Vertical Focus: Outdoor Retail

Vertical Focus: Outdoor Retail

Kicking Up Sustainability

VF Corp.—parent company of several outdoor gear brands including The North Face and Timberland—has upped its commitment to supply chain sustainability.

David Quass, the company’s new senior director of sustainability for EMEA, has signaled a greater commitment to environmentally friendly concepts such as regenerative agriculture and using recycled materials. The North Face and Timberland are leading the way on these efforts, he says, and will serve as benchmarks for VF’s other brands.

VF Corp. needs to look beyond its own operations, invest in alternative materials to bring them to scale faster, and collaborate with competitors to drive progress on sustainability, Quass recently told Vogue Business.

In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing other general sustainability issues, the company aims to run all owned-and-operated facilities on renewable energy and to eliminate single-use plastic packaging by 2025. 

And by 2030, Quass says, VF hopes to source 100% of its top nine materials from regenerative, responsible, recycled, or renewable sources.

Choppy Waters Ahead

As goes Colorado, so goes the rest of the outdoor retail world. A recent article in The Denver Post illustrates how local outdoor gear retailers struggle to stock shelves and control costs due to supply chain woes; those challenges signal tough times for the rest of the country’s outdoor recreation retailers as well.

The myriad economic and supply chain challenges facing retailers in all verticals also impact outdoor gear stores, bike shops, paddle-sport retailers, and their suppliers.

Retailers like Denver’s Confluence Kayak & Ski contend with inventory shortages—though better than they were last year at this time—as well as economic concerns including inflation, the ripple effect of increased tariffs on goods imported from China, and a huge uptick in shipping costs, according to The Denver Post.

Bentgate Mountaineering reports significant price increases at its store in Golden, Colorado. “That’s price increases from the manufacturers, and then price increases in what they are charging us, as well as setting prices for consumers,” says John Weir, marketing manager for the company.

Josh Pecaric, founder of Denver-based Verus Kayaks, told the Post he is nearshoring his firm’s supply chain from China to South Carolina in order to cut costs. Container shipping costs increased from $2,800 to transport a 40-foot shipping container (which can hold 120 kayaks) three or four years ago to $54,000 per container now.

“And, believe it or not, it costs only $10 more to make a boat here than it does in China,” Pecaric notes. 

When it comes to inventory, port delays and previous COVID shutdowns at Chinese manufacturing sites have taken a toll on outdoor retailers. At Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder, footwear inventories are still lagging, and Denver-based Elevation Cycles and Peak Cycles in Golden report inventory is better for mountain bikes than road bikes.

Overall, with Colorado serving as the bellwether, the outdoor gear industry seems to be bracing for some rough terrain in the future.

Patagonia Fights Plastic

Leading outdoor and adventure wear brand Patagonia has long been a voice for environmental awareness and sustainability in its supply chain and product-sourcing efforts. The company’s move away from virgin plastics began back in the early 1990s when it first began producing fleece clothing made from recycled plastic bottles.

Patagonia has spent the past two decades honing its supply chain sustainability strategies and maintaining a laser focus on reducing the use of plastics in its clothing. The company acknowledges that plastics are essential to building durable, high-performance clothing, but posits that plastics are accelerating the environmental crisis because they are produced from fossil fuels and contribute to pollution that piles up once that clothing has been tossed.

Among other various initiatives aimed at curtailing its virgin plastic use, Patagonia intends to make at least half of its synthetic materials using secondary waste streams by 2025.

In June 2022, the company released a documentary stemming from its advocacy, called The Monster In Our Closet, which looks at the clothing industry’s plastics problem.

The film, available on YouTube, “uncovers the dangerous threads that connect the clothing industry to the oil and gas industry and what we can all do on the individual, business, and government levels to create the change that our planet needs,” according to Patagonia.

Key points from the documentary provide valuable takeaways for the outdoor apparel industry and other clothing brands and retailers:

•	Our closets are filled with fossil fuels: The UN estimates that 60% of clothing is made with plastic fibers that begin as crude oil, which is distilled into chemicals like ethyne, and then heated and transformed into fabrics like polyester and other products.

•	Plastics have staying power: According to Patagonia, plastic persists in our environment indefinitely unless it has been incinerated or launched into space via satellite or spacecraft. Less than 10% of plastic in the United States is actually recycled, 16% is burned, and the rest piles up in landfills.

•	Every business can help: Patagonia encourages other retailers to pitch in by sharing the names of many of its supply chain partners so other companies can invest in those secondary waste streams and amplify the effort. The company also recommends businesses take steps such as eliminating virgin petroleum sources from products, aligning with financial partners who are committed to a global energy transition, and supporting grassroots organizations whose communities are most impacted by the climate crisis.

Outdoor Retail Cheers Ocean Shipping Reform

Given the large percentage of imported goods that sit on outdoor retailers’ store shelves and in e-commerce warehouses, it’s not surprising that the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA), along with the National Retail Federation (NRF) and the Retail Industry Leader’s Association (RILA), have been outspoken about the need to update legislation around ocean shipping. Outdoor retailers and brands have much to gain from improvements in supply chain legislation, and they haven’t been shy about advocating for it.

The House’s approval of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022 (OSRA) is intended to allow the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) authorities to better protect U.S. shippers, farmers, and manufacturers from unfair or unreasonable anticompetitive actions by foreign-owned ocean carriers. NSGA, NRF, and RILA praised the passing of the legislation as a positive win for the retail sector.

The bill was championed as key legislation to improve ocean shipping costs and conditions for retailers and to help fight against inflation. NSGA indicated its strong support for OSRA by signing a letter sent to Congress urging the bill’s passage.

After the bill passed, NRF released an official statement: “Retailers depend on the global maritime transportation system to move goods through the supply chain every day and continue to face significant challenges, including unfair business practices by ocean carriers. Making OSRA federal law helps address longstanding systemic supply chain and port disruption issues that existed well before the pandemic by providing the Federal Maritime Commission with the additional authority it needs.”