Of the many trends accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic in the US and Europe, the sharp increase in city-dwellers seeking outdoor experiences presents a notable opportunity for brands. As urban and outdoor lifestyles coalesce, young urban consumers now seek to integrate a growing interest in outdoor activities with their city lifestyles for a cohesive urban-outdoor lifestyle. After a year of COVID-19 restrictions, early claims of permanent urban flight are now largely contested. More significant than people moving away from cities are the extended visits to natural settings and the rise in popularity of activities like hiking, bird watching, and biking. Further, the rippling impacts of the global Black Lives Matter movement provoke a reconsideration of traditionally whitewashed spaces like climbing, fishing, camping. A campaign to “Diversify the Outdoors” sees the widespread advocacy of People of Color in outdoor spaces with community groups like Team Onyx, the first all-Black professional expedition team. With a mission to make adventure sports more inclusive of BIPOC and LGBTQ communities, Team Onyx competes in expedition races in all areas including swimming, surfing, rowing, climbing, running, and biking. Another notable group is Hike Clerb, an intersectional womxn’s hike club in Los Angeles. Their mission is to make hiking more accessible and approachable for womxn of all backgrounds and abilities, emphasizing group healing of a community hike. Groups like these exemplify that Millennials and Gen Zs are increasingly demanding diversity and inclusivity as a core element of cultural identity. Diverse and accessible narratives and influencers liberate consumers to openly explore their passions and expand their identities—making outdoor spaces more accessible to new consumer cohorts. As demand for wellness gains omnipresence, post-pandemic consumers will seek activity, connection, and healing in nature without surrendering their interests and aspects of identity rooted in urban life.
Foto: Camp Yoshi
Urban-outdoor consumers shop with a trend-conscious eye, valuing aesthetic continuity and technical performance across arenas. They identify with brands that speak to their complete identities, unifying form and function, blurring urban and outdoor sensibilities. The pandemic has made city-dressing more technical, comfort focussed, and casual. Preexisting streetwear and athleisure trends converge with an expanding and diversifying wellness market as well as trends in outdoor wear. The outdoor apparel market is projected to grow by $3.9 billion between 2020 and 2024, as the global consumer base becomes more urban. Over 34% of outdoor customers currently live in cities, and this proportion is expected to grow in coming years, further blending the two spheres. A recent Outdoor Industry report suggests that young and diverse urban outdoor consumers are currently leading market influencers. Their spending habits focus most on outdoor apparel, and they are more likely to influence the purchasing and activity decisions of their social circles. Central to the report’s findings is that these consumers do not consider themselves “traditionally outdoorsy,” as many discovered outdoor activities in adulthood.
Best - in - class examples
As urban and outdoor cultures coalesce, a gap emerges between performance-focused outdoor offerings and urban sportswear brands. Savvy brands entering the market are finding success by considering what separates Patagonia from Nike and what sits in the white-space in between. Where urban sports brands like Nike and Adidas meet these consumers’ aesthetic needs, they fall short in their failure to offer products and designs with an identity focused on outdoor activities. In the inverse of this dynamic, traditional outdoor brands like Patagonia and REI clearly articulate their identities but often encounter an aesthetic disconnect with urban consumers. In the American market, this gap is nominally filled by a small handful of brands such as Outdoor Voices, The North Face, and Girlfriend Collective. However, this new consumer cohort is looking to connect with brands that satisfy an urban aesthetic. The cultural moment calls for products made for 7-days-a-week gear for the city as much as the forest.
Foto: New Balance x Snow Peak Tokyo Design Studio
Japanese urban- outdoor influence
The Japanese hybrid urban-outdoor lifestyle and pre-existing consumer base present a compelling example of what may lie in store in the West. These brands are born of the traditional Japanese practice of balancing city life with time in nature. Notably, many originated in the 1980s out of a backlash against an excessively demanding corporate culture and widespread interest among urban consumers for lifestyle balance and outdoor recreation. We see similar dynamics at play today in the United States with two-thirds of workers experiencing work-from-home burnout while rising cases of “Nature-Deficit Disorder” point to our craving for outdoor experiences.
Rooted in craft, material integrity, and hyper-functionality, Japanese brands express the DNA of outdoor apparel in an aesthetically-driven urban context. Think workwear with a mountaineering twist. With strong visual sensibility, these brands skew gender-neutral and present consumers with a compelling vision of what fashionable, functional, progressive urban-outdoor dual citizenship looks like. In Japan, urban-outdoor culture successfully appeals to streetwear devotees, traditional outdoor gear-heads, and those in the West who don’t feel seen by the American outdoor orthodoxy and tradition.
Urban-outdoor style presents an opportunity in a shifting landscape both in the Inter-Covid and post-pandemic markets. Looking forward, it is also emblematic of larger-scale trends in how consumers are shaping their identity in response to a social climate of inclusivity, self-care, re-integration with nature. By acknowledging the realities of consumers’ lives, brands meet them where they are, accepting their complete identities as both urban dwellers and nature enthusiasts. Harnessing the urban-outdoor mentality allows brands to appeal to consumer-demand for aesthetic continuity across all purchasing decisions. Products built for durability and a wide range of activities prove more sustainable, attracting an increasingly eco-conscious consumer base. Similarly, approaching consumers as dual urban-outdoor citizens appeals to emerging markets. Gen Z, the largest and most diverse generation in American history, is quickly becoming famous for their mingling and merging of radically heterogeneous identities. As flexibility becomes a central aspect of individual identity, the character of outdoor-ism becomes more malleable and open. Brands find success when they prove able to match consumer agility, expanding their own design identities and purpose.
A few examples
Outdoor Experience Founded in the Fall of 2020, Camp Yoshi is a curated camping experience creating space for Black outdoorsmen to connect with nature. Founded by Chef Cultural Curator and designer Rashad Frazier, the team provides guided expeditions, gear, transportation, and meals. Through this all-inclusive model, in addition to partnerships with key brands such as Snow Peak and Leatherman, Camp Yoshi aims to maximize the accessibility of outdoor activities.
Photo: San Ei Corporation
Urban-Outdoor Brand Snow Peak made high-design camping gear for 56 years before the founder’s granddaughter launched the brand’s first apparel collection in 2014. Today, Snow Peak’s impeccable aesthetic taste and commitment to function give rise to exciting products like an outdoor kimono, a camping sake set, and 79 varieties of tents.
Magazine and Festival Written for an audience interested in “outdoor activities and urban outdoor style,” Go Out Magazine approaches outdoor lifestyle with the attitude of a street style publication. Go Out also hosts an annual camping festival where guests pitch limited edition tents, shop on “Brand Avenue,” and listen to live music by artists such as Akkogorilla or TOMOO.
Luxury Urban-Outdoor Brand Visvim sits in the sphere of luxury, representing the high end of urban-outdoor culture. Designer, Hiroki Nakamura, spent his early career working in snowboard design and combines this background knowledge in technical materials with a devotion to traditional craft. Characteristics of the brand include high price points and waiting lists (even Kanye West signed up for one). Beyond the hype, Nakamura’s interest in “outdoor, Americana utility gear” manifests throughout his work.
Outdoor Activity As a highly urban country with a historic connection to nature, the Japanese urban-outdoor lifestyle consists of various practices meant to facilitate a relationship with the natural world. Forest Bathing serves as a bridge between our senses and nature. The practice is more sensory than physical and simply entails being present in nature. Emerging as an eco-therapeutic technique in Japan, Forest Bathing has recently gained attention in the US and Europe, particularly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on mental health.
Photo: Bianca Valle
Influencer Painter/Sculptor/Nutritionist/Beauty Influencer Bianca Valle is well versed in a holistic approach to living. From Manhattan to the world, she guides her followers through an active outdoors lifestyle from an urban base. Her #ALittleBitOften campaign encourages followers to take a few minutes to run in the outdoors. In October of this year, she founded Big Love Running Club, which self-identifies as an “inclusive run club in NYC for any human at any level.”
FashionUnited & Fashion Snoops have partnered to explore important shifts that will impact consumers, as we both believe it is essential to inform you of future inspirations, business shifts and design strategies. The reports from FS will provide actionable strategies for innovations across marketing, development and design. In this report, written by Isabelle Jones, FS Guest Contributor, and Carrera Kurnik, Culture Editor & Consumer Insight Strategist at FS, we examine an emerging Consumer Lifestyle Shift: “The Urban Outdoorsmen.”
Homepage photo: Camp Yoshi. All images courtesy of the brands through Fashion Snoops.