When it comes to creating outdoor apparel, many legacy brands have left women in the dust. Most have simply followed the “shrink it and pink it” model, attempting to feminize men’s styles with smaller sizes and pretty color palettes (cough cough, pink or purple), but ignoring things like fit, functionality, and diverse sizing.
“The outdoor industry is rightfully [known] as one that is slow to the punch in terms of progressiveness. It has taken sustainability seriously, and has for a long time, but as it pertains to welcoming under-represented communities, extended sizing, etcetera—there is still work to be done,” says Ariana Ferwerda, co-founder and CEO of the women’s ski and snowboard apparel brand, Halfdays, which was founded in 2019. “It’s an untapped opportunity.”
2023 will be a breath of fresh air for women’s “recleisure,” aka clothing and accessories that can be worn on the trails and beyond. It’s not “Gorpcore,” high fashion’s term for outdoorsy styles meant to be worn on the streets, not in the elements. Instead, like the boom in “athleisure” that got athletic apparel out of the gym and the rise of “workleisure” that married professionalism with comfort, recleisure will blend fashion and recreation, offering women more transitional, size-inclusive technical pieces they can wear anywhere, especially in the great outdoors. Think: technical skorts and dresses, hiking sneakers instead of boots, and aprés-friendly ski wear.
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Co-founder and Co-CEO of Alder Apparel
“Customers want more versatile options to fill their wardrobes. They want their technical gear to flow seamlessly into their everyday life—things they can wear on a hike to be comfortable and well-equipped to handle the elements, and then wear out to brunch with friends after.”
As Well+Good Trends Advisor Naomi Blackman, co-founder of women’s outdoor recreation company Alder Apparel (founded in 2019) explains, customers want versatility above all else: ”They want their technical gear to flow seamlessly into their everyday life—things they can wear on a hike to be comfortable and well-equipped to handle the elements, and then wear out to brunch with friends after,” she says. Blackman says the brand’s designs—which have expanded from a single pair of hiking pants to an entire collection of tops, bottoms, dresses, and outerwear in just two years—start from a place of function. From there, designs are less about trends and more about fit, especially on the sizing front. Currently, all of Alder’s pieces are offered in sizes ranging from XS to 6XL.
“The outdoor industry—and apparel overall—has been notoriously slow to consider inclusivity,” Blackman says. “We built Alder with inclusivity in mind from day one…We spend a lot of time working on how our garments will fit on different bodies and how the garment will move with you throughout your day.” In 2023, Alder is adding a swim and workwear line, as well as additional lengths in the best-selling Open Air Pants. “We'll continue to design with new fits, sizing updates, continue to represent all bodies [with real customers as models], and continue working towards building a more diverse outdoor industry,” Blackman says.
Alder Apparel isn’t the only new brand that’s come out of the woodwork to tackle outdoor sports’ inclusivity problem with more stylish, better-fitting clothes. Nor is it the only one with plans for growth in 2023. Ferwerda says Halfdays will continue expanding its sizing to be as inclusive as possible (currently, Halfdays’s items range from size 0 to 26). This fall, it released its first line of versatile puffer coats and parkas to be worn off the slopes. In 2023, Halfdays will “launch new styles that take customers into all seasons and outdoor activities outside of skiing.”
Alpine Parrot, which was founded in 2020 and makes hiking gear exclusively for women sizes 14 to 24, just announced its first hiking shirt for pre-order this November in sizes 1X to 5X and in two different fits based on bra cup size. In early 2023, founder and CEO Raquel Vélez says, the brand will expand its pants sizing up to size 30 (available for pre-order now!) and plans to drop totally new styles later in the year.
So why all this momentum for women’s recleisure now? “Looking at who’s outdoors, it was never represented in what the industry was showing us,” says Chelsea Rizzo, co-founder of Hikerkind. She explains that it’s not just white, male extreme athletes on the trails, but regular people, including people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, and women. “Finally, there’s this rumbling of, ‘This is who’s actually outside, and we’re going to finally create options and change the narrative of what the outdoor industry has been telling us for all these years,’” she says.
A pandemic brainchild, Hikerkind was founded by Rizzo and Allison Levy to create utilitarian, minimalist, and fashionable women’s hiking gear. With that, it’s also a New York City-based hiking club deeply rooted in community, dedicated to giving all women a place of their own to meet fellow nature lovers and get a breath of fresh air together. Both sides of the business have seen explosive growth: In just a year since the brand officially launched, Hikerkind’s sales have exploded, up 134 percent year over year, while its Hike Club participation increased over five times from 2021, up to 1,477 sign-ups total. Additionally, Hikerkind signed its first wholesale partnership with Madewell in August 2022 and sales have already been successful, particularly those in the extended-sizing arena, which make up about 27 percent of all purchases.
Rizzo and Levy seem to think that recleisure’s recent surge was a long time coming and is being welcomed from both consumers and businesses in the space. “People are so excited and ready for a change. Hearing the stories of women, people of color, and people with different body types—these people are really being listened to by [brand executives]” Rizzo says. “And rather than the people at the top [of legacy companies] being like, ‘Okay, well, we can do this on our own’, they’re inviting us in, creating opportunities, and creating new spaces so we can diversify the outdoors.” For Hikerkind, this means bringing its Hike Club on the road in 2023, giving women around the country a chance to get outside together.
REI made significant strides for diversity and inclusion this year, too: It expanded its apparel size range in all stores to 3XL this spring, saw double-digit growth in women’s outerwear sales, and launched a collection with Outdoor Afro (an organization committed to connecting Black people and communities to nature) in September. Jessica Weidenbach, REI’s merchandising manager for women’s outerwear, says versatility will continue to be top of mind in 2023. “Our goal is to get more people outside,” she says. “From a design perspective, women want to be comfortable and confident in what they are wearing, regardless of what they are doing. More and more, we are seeing customers choosing color and style to express themselves, as well as focusing on quality and sustainable brands that align with their values. Our assortment now and in the future really caters to this level of versatility that is performance first, yet stylish and functional.”
Legacy activewear brands are also exploring new terrain, veering off their beaten paths with more versatile, outdoor-focused options. Adidas, Saucony, and Vivobarefoot have all experimented with street-to-trail-running hybrids that can be worn well beyond the woods this fall, launching the Free Hiker 2, Ride 15 TR, and Tracker Decon FG2, respectively. Outdoor Voices and Lululemon both launched hike-specific collections for Fall 2022, both of which include technical pieces with a twist, such as OV’s pocket-loaded Zip-Off Overalls and Lululemon’s Grid Fleece Overshirt that doubles as a trendy button-down.
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Even companies that don’t make outdoor apparel seem to be leaning into a crunchier, more nature-focused aesthetic. Farm Rio launched its first-ever ski collection in late November. One of Aerie’s Fall ‘22 edits was titled “You’re A Trail Blazer” and featured athleisure pieces with a nature-y spin, like the LumberJane Flannel and the Down-to-Earth Crew Sweatshirt, emblazoned with the phrase, “Mind in the Mtns.” Similarly, Abercrombie & Fitch’s new Ultra Collection—a line of toasty puffer vests and jackets—was marketed with the tagline: “Our warmest collection of coats, from the sidewalks to the slopes.”
“The outdoor lifestyle is trending right now. Outdoor apparel is becoming more lifestyle, and lifestyle [apparel] is becoming more outdoorsy,” says Wayne Borromeo, president and chief marketing officer at Wondery, another women’s outdoor apparel and gear brand. Founded in 2016, Wondery was one of the first to champion the empowerment of women and marginalized communities outdoors. Borromeo and Wondery’s community director, Lydia Mok, thinks it’s trending because it’s what customers want, and they’re willing to spend money on gear that actually fits, looks good, and gets them outside. “We’re asking for it. Social media has allowed us to say things like, ‘I want to see someone like me in the outdoors,’” says Mok. “I personally know people who, when they shop, will look up a brand and ask, ‘How diverse is this brand? What stories are they telling? Is it all homogenous folks?’ The customer is becoming smarter and the demand is definitely there.”
“There is a massive opportunity to create gear that speaks to these segments who have been left out of the outdoor industry for decades.” Ferwerda adds. “I absolutely think this is going to grow and will become table-stakes for brands over the next few years.” ✙