The Summer Agenda Show in Long Beach will see a few new additions to its busy schedule for 2017.
One of them is Agenda Workshop, which brings together some of the most innovative minds at the show Friday, July 14, to discuss topics that affect everyone who calls themselves part of the industry.
Polartec, who will be showing at Agenda for the first time, will elevate the topic of conscious consumption and sustainable manufacturing with a talk from CEO Gary Smith. A myriad of other tech and outdoor industry execs will join him discussing subjects ranging from retail, sourcing, production, to social media and technology.
An afternoon panel session will also include a talk on “Leveling the Playing Field,” featuring well-established women executives, including founders of companies like Richer-Poorer, Amuse Society, Parachute, and Hedley & Bennett.
We caught up with a few speakers who piqued our interest — Polartec’s Smith and HydroFlask CEO Scott Allan — to better understand what they will be discussing and why bringing their ideas to a forum such as Agenda Workshop is important to them.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Gary, you are speaking about conscious consumption and sustainable manufacturing – can you give us a sneak preview of some of the main issues you’ll be touching on and why you think it’s a message that people need to hear?
GS: Both of these topics are ephemeral, "motherhood and apple pie" kinds of discussions unless you probe a bit deeper. Specific to our genre of apparel, footwear, and accessories, so much of the consumption, and in turn the manufacturing of goods, has been driven by the relentless pursuit of lower price to enable the consumption of more volume.
In that context, I call bullshit on the notion of any psychic value of making "good" choices when consuming (conscious consumption), or minimizing harm and externalities in the act of manufacturing (sustainable manufacturing), since the very act of consuming something based solely on the immediate gratification of a low price cannot be conscious or sustainable.
I feel that brands that truly wish to be sustainable and appeal to a discerning buyer need to think carefully about what tangible and intangible value they are bringing to their consumers, especially young consumers, since their economic opportunity has been impaired to a large degree by the relentless pursuit of low price. Youth have always driven the consumption of branded apparel and footwear, and we now have a situation in most developed economies where for the first time in modern history, the "next" generation faces lower economic opportunity than their forebears.
The plethora of headlines about millenials "killing" one sector after another — cable television, mall retailers, car and home ownership, fast-casual dining chains, etc. — are to a large degree missing the point. This new generation of consumers are simultaneously less discerning about their consumption and more discerning to the extent that they are willing to pay more for products and services that speak to their values. If the product is a commodity, both tangibly and intangibly, technology enables the modern consumer to get the lowest price with the least amount of effort, ergo no need to shop in a physical space or commit to anything other than on-demand, pay as you go services.
In short, price is only ever an issue in the absence of value. I hope to provoke thought on being more sustainable by creating and offering real value to consumers that is not governed by the premise of “more at a lower price.”
Scott, why do you think it’s important to discuss the intersection of outdoor and tech, and what are some of the key takeaways from your talk you hope to leave people with?
Scott Allen: The Agenda Workshop is timely for brands and retailers facing challenges from tech driven trends including Amazon's acquisition of Whole Foods Market. These are challenges that span action sports, outdoor, and other brands and retail markets.
I'll reflect upon how the world is changing, how much of that change comes from and is inherent in the tech space, and what the implications are to building a brand or evolving a traditional business. It's all told in the context of the Hydro Flask story.
Key takeaways will include identifying attributes of a fast growing, successful tech startup — which no longer only apply to tech startups, but to all brands and retailers. Second, I’ll address technology-driven threats, and how ignoring them isn't such a great strategy. Lastly, it's critical that business leaders spend a lot more time considering what business they are really in because with these market shifts also come opportunities.
What are your thoughts on the constant blurring of lines between the adventure / outdoor market and the streetwear / lifestyle / fashion worlds? Do you see this trend continuing?
SA: We see the lifestyle element firsthand in our hometown of Bend, OR. People are prioritizing where they want to live over traditional career locations. They are also making more intentional purchases of higher quality brands that align with their own values. The outdoor industry tends to excel from a values and quality standpoint. As this continues to blur into larger trends, there is a significant opportunity for brands to go beyond offering a functional product with a transactional touch point to a deeper, more meaningful interaction that resonates with consumers on an emotional and philosophical basis.
GS: I absolutely see this trend continuing unabated, so perhaps it's fair to say that it is no longer a trend but instead the new normal. Again, it's important to consider this in the context of a young person. Young people who are now coming into their own sense of awareness as consumers do not think in terms of the industry sectors or merchandising segments that much of the industry has grown up with over the past four decades.
Outdoor, Action Sports, Athletic, and Street Style are all constructs to middle aged folks working in the industry. To a young person, anything not indoors is outdoors, and anything that is comfortable and stylish is relevant. Pure performance in a technical sense is largely taken for granted and expected. Young people do not care about the processor inside the latest smartphone, only that it enables their lifestyle in terms of what it does for them — take better photos, multi-task, and look cool (e.g., does it come in rose gold?). Young people want to do lots of different things, usually in the course of a day, and therefore do not want clothing that restricts their options due to performance limitations or aesthetics.
For a complete list of speakers and information, or to register for the upcoming event, visit agenda workshop.eventbrite.com
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