Outdoor Style

Aesthetics + Performance = Perfection

Designed with stylish intent. Outdoor apparel and footwear on the cutting edge.
The Royal Robbins Temperate wear apparel line takes outdoor industry outerwear tech and merges it into stylish menswear tweeds and flannels.

The phrase “outdoor style” used to mean something quite different than it does today. Once it might have evoked images of super puffy jackets designed for withstanding the most extreme weather. And at one point it may have brought to mind the laid-back, “crunchy and granola” outdoor stereotype. But today, “outdoor style” is reflective of a whole new aesthetic. Brands with an edge. Brands that make beautiful garments that look good, feel good and perform.

Advances in construction and fabric tech mean true performance garments can coincide with stylish intent. Urban fashionistas rock outdoor style. This crossover is here to stay.

Here, designers and execs at some trendsetting outdoor brands weigh in on aesthetics, performance and the balance between the two.

“While performance is the primary need for a product being used in an extreme or dangerous environment, like the top of Everest, the outdoor customer base is moving away from wanting to look like this for everyday use, or even most outdoor activities,” says Nathan Dopp, president of Fjällräven North America. “Most consumers want a product that will be functional and appropriate on a day hike or short camping trip and also for walking the dog,

or spectating at a kid’s soccer game. This versatility is a pillar of Fjällräven’s products, they’re built for a lifetime of adventure.”

Nau apparel is designed to “provide multi-use performance and have a clean, modern and timeless aesthetic that is as appropriate in the backcountry as it is in the city.”

Founded in 2007, Nau is another leader when it comes to infusing beautiful design into the outdoor realm. “Ultimately performance and functionality supersede aesthetic,” says Mark Galbraith, GM of Nau. “If an item of clothing fails and puts the user in an uncomfortable or even life-threatening position, it does not matter how good the user looks. However, the best product designs achieve both criteria, and at Nau we believe that performance and aesthetic can both exist without compromise. In fact, this is the highest goal of good design— to provide maximum performance for the end use intended and a clean, lasting aesthetic.”

Mike Faherty co-founded the surf-inspired brand Faherty in 2013 with his brother Alex Faherty. Both are lifelong surfers. Mike has a background working at Ralph Lauren while his twin brother Alex has a finance background. The beachy brand also has a sustainability focus. “The clothes I design are the ones I have been craving to wear,” explains Mike Faherty. “So I start simply: What is it that I want right now? And then I will work each product category separately. For example, I’ll ask myself ‘what kind of jacket am I missing?’ Then start brainstorming.”

Outerwear style from Kühl. The brand’s design ethos aims for its styles “to stay in the memory of anyone who sees it and stand the test of time,” while balancing both performance and style.

Zander Nosler, founder of Kitsbow, makes mountain bike apparel. The garments perform, but are also known for looking good off the bike, too. “We try to make high performance apparel with great style,” says Nosler. “Technical constraints are constraints and the role of good design is to work with them, make them part of the style. That may lead to a higher price tag, or a fit that doesn’t work for everyone, but those are all trade offs you have to make. The key is just to be conscious of the tradeoffs you are making. Don’t get backed into a decision or let a single voice rule the conversation. Craft is also a big part of a perfect garment as is fit. And those both relate to performance and style.”

Cotopaxi is an outdoor brand focused on creating innovative outdoor products and experiences that also fund sustainable poverty relief, move people to do good, and “inspire adventure.” The products blend style and performance, as well. Cheri Sanguinetti, Vice President of Product Design, Founding Member at Cotopaxi, notes, “Because we view performance/style as intrinsic, we don’t feel the need to pin one against the other during the design process,” says Sanguinetti. “Instead, we look at who we’re trying to appeal to, and what’s important to them, to our suppliers, and to the Cotopaxi promise and we create products that we feel represent individual needs, thus integrating both aesthetic and performance elements as best as possible.”

The Royal Robbins Temperate wear apparel line takes outdoor industry outerwear tech and merges it into stylish menswear tweeds and flannels.

Mountain apparel brand Kühl has long been a standout in the outdoor world, a trendsetter, not a follower. Kühl owner/founder Kevin Boyle believes the brand has been able to become a disruptive leader in part because of its ability to infuse style into its performance design process. “While most famous brands fall into two categories, one based on appearances the other based on  technology, we take a different approach,” he says. “Since style without substance is frivolous, technology is also no excuse for poor design.”

What Boyle describes as the brand’s “iconik design” is “where passion and performance become one.”

Ben Mears is the head of global design for North Sails Collection, an apparel brand rooted in sailing that offers up a stylish design aesthetic. “I believe that providing true performance in a garment does not have to sacrifice style,” says Mears. “The first thing we do when we sit down to design our collections is to find a way to bridge a gap between Minden, Nevada and Milan, Italy.  Minden is the epicenter of North Sails’ most advanced sailmaking technology, there is not a more advanced laboratory of innovation in the use of materials in the world. Milan is the epicenter of fashion and where most of our apparel designs originate from. When we can combine the ingredients and innovation from Minden through a Milan filter, it’s strikes a balance that is unique to the outdoor market.”  

The Royal Robbins Temperate wear apparel line takes outdoor industry outerwear tech and merges it into stylish menswear tweeds and flannels.

The merino sock makers at Smartwool are also making a mark with stylish active apparel pieces. Sue Jesch, Smartwool Design Director, notes, “There is a growing importance of a balance between performance integrated seamlessly in design, intuitive integration, and style. The need is for performance to almost go unnoticed. Aesthetic and function are of equal importance to the consumer. Beauty meets function.  The consumer does not want something that will just perform for them. They want this piece to look good during and after activity. This is most important. The garment must function, but it must look good and provide the end consumer the versatility they seek to wear in and out of activity.”

Gen Arai, GM at Japanese brand Goldwin has a long history in outdoor design, having helped to pioneer The Purple Label at The North Face. He has been with Goldwin for three years and Fall 2017 is the first collection where he feels his influence is exerted fully. “The fusion of maximum performance and practical, minimal design is valuable in sportswear,” he says. “We are passionate about creating aesthetically pleasing product that is led by functional minimal design. At Goldwin, it is the concept of the lifestyle line to balance function with style. We are conscious in creating practical apparel, with style, and unique twists on performance. Garments need to function during the daily commute, a long vacation, a hike, and even walking. Our apparel needs to be versatile to suit individual’s lifestyle.”

The Royal Robbins Temperate wear apparel line takes outdoor industry outerwear tech and merges it into stylish menswear tweeds and flannels.

Greg Thomsen, managing director of adidas Outdoor, U.S., says, “In today’s outdoor market,  performance is essential, but if the product does not have the aesthetic appeal it will never see the light of day. The level of design expertise and production craftsmanship is at an all-time high and there is no room for half way designs. Products must have both the required style aesthetic and the necessary performance features to be successful. And of course they also need meaningful innovation, holistic value and brand positioned styling.”

Stonewear’s Sara Roberts notes, “In today’s fast paced world [women] need clothing that moves with them throughout the day. They hit the gym in the morning and need the performance application of their clothing, and then move right into coffee or errands and want the transition to an aesthetically appealing outfit.”

The Royal Robbins Temperate wear apparel line takes outdoor industry outerwear tech and merges it into stylish menswear tweeds and flannels.

Likewise, in pieces designed for travelers headed to urban destinations, ExOfficio aims to balance stylish versatility and high performance for urban explorers. Technical fabrics provide a variety of features such as temperature regulation, water-resistance, odor-reduction, mobility, clean silhouettes, durability, and wrinkle-resistance. “ExOfficio’s ultimate goal is to make travel easier by providing clothing solutions that the traveler doesn’t have to think twice about,” says Brian Thompson, GM of ExOfficio.

Arc’teryx leads in both style and performance. “Products can start from many places, but they’re always grounded in a functional need,” says Carl Moriarty, design director, apparel at Arc’teryx. “That function, may be driven by a particular textile, a feature, a fit concept, a construction technique or any combination of these elements. Our process is to place these functional elements into their optimal configuration and then set about making that configuration as elegant as possible. The goal is to remove any resistance the user might have to the product—to make it invisible to wear and a natural extension of your identity.”

Men’s brand Fisher + Baker, which bridges “fashion and function,” has a highlight collection that exemplifies outdor style — Everyday Cashmere. The brand worked with Optimer Brands to develop a fine blend of cashmere and drirelease that combines style and hand with functional performance.

“Our design process starts with thinking about ‘the everyday.’ We start with style and then make sure we consistently push the limits to include the key functional performance factors in fabrications, trims, design elements and construction,” says Fisher + Baker’s Mike Arbeiter.

The Royal Robbins Temperate wear apparel line takes outdoor industry outerwear tech and merges it into stylish menswear tweeds and flannels.

Men’s brand Fisher + Baker, which bridges “fashion and function,” has a highlight collection that exemplifies outdor style — Everyday Cashmere. The brand worked with Optimer Brands to develop a fine blend of cashmere and drirelease that combines style and hand with functional performance.

“Our design process starts with thinking about ‘the everyday.’ We start with style and then make sure we consistently push the limits to include the key functional performance factors in fabrications, trims, design elements and construction,” says Fisher + Baker’s Mike Arbeiter.