ISPO 2018 Munich, Germany. “Headspace”.

I’m rather new to the Sports Product Industry, I’m not afraid to admit that. I’m still in the very early stages of the learning process (forever a student though), especially when it comes to understanding trends, materials, textiles, trims, etc. I have become extremely “product conscious” of everything footwear and apparel related. Quality, marketability and profitability of a product is what drives me. Yea, you put out a very “innovative” product, but whats the performance aspect of it? How durable is it? Is the aesthetic on par with the rest of the industry or are you attempting to separate yourself from the rest of the pack? What are those margins looking like? These are type of thoughts running through my head 24/7, whether I’m walking down the street observing people‘s outfits or roaming through retail stores to get a better understanding of merchandising, customer mindsets, products, and brands.

Fortunately enough, I was blessed to have the opportunity to attend ISPO 2018 in Munich, Germany. This is one of, if not the largest, international sporting goods trade expos out there (imagine five LAX Airports right next to each other). This was such an eye opening experience, and what at times had me feeling like a baby cub being thrown out into the jungle. Being a student at this expo you’re at the bottom of the food chain, you felt like the guy at the dance that none of the pretty girls wanted to boogie with. If you’re not a buyer, you’re a nobody. As a new comer to the industry, the goal here was to get a grasp on understanding the sports product market and where future trends are headed. This is an outdoor heavy expo with house favorite brands like The North Face, Columbia, Patagonia, Arc’Teryx, and personal new favorite in Jack Wolfskin all showing off what they’ll have to offer for the Fall 2018 season.

Coming into the game with my eyes wide open, everything seemed to be moving 100 miles an hour. Adrenaline was pumping and I loved every second of it. I felt inner peace in the midst of all the chaos. The beautiful part of coming in with no experience is that there is huge opportunity to pick the brands apart, finding differences and similarities, and to be quite honest there was more mimicking than differentiating going on. Aside from a few minor trims and patterns, the only thing separating one brand from the other was the story they told (this goes for all of the outdoor brands especially). In a way this was extremely shocking, than again I’m new to the game and sure that this has been going on for as long as the sun has been rising on the east and setting on the west.

The real winner at ISPO in my opinion? GORE-FUCKING-TEX. Pure domination. From their own product line and the way that they branded themselves to the brands that they worked with. Which seemed to be damn near 99% of the industry. The North Face, Patagonia, Arc’Teryx, adidas, Dachstein, etc. I can go on and on naming the brands that had the GORE-TEX hangtag in one category or another in their product lines. From the typical rain jacket down to the business dress boot, GORE-TEX had their imprint on ISPO made very clear.

To those that know or have heard of GORE-TEX but don’t actually have the concept of what it really is, to dumb it down a bit, GORE-TEX is a microporous (composed of small pores) material that lets sweat escape all while remaining waterproof from the outside. To dumb it down even further, at the end of the day what you’re getting when you purchase that jacket, glove, or boot is the guarantee. Yes, of course their technology is amazing and offers unique solutions for a number of activities and climate conditions, but so do a number of other textiles. You’re paying a pretty penny for the hang tag guarantee.

Overall, the experience of Munich, Germany and attending ISPO was incredible. Having the opportunity to dabble with textile manufacturers and factories was a major learning moment for myself. Negotiations across cultures is interesting and far from easy. Walking miles hall through hall, booth by booth, I gained a much broader understanding of what trend forecasting really looked like. Its a muscle that must continuously be worked out and worked on. Key takeaways are that its all about personal relationships, aesthetics are vital to success, and that us as the consumer no longer want the souvenir, we want the experience. The story that your brand tells and the emotional durability that you provide are the most important aspects of the garment and to sustaining longevity in this game. The time was well spent and looked at more so from the personal investment perspective where this experience of gaining insider knowledge, planting seeds and beginning the process of building relationships within the industry is something that I know will pay off dividends in the long term.

Head down, I’ll come up for air in 2025.