More brands shift focus to the casual outdoor enthusiast

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More brands shift focus to the casual outdoor enthusiast

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“Campnic,” a portmanteau of camp and picnic, is the latest trend in outdoor retail. The Gangnam branch of Shinsegae Department Store recently renovated its seventh floor dedicated to outdoor brands, setting up shops with a new emphasis on leisure and lifestyle. [SHINSEGAE DEPARTMENT STORE]

Outdoor clothing and equipment brands enjoyed an abrupt heyday in Korea a few years ago. But the hype dwindled as quickly as it began, when people soon discovered that rigorous outdoor activities like hiking, camping and climbing required expensive, heavy and not-so-stylish equipment.

For image-conscious youth who want to look spry outdoors without breaking a sweat or the bank, a new fad is emerging called “campnic,” a portmanteau of camping and picnic. Instead of being equipped with full gear from head to toe for a full day of hiking, “campnic” involves light activity and minimum gear such as ultralight tents, chairs and tables, and local retailers are jumping on the trend.

Shinsegae Department Store recently renovated the seventh floor of its Gangnam branch, where outdoor products are sold, to emphasize the “lifestyle” and “leisure” aspects of outdoor sports. Here, shoppers can find the latest in camping products, which nowadays includes cooking kits for gourmet meals, coffeemakers to brew hand-drip coffee, and classic bicycles that look cute and trendy.

As a result of such efforts, Shinsegae’s Gangnam branch saw a 94 percent year-on-year increase in sales of outdoor brands in June and July, a stark contrast to the same period last year, when sales saw a 5.9 percent year-on-year decrease.

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The department store introduced lesser-known outdoor brands such as Sweden-based Fjallraven, which sells durable clothes and gear for outdoor activities ranging from hiking to hunting. Hollain, an outdoor brand based in Seoul’s vibrant Hongdae neighborhood, was also added to the floor, offering a line of products that can be used not just for camping and hiking but also for festivals and picnics.

Sports and outdoor brands with a more established foothold in Korea, such as Lafuma and Aigle, are coming up with their own strategies to keep up with the “campnic” fad.

Lafuma, a French outdoor brand, is promoting its gardening products at its store, while hiking brand Eider is emphasizing its surfing equipment. American outdoor brand Columbia has started selling fishing apparel.

Sportswear brands are also revamping their lineup to offer more fashionable products. Hiking and camping clothes are generally not considered stylish, with their emphasis on durability and functionality.

But lately, sportswear brands such as Kolon Sports have launched new clothing that can be worn in the city and in the woods. The extremely bright colors that characterize most hiking gear have now been toned down to neutral colors such as navy and gray.

Millet diversified its leisure-oriented brand RSC by adding a line called Urban that focuses on casual wear, while its counterpart line Active emphasizes functionality for more active sports enthusiasts.

The sudden change in strategy by many of these outdoor brands is a bid to turn around from a decreased customer base. Since 2013, interest in hard-core outdoor activities like hiking and climbing has dwindled. Last year, the market grossed 6.7 trillion won ($6.1 billion) a 6.4 percent year-on-year drop.

Youngwon Outdoor, which operates the Korean unit of market leader North Face, posted a 28 percent fall in revenue last year, while Black Yak, another brand, also saw a 12.3 percent year-on-year drop in revenue.

Some of the foreign brands that aggressively entered Korea in 2009, such as Jack Wolfskin and North Scape, recently withdrew from the market.

“Sales of expensive items such as goose-down jackets, which used to be a major player in generating profit, showed lackluster performance,” one industry insider said. “The market has become too competitive.”

With the new focus on “campnic,” local retailers and outdoor brands are doing their best to revive the once-lucrative market.

“We are luring in customers by marketing our outdoor brands with a younger and more vibrant image, in addition to fusing it with relaxing and fun leisure activity instead of hard-core sports,” said a spokesman for Shinsegae Department Store’s fashion department.


BY KOO HUI-LYUNG, JIN EUN-SOO [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]

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