET
Soft drink giant Pepsi-Cola has been a model of success over the past few years marketing its Mountain Dew brand to the young action sports-obsessed demographic. Now the company hopes to see its strong brand recognition among teens translate into success in the apparel marketplace.
Pepsi has signed an exclusive licensing agreement with New York-based apparel manufacturer and brand marketing company AmeriCo Group to create new lines of apparel, footwear and accessories for the Pepsi and Mountain Dew brands in the United States and Canada. Terms of the pact with were not disclosed.
"In their own ways, Pepsi and Mountain Dew drinkers are trendsetters--in tune with emerging styles and cultural trends," said Dawn Hudson, senior vice president of strategy and marketing for Pepsi-Cola North America. "With AmeriCo, we look forward to creating fashions that reflect our consumers' personalities and fit their lifestyles."
The Pepsi and Mountain Dew apparel collections are set to be unveiled to retailers at the MAGIC show this month, with a retail launch slated for Spring 2002. Distribution channels will consist largely of mass merchandise chains.
The new apparel collections (some styles of which can be seen in the Sportscast section of this issue) are dramatically different from the limited amount of branded apparel Pepsi currently sells online and via catalog. The collections reflect trends from the surf, skate and urban-athletic marketplaces, all of which strongly influence the styles currently scoring points with teens in the fashion marketplace.
Everything from board shorts and T-shirts to Jeans, cargo pants, and button down shirts will be included in both branded collections.
The Pepsi and Mountain Dew logos will not be portrayed graphically on the apparel, and will be featured only on the items' hang-tags. According to a statement from Pepsi-Cola, the apparel pieces in the new lines are intended to focus on the images of the drinks, not their logos. The Pepsi line mostly borrows from urban athletic trends, while the Mountain Dew collection is more surf- and skate-inspired.
"We're thrilled about the opportunity to work with Pepsi-Cola to extend the power of the Pepsi and Mountain Dew brands into the apparel industry," says Eli Harari, President and CEO of AmeriCo. "Our strategic alliance will generate great new levels of excitement in the marketplace."