How to Navigate the Rugged and Safety Promotional Apparel Landscape
The rugged and safety apparel category is undergoing some serious changes. Thanks to new technical fabrications and cutting-edge features, the apparel choices are limitless. End-users are looking for options that are as tough as they are, and they want options that make their occupations and daily tasks easier. We spoke to two industry experts, Michael Dalzell, vice president of marketing for Stormtech, Burnaby, British Columbia; and John Perez, marketing manager for Tri-Mountain, Irwindale, Calif., about how distributors can provide apparel that can take on anything.
With so many new, innovative options in the rugged and safety market, distributors need to think about what the end-user wants when it comes to their apparel.
“Rugged gear is all about apparel that employees want to wear versus apparel they have to wear,” said Dalzell. “I think from my perspective, it’s all about versatility. Companies are looking to provide their team with products that support the brand. … I think there’s huge value for our end-user customers in terms of going for technical outerwear versus just a standard jacket because of longevity and versatility.
“These are products that their customers, employees and community will be using," Dalzell continued. "And when it’s branded, it’s pretty powerful.”
Dalzell also was adamant about the fact that if a brand is saying its rugged and safety apparel options are waterproof and breathable, then the apparel better live up to those standards. He also suggested distributors look for features like taped seams, sealed seams, fabric technologies like Gore-Tex and waterproof zippers. And, in his experience, a surefire way to make sure your rugged and safety apparel has all the technical aspects is as simple as turning it inside out to see all the specifications yourself.
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the must-have features end-users are looking for, you’ll be ready to pitch prospective companies on your offerings. There’s a misconception when it comes to rugged apparel, and that’s that it’s reserved for the more rigorous outdoor jobs only. These days, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
While Perez pointed out that manufacturing and outdoor industries, like trucking, logging, construction, fishing, hunting and oil are popular markets for rugged gear, he’s also noticed an influx of orders from other clients in need of safety apparel.
“We’ve seen an increase in the need for safetywear to be used in public places like schools with parking lot attendants, security guards or event staff,” he said. “These styles aren’t the super hi-vis [options]. Recently, we’ve created a lightweight safetywear jacket, a pocketed polo with reflective tape, a safetywear thermal and, more recently, a safety-wear polo with reflective piping.”
Perez went on to point out that even though these apparel items feature reflective detailing, they can still be used for everyday activities, like hiking, running or walking, where the end-user wants some extra visibility.
For Dalzell, he’s noticed the rugged apparel realm has expanded to cover a broad range of industries beyond the usual standbys.
“We’re seeing more demand for [rugged and safety gear] with high-tech pharmaceutical companies and all sorts of businesses,” he said. “Quality apparel is getting traction in all sectors because these companies want to be associated with premium and quality. And that, combined with multifunctional pieces, is fueling demand in all sorts of sectors. A lot of our distributors and customers are pleasantly surprised when they see there’s demand coming from a broad range of industries, beyond just what you’d think people are buying technical apparel for.”
For distributors looking to break into or expand on this market, it’s important to know one thing in particular: Your understanding of the technical features is as important as the features themselves.
“When you’re presenting a more technical outdoor piece versus a non-technical piece, obviously price is going to come into play,” said Dalzell. “I think that it really takes a little bit of confidence to tell that technology story, and a clear value proposition on why your end-user buyer is better off with a higher quality technical piece that’s going to last longer. I think once you wrap your mind around that narrative, it becomes a really great selling angle that really resonates with the buyers.”
Dalzell also pointed out that the repeat business potential in the rugged and safety market is huge. This might seem contradictory because these apparel pieces are built to last, and therefore don’t need to be replaced every season. But, if you pitch your pieces as part of a system, you can sell your clients on outershells one season, a mid-layer the next season, a fleece the following season and then a base layer.
“All of these [apparel components] are working together in an integrative way, and when they’re branded and they’re on point in terms of color, it looks really good,” he added. “And so, not only are you providing quality and really great apparel solutions that are technical, you’re also driving your season-over-season sales with a whole system that your customer can sink his or her teeth into.”
When it comes to workwear, distributors need to be mindful of industry standards and regulations. Perez explained how Tri-Mountain navigates the process to avoid any pitfalls.
“We monitor and ensure that our safetywear meets the ANSI standards,” he said. “We dedicate a section in our catalog to explaining the standards, what they mean, and how they affect the design process for our apparel. We also maintain quality-control standards on our apparel before it gets to the end-user.”
Perez also gave a rundown of the ANSI guidelines and how they relate to the rugged and safety landscape.
“We provide a simplified guide in our catalog to help distributors understand the three types of safety-wear we offer,” he said. “The first is ANSI Class 3, [which] is for use in the most severe environments. These workers need the highest level of visibility. Class 3-certified styles offer the greatest amount of fluorestcent and reflective material. “Below ANSI Class 3 is Class 2, [which] is for moderately severe environments. These workers are on job sites with traffic that travels over 25 mph, with a complex background. Class 2-certified styles offer a balance of fluorescent and reflective materials. Lastly, we label the rest of our safety-wear as basic high-visibility safety clothing that is color-enhanced to add extra safety for those workers involved in more low-risk activities.”