All Images: Courtesy of 686 / Mary Walsh
Ah, women. We can be so fickle sometimes. First we’re hot, then we’re cold. Yes and then no, yada yada. Well, it turns out, we’re also pretty hard to figure out when it comes to outerwear design, too. To get a pulse on what women want in their skiing and snowboarding apparel, California-based outerwear brand 686 organized a day-long round table discussion.
686 first got its start as a snowboard-specific technical outerwear and accessories brand over 25 years ago by founder Michael Akira West, who still runs the show today. In the quarter century since the brand first took off, it has expanded to encompass both snowboarding and skiing apparel, as well as accessories, that go from the mountains to the city streets without missing a beat. While 686’s past and present successes are due in large part to the men’s line, the brand realizes women are a large piece of the snow industry market pie. In an effort to grow the brand and its female customer base, 686 is putting a big emphasis on its women-specific offerings for winter 2020-21.
Last week, I had the opportunity to fly out to the 686 headquarters in Los Angeles to discuss outerwear with nearly 30 other women, ranging from 686 athletes to retail buyers to avid skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts. Below, I laid out the top three takeaways from a full day’s worth of conversations about color, fit, style and marketing to women.
Women are complicated
Put 20 women in a room and you’ll get 20 different opinions when it comes to style and function of outerwear, like insulation and pocket placement. While some women like to flaunt their feminine shape whilst shredding the slopes, other women are looking for more masculine-inspired styles. This was especially apparent when West asked everyone who wears men’s outerwear to raise their hands. All but one of 686’s female athletes raised theirs. It’s important to note that all of 686’s current lady athletes are snowboarders and the culture of the sport promotes a baggier and swaggier style, making intended use a key factor when designing for female snow sliders.
But even if two women are looking for the same fit, one cut of a jacket in multiple sizes won’t suffice, as was made clear when five different women tried on the same jacket, at the same time, in sizes ranging from extra small to extra large. Interestingly, while the extra small achieved the baggier, athletic fit, the extra large was restricting in the chest and shoulders and barely fit over the particular wearer’s waist.
Bibs are hot right now, but pants remain Queen
Scroll through just about any outerwear brand’s website and you’re bound to notice that bibs are making a big comeback. While I personally wear bibs exclusively, most of the women at this round table still prefer the fit of pants. Standing just over five feet tall, I find bibs to be easier to wear in a baggier fashion because I get the extra support from the suspenders, but women who sport wider hips and bigger breasts find bibs to be challenging to fit just right, in all the right places. While 686 offers a couple bib options for women, pants are by far the more popular choice.
Influencers are the bane of an athlete’s existence
The last topic of the day revolved around marketing strategies aimed at women. We watched good, bad and just damn ugly examples of brands’ attempts at speaking to women, with ads like Nike’s Dream Crazier rising to the top. When 686’s head of marketing, Brent Sandor brought up the concept of influencers, the room lit up with fiery athlete feedback. While social media influencers are a great way to get your product in front of hundreds of thousands of screen-locked eyes, athletes and their loyal followings can pick out a poser fast. The consensus in the room that day was simple: you’ve got rad women on your athlete roster, so use them and their content to promote your brand.