The Rise of Outerwear: Exploring Fashion’s Hottest Trend

Here’s a little fact that might take you by surprise: one of the hottest categories in the clothing manufacturing industry these days is outerwear. In fact, this market was valued at $268.3 billion globally in 2018 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 4.3% from 2019 to 2025. That’s a lot of puffer jackets, raincoats and windbreakers!

Coats and jackets account for the largest market share of 52.5%. The segment is driven by a rise in the use of jackets for purposes such as trekking, bike riding, camping and hiking. In other words, all outdoor activities saw an increase in popularity due to the pandemic.

Layer Upon Layers

The trend towards more casual dressing has people looking at outerwear in new ways. People are loving the “tough, but fashionable” look of vintage workwear, the high-end glam of puffer jackets with rich, elegant zippers and snaps, and the tried-and-true style of classic rainwear (think Burberry trench coats).

Also, people have changed how they dress for chilly temps. One large, bulky layer has given way to several thin layers. The good news here is that the sheer volume of sales of winter clothes is steadily increasing.

All these changes offer the enterprising emerging designers (maybe you?) ample opportunity to create a well-merchandised collection in varying weights and textures. Case in point…consider a vest layered over a shirt or hoodie, with a coat overtop as just one easy option. The design possibilities are endless.

Fabric First

When developing outerwear, fabric should be first and foremost in your mind. In fact, we can’t think of a single category where fabric selection is more important.

In some cases, new, innovative textiles have replaced traditional materials, mostly due to their high performance and cost-effective benefits. Of course, depending on your personal aesthetic as a high-end established designer, natural fabrics such as cotton and wool might be more appropriate to your collection. If that’s you, don’t despair…advances in the sustainability and “eco-friendliness” of natural fabrics keep them in the mix, as well.

Natural Fibers

  • Cotton – Nothing reduces that post-workout stench like cotton. The downside is cotton absorbs moisture; no one wants sweat-logged clothing during a high-intensity exercise such as hiking or skiing. Still, for low-sweat activities, cotton blends are great.
  • Wool – is popular among hikers and lovers of the great outdoors. The material creates pockets that trap air, so it’s fantastic at regulating heat and keeping the body warm. It’s also breathable and wicks moisture.

Synthetic Fabrics

  • Bamboo – While bamboo starts out as a “natural” fabric from the bamboo plant, it is considered synthetic due to its processing. Bamboo is light, breathable, and moisture-wicking—it also protects skin from ultraviolet rays.
  • Nylon – This synthetic fabric has come a long way. It’s as soft as silk, mildew resistant, and dries quickly. It’s also breathable and wicks sweat from the skin to the fabric’s surface, where it can evaporate.
  • Polyester – This fabric is durable, wrinkle-resistant, breathable, and non-absorbent; moisture from the skin evaporates instead of being drawn into the material. The main drawback to polyester is odor retention, definitely something to keep in mind when designing garments for high-intensity outdoor activities.
  • Polypropylene – is made from plastic and is completely water-resistant. Polypropylene forces moisture to pass through its fibers, expelling it to the fabric’s surface where it can evaporate.
  • Spandex – (aka “Lycra”) can expand to nearly 600 percent of its size, offers an unrestricted range of motion, and then snaps back in place. Spandex is also breathable, wicks moisture, and dries quickly.

Company-Patented Fabrics

  • PolarTec – Malden Mills first developed Polar Fleece, now called PolartecTM, in the 1970s. It has many of the advantages of wool (warmth, even when wet, and breathability) without the disadvantages (weight, bulk, care, and discomfort).
  • Coolmax – is a series of moisture-wicking technical fabrics developed in 1986 by DuPont Textiles and Interiors. These ‘wickaway’ fabrics draw moisture away from the skin to maintain the appropriate air space between the skin and the outer garment shell.
  • Supplex  – was created to offer consumers the feels and benefits of cotton without its downfalls (creasing, shrinkage, and fading). It feels like cotton but is breathable, holds its shape, dries fast, and retains color.
  • Cordura – is a collection of fabrics usually made from nylon. Created from ‘high-bulk’ yarn, the filaments are looped and tangled within the yarn bundle creating high abrasion resistance.  It’s as thick as cotton duck fabric but weighs half as much, with three times the tear strength and abrasion resistance.

Design and Development

Whether you are just launching your first collection or if your brand has been around for a while, you want to be known for something specific and distinct; something that isn’t already out there. How are you going to make sure you stand out, and that people will buy your garments instead of going somewhere else?

The answer is simple, know your competition. One great way to do so is to attend an industry trade show. Your competition will be there, showing their new products coming to market. It’s the best research you’ll ever do! Depending on the niche of your brand (performance? ready-to-wear? high fashion?) there’s an appropriate show for you.

That said, if you are living in the United States, there’s no excuse not to go to Texworld USA or Premiere Vision New York. Likewise, designers in Europe should attend Premiere Vision France at least once every few years to stay on top of the latest trends.

When developing outerwear (patterns and samples) we recommend using an experienced pattern maker and sample sewer. The unique fabrics and complicated designs common in this category take a deft hand and a discerning eye. Obviously, it takes more skill to develop a ski jacket with all its layers than it does a polo shirt.

Bottom Line

Once you’ve finalized the sample-making, it’s always good to test your designs. Wear the garments yourself, offer them to friends and family, get as much feedback as possible (and keep an open mind). When you test your idea, you’ll gather lots of valuable information you can use to tweak your product offering. Only then will you know that your outerwear collection is ready for market.

Creating an outerwear collection is a challenging, yet fulfilling endeavor. When you’re ready to break into this lucrative market, we’re here to help. In our 18+ years in the clothing manufacturing industry, we’ve helped many designers find success in the outerwear and activewear categories. Let us tell you what we’ve learned. You can get in touch with us anytime or feel free to give us a call at 800-916-0910 if you’re ready to elevate your brand.

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