Design thinking

Reflections from ISPO 2013; The more the merrier?

Niclas Andersson

I just got back from the world’s largest sports trade show, ISPO, in Munich, Germany. My feet are killing me and my head is still spinning with the latest product inventions, colors, patterns, tech fabrics and screaming brand logos. But, if you’re a sports nerd like me, it is worth the ride.

After experiencing the sheer mass of all the world’s top sport companies together in one place — Scott, Colombia, Peak Performance, Black Diamond, North Face, and many, many more — they all start to look alike. Usually, when we see these sports products separately, they come off as really cool and innovative. However, when they’re all crammed together in the same room, the overall impression is that each brand screams so much for attention that nothing stands out anymore.

Is this the true face of active-sportswear’s “mature market” ? It seems that companies believe the only way to compete is by doing the same thing as everyone else, but with a sprinkle of their own brand of “cool.” You almost get the feeling that the sportswear business is run by thousands of suppliers saying: ‘Here’s a new jacket/material/feature – we can print your brand on it.’ Or maybe, it is just hard to truly innovate in the sportswear industry.

One brand that stands out in the crowd is the Swedish sleek sports protection company POC. The clean design and purposeful, well-thought-out details of their single color helmets are a welcoming presence among a sea of products adorned with superficial stylings and superfluous features. But, still it is hard to find a company doing something truly radical. Where are the Skypes, the Apples and the Spotifys of the sports industry? Why should the tech industry have all the fun these days? For the time being it’s difficult to see any leaders among all the followers.

Yet, the overwhelming homogeneity was hard to miss, and I doubt that I’m the only one who took note. Over the next few years I believe we’ll see some major changes in the sportswear industry as companies look for profound ways to differentiate from the competition. Personally, I’m looking forward to going back next year, hoping to see some new and radical thinking.