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How companies are combining gear and casual wear

"Climbers do yoga," says CEO of Mountain Equipment Co-Op. "Active people in the wilderness, they live in urban environments, they run, they cycle. We always said, 'We'll give you this part of your lifestyle but we won't address that.' To be relevant we have to look at things through our member's lives, not our eyes."

That's what Doug Labistour told the Globe and Mail in an interview. The head honcho of Canada's largest outdoor gear store was discussing the changing direction MEC is being forced to follow to keep up with its members. It's a story I've witnessed several times since I became gear editor for explore Magazine.

Companies begin their lives being very core to their roots. As they mature they look to diversify and before they know it they're making yoga wear. Not that there is anything wrong with that; I thank Lululemon Athletica for inventing the yoga pant for women just about every day.

Arc'Teryx was born as a climbing brand, making harnesses, now they make casual clothing and tons of urban running gear. And The Bird was following in the footsteps of Mountain Hardwear and The North Face, who also went from hardcore to urban warrior. Level Six, a Canadian white water paddling accessory maker, started making gear for freestyle play boaters, diversified into slalom racing and now makes casual clothing. And that's just a few examples.

At the same time I've seen brands go the other way. Eddie Bauer, once a dominate player in high altitude climbing and polar exploration, went the way of The Gap until a couple years ago when they launched First Ascent. The technical clothing and equipment is top of the line in terms of looks and function. Columbia is attempting a similar reversal. After a few years of products that were close but missed, watch for excellent outdoor gear from them this spring and fall. The interesting thing about them is that they realize their competition is not The North Face or Arc'Teryx but Lululemon, Zara and Adidas.

Lulu and Adidas are forcing other brands to realize that fashion is as important as function to a huge segment of the market. They're responding and that's a good thing for all of us. After all, who doesn't like to look good?

And then there is MEC. I think they've done an excellent job of growing with demand without losing siight of their original goal. They've made their clothing attractive and flattering. They added colours that won't make you sick to look at. They got rid of purple and those ridiculous one-piece worm suits. And yet they still make excellent gear that can cut it in the most extreme and demanding places. Watch for a new series of alpine and climbing packs this spring—they rock.

Bring on the MEC yoga pant.
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