Words From A Professional Gear Buyer
We’re at the beginning of a revolution in outdoor gear design. Outdoor adventure is no longer a niche market and we’re seeing more and more gear designed for people who don’t fit the traditional stoic mountain man stereotypes. To find out more about the current state of affairs, we checked in with a professional gear nerd. Hanna O’Neill is the assistant gear buyer at Moosejaw Mountaineering, a job that gives her a unique insight into the evolving outdoor industry and the opportunity to be a voice for change.
“When I started on my team I was the only women for about 2 or 3 years. Since then we’ve added a couple more women to the team which has been a welcome change. On the hard good side it’s a bit more of a boys club. It’s just kind of happened that way. Not just in our office, but at the tradeshows we attend, a lot of the vendors we work with are dude heavy. It’s been interesting watching things evolve, and having our company evolve to have more female presence,” Hanna said.
As a buyer, Hanna gets the first look at new gear before it hits the storefronts and she has the opportunity to work with companies on improving designs. Having more women like Hanna at the table creates the opportunity for companies to focus on more specific design features from a woman’s perspective. Features that wouldn’t occur to a person who didn’t need it such as the way a pack fits over a woman’s chest or hips.
“When we go to trade shows, I get to be the woman’s voice on our team, and I think some brands really appreciate that there’s someone who can say ‘This fits me like crap, what do you plan on doing about that?’” Hanna said.
Although she's experienced a bit of dude soup (one vendor once told her they didn't consider the weight in a woman's version of gear because her boyfriend would be carrying it for her anyway), she says that overall she feels welcomed.
“I’ve had really good interactions with brands who are willing to listen, take feedback, and try new things.”
Although more brands are working to design gear that meets the needs of their customers, it can still be a challenge to prove that there is a market for broader sizes, or specific technical products. From the standpoint of a business looking at what sells best and considering minimum orders, you can see where the logic comes from, but Hanna points out that you can’t sell what you don’t have - meaning if you don’t offer women’s gear in XXL, then of course women won’t buy it. However, she says that too is changing.
“It’s been encouraging to see more brands offering extended sizing - and it applies to men too. We’re offering more tall sizes than before. It used to be that women would come into the store and say ‘I can’t even try anything on.’” Hanna said.
Looking at the bigger picture, companies are starting to focus on more than gender differences when it comes to gear and clothing design. For example, Tommy Hilfiger recently launched Tommy Adaptive, a line of clothing for people with different physical needs.
“It’s so interesting to see this brand thinking so far out of the box and coming up with way to meet this need that has obviously been there forever,” Hanna said.
As the outdoor community continues to grow into a more diverse culture, the industry will grow and evolve, creating opportunities to meet the needs of its consumers.
“I think that some of the people who might have been stuck are their ways are starting to see that women are valuable in the industry as partners and customers so if they don’t embrace that, they’re going to get left behind,” Hanna said.