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There was a time, recently, when a woman who wanted to snowboard would have to brave a terrain park mostly full of men. “It could be intimidating,” says Gina Duffy, founder of SheShreds.co. “There would be a line of guys waiting to take their turn, and a woman could be nervous about them watching her. It’s like, ‘Let’s see what she can do.’”
Those times are quickly changing. Women are hitting the slopes—and mountain trails, rock faces and lakes—in ever-increasing numbers. According to the Outdoor Foundation, 45 percent of outdoor recreation participants are women. And while young men’s participation is slowly declining, young women’s participation is on the rise.
In 2006, the Outdoor Foundation found that 60 percent of men aged 18-24 participated in outdoor recreation. That number slid to 58 percent by 2012. Young women’s participation, on the other hand, increased from 51 percent to 56 percent during that same time period.
For outdoor recreation companies, this gender shift represents exciting new opportunities—if they can get the products and the messaging right.
What Women Want
SheShreds.co, according to its website, “is hell bent on helping ladies find the very best functional and fashionable gear and apparel.” SheShreds.co offers its own signature apparel and partners with other retailers to help women find well-designed gear.
The company has affiliate partnerships with Dogfunk.com for snow and skate equipment, BoardCo.com for wakeboard and surf gear, and Backcountry.com for adventure and outdoor equipment. Duffy says these three companies—all based in Utah—were very interested in reaching out to women through SheShreds.co.
Black Diamond, an outdoor industry heavyweight, has also stepped up its efforts to design equipment and apparel for women. The company is experiencing growth across all its demographic segments, says Ryan Gellert, Black Diamond brand president. But women represent its fastest-growing segment.
“For the last four or five years, the female segment has been outpacing the male segment, and I expect that to continue,” he says.
Black Diamond approaches product design for women with care. “There’s the old adage of ‘shrink it and pink it,’ and that’s definitely not what we’re doing,” says Gellert. The company works to understand the user experience in order to design functional equipment for women, from packs to ski boots to trekking poles and everything in between.
In addition to gear, the company is now venturing into apparel, having launched its first apparel line for men in the fall of 2013. But the Black Diamond women’s line won’t come out until fall 2014. “We just really want to dial in the fit, the function, the style and the color,” says Gellert.
Overall, Gellert says the “male- dominated” outdoor recreation industry is doing a better job of catering to women. “Equipment designed for female users has gotten much better as companies are investing in research and design for them.”
And he believes women appreciate—and are loyal to—the brands that put in the effort to develop products that are both functional and aesthetically appealing.
Selling outdoor recreation products to women can be a delicate task. Brands must be careful not to seem condescending or dismissive. Instead, says Gellert, Black Diamond is working to develop messages of empowerment and inclusiveness.
“We have had to really look at how we communicate with people, especially for launching apparel,” he says.
In order to effectively reach out to women, Black Diamond will be using its own employees and employee athletes in the marketing campaign for the fall 2014 women’s apparel line.
“Due to the nature of the sports we cater to, we’ve been sort of a male-dominated brand in the past, and that’s something we’re working to transform,” says Gellert.
Part of the reason Duffy launched SheShreds.co was to counter the dismissive and condescending attitudes she says women face all too often on the slopes or on the water. Duffy moved to Utah two years ago to be closer to snowboarding and wakeboarding venues in the state. But soon, “I really began to see some big gaps and archaic mentalities when it comes to women and these sports,” she says.
But Duffy says manufacturers and retailers can no longer afford to leave women out in the cold. “We’re right at the precipice of a really big change in the industry,” she says, considering the buying power that women have. “Women spent $1 billion just in the snow industry alone last year.”