When you are happily sat outside in the sunshine at Berlin Fashion Week eating your lunch in the second week of January your instincts tell you this winter has been exceptionally mild. Last month the global temperature was warmer than any previous January on record, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. Temperatures in Europe were 0.2C higher than the previous warmest January for the continent – recorded in 2007, and it has been 3.1C warmer than the average January in the period 1981-2010.
Norway recorded its hottest January day since records began, with a reading of 19C – more than 25C above the monthly average – measured in the village of Sunndalsora, which is around 250 miles north of Oslo. Temperatures were also much above average over most of the USA and Canada.
Left - Nobis
If you are a coat brand, and, in particular arctic parkas, this is bad news. The arctic parka market has seen huge expansion over the past few years and brands piling in on the success of brands such as Moncler and Canada Goose. The last few years’ winter weather has helped with the 'Beast from the East' and America’s extremely cold polar vortex making these type of coats feel like an essential. These businesses have grown big selling £1000 coats in the 100,000s, but things have become more competitive - possibly unsustainable? - and if the weather is mild consumers will forgo an expensive purchase until they really need it. So how has the mild weather been affecting this important seasonal market?
Martin Brooks, Co-Founder & CEO, Shackleton, says,”Yes, the mild winter has affected sales. Last year, we had a very cold March, by that time many brands were out of stock.
“It’s nuts that most outerwear brands go on sale from Black Friday - months before it gets cold. It's like putting swim gear on sale in May.” he says. “North America has been strong for Shackleton, especially Chicago where it's been 'Chiberia' (25 below) a few times this year.”
Ian Holdcroft, COO & Co-Founder, Shackleton, adds “We’re on target to double our revenue to financial year ending end of March. We are a small business but growing rapidly.
“Interestingly our sales of high ticket items (the most expensive jackets) have increased, we suspect in the main (& talking to our customers has reinforced this), that they see our product as investment and less affected by near term weather. They also like that we’re now non fur and make in UK and Europe. Admittedly we do see spikes in orders when the temperature drops below 7 degrees.” he says.
Robin Yates, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Nobis says, “Experiencing winter arrive later, season after season, the traditional buying cycle of the consumer has become less predictable. Weather trends, however, see winter conditions accelerating in January and February, and sales in our industry are beginning to reflect this shift from a timeline perspective.
“At Nobis, our collections are built and designed for global movement and unpredictable weather. Relevant in mild and inclement weather scenarios, our products offer functionality across a broad range of seasonality.” he says.
Right - Shackleton
Are these brands changing their product mix to be less reliant on classic fur hooded parka?
“It's rained every week in the UK from 1st October to now. Not many people have decent rainware in their closet... this is a huge opportunity to bust a space between outdoor shell jackets (urgh) and fusty raincoats.” says Brooks.
“Our best seller (in outerwear) this winter has been our pilot jacket which is shorter than a traditional parka.” says Holdcroft. “We designed this with helicopter pilots operating in the Alps so the jacket has a lot of features (such as full vent zips up the side) which make it much more flexible in terms of temperature, heat regulation and usability. There has also been an increase in demand for the lighter weight jackets and layering pieces - the Fortuna gilet has proved very popular.
“The last few winters have experienced colder weather towards the end of the season in Feb and March. However this is when consumers are used to seeing sales of winter ranges and retailers stocking up for Spring Summer. We are planning lighter weight outerwear pieces and will be introducing rain/wet weather into the range for next Autumn Winter. We are definitely planning for a general warming of the climate (& milder, wetter northern hemisphere winters) but there will always be somewhere cold on the planet.” says Holdcroft.
“Mid to lighter weight product ranges are seeing an increase in traction due to the versatility and functional aspect.” says Yates. “Dependent on the time of the season, these transitional pieces can be worn as a base layer or a final outer layer.” he says.
Is the arctic parka market saturated and over supplied and have brands that have become big on the back of this cold weather staple got an unsustainable business model?
“Each brand caters to very different audiences – we believe and invest in the product experience.” says Yates. “We bring our consumers greater quality, function, style and value from their Nobis branded jacket and continue to provide them with access to information previously clouded in industry nomenclature. Thus, allowing the consumer to truly make an informed outerwear purchase decision, regardless of the brand they end up selecting.”
Left - Nobis
“There are a lot of brands now making parkas and the parka has become a category in it’s own right. We need to be different and innovative though to stand out.” says Holdcroft. “Our Endurance parka sells very well because it’s so light and packable and is the best performer on the market from a weight to warmth ratio perspective. It’s much easier to travel with than heavier weight parkas from other brands. So, we find people are buying into the flexibility of the jacket and the performance without compromising style. That being said, as we extend the range we will be introducing more and more products that are not parkas.” he says. “We won’t be able to build an international brand on the parka,”.
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In a post-Brexit world we’re going to have to make more than leather shoes and Scottish cashmere sweaters. UK Plc needs to turn our world class creativity into a German style industry: manufacturing in volume and of the highest quality.
From small acorns mighty English oaks grow, so, when I heard The Shackleton Company was manufacturing their parkas in the UK, I wanted to find out more and see what we are paying for. The majority of the world's down parkas are made in Italy, France, Canada or China, so a UK-made is rather special. I’ve dissected their new “Discovery Jacket” to show you all the different components and design details, so when the temperature drops we can keep the Union Flag flying high!
Entirely handmade in Cheshire. The majority of the materials are made in Britain with the odd exception, i.e. zips and zip pullers. The outer shell is Ventile, designed in the UK. The densely woven, 100% cotton uses the world's finest, long staple fibre. Ventile is not coated or laminated and the combination of the dense weave and swelling properties of the fibres, when wet, provides excellent weatherproofing. It's an entirely natural product - windproof, breathable, durable and quiet.
Filled with 100% of the finest, pure European goose down, it provides an unsurpassed warmth to weight ratio. It is a by-product of the food industry, in fact, a waste product, if not used for insulation. The highest quality of down, which The Shackleton Company uses, comes from the oldest, free-range birds. Each individual pocket of down is hand filled & stitched. No machinery is used.
The adjustable hood design enables the wearer to create a wrap-around tunnel to protect against extreme cold. The coyote fur hood trim is removable. Tested in Antarctica to minus 20 Degrees centigrade, the coyote is shot as part of a cull program to control popuations in Alaska. The Shackleton Company do not use any farmed or trapped coyote.
Large rubber zip pullers are designed with pimples on the reverse for ease of use with cold hands or whilst wearing gloves.
Four outer pockets - two chest (zipped) and two fleece-lined, hand-warmer pockets have press stud fastenings for quick access. Four large internal, zipped pockets - two close to body core for extra warmth for storing phone & batteries in extreme cold environments. Internal waist draw cord for a tighter fit - minimising cold air flow, providing extra insulation. Lower draw cord for a tighter fit and extra protection in stormy conditions.
Extendable storm wrist cuffs.
Internal patch - “I hold that a man should strive to the uttermost for his life’s set prize”. Poet, Robert Browning, quote, engraved on Shackleton’s gravestone in South Georgia.
Left & Above - The Shackleton Company - Discovery Jacket - £1575