On a fierce, cold and spectacular Lakeland day last November my friends and I were descending from Bowfell’s summit towards the Tarn when we crossed another group of walkers. They bounced up towards us – big glasses, bobble hats, smiles and the easy confidence of youth. As our two groups amiably navigated past each other over the slippery rocks, the contrast was stark. Us: Vivid coloured hardshells, laser cut seams and engineered practicality.  Them: muted colours, wool, and coats which looked like they would be more at home in the pub than on a mountain. Ten years ago I would have quickly labelled this group as ill prepared tourists; destined to become an unfortunate headline. But their gear was well up to dealing with what the weather was throwing at us all – it just didn’t look like ours. I’d noticed the little logos and subtle giveaways of performance. Someone recently said to me that the next generation of outdoor nuts don’t all want to dress like their parents, which rang true. They are considering a few other things apart from just practicality when making their buying decisions. And one of those things, whisper it, is fashion.

Fashion is almost a swear word in the outdoor world. For some it represents everything that is frivolous, wasteful, ephemeral, impractical and selfish. But if some of our customers are already looking for a different aesthetic, is it time to at least pause and think? In very simplistic terms product design for the outdoor sector starts at function and practicality – what will work for our customers? Fashion design starts at beauty and emotion – how will our customers feel, and will they look fabulous? Complete opposites – to a fashionista the phrase ‘practical shoes’ is almost offensive. But why can’t these worlds combine? Surely our customers can have gear that works, and also looks good in lots of situations? Isn't how a customer feels in a garment actually a practical consideration too? Lots of outdoor brands now exist in this space where ‘look’ meets performance. The group we met were dressed head to toe in them. So will this subtle embracing of fashion continue? Or will the old ways of practicality keep their grip on the sector. That as ever, will be decided by our customers.