Scuba Makers Dive Into Fashion
The burgeoning fascination with diving sports is prompting scuba wear manufacturers to shed tired apparel styles in favor of neons, fluorescents and prints--looks once seen only on land.
Apparel for underwater sports, including snorkeling and deep-water diving, is hot for a number of reasons: * A growing interest in environmental issues has drawn more sports enthusiasts to the water. * Technological advances have made diving easier, safer and the gear more precise. * Scuba shops are sponsoring training programs and outings.
These facts, say manufacturers, have made diving accessible and attractive to a more diverse group of persons than in the past. More and more, they say, diving is a unisex activity, practiced by ecologically minded professionals who seek interaction with a foreign environment, as well as by enthusiasts with years of experience.
Millions of Americans are taking to the water each year. Estimates put the number of persons who dove more than 10 times last year at 2.5 million, a rate that has increased by 10 percent each year for the past few years. Accordingly, divewear manufacturers say they are having to respond to what was previously rarely requested: In addition to function, today's diver is asking for fashion.
The changes in fashions, and the reasons, therefore, are varied. Some manufacturers are adding color, and some are returning to blues and blacks. Some manufacturers cite the influx of women as the reason for the emphasis on fashion, and some cite the individuality of divers and their desire to express this individuality. But whatever the response, and whatever the theory behind it, one thing is certain: Many manufacturers are tailoring their suits to meet the particular fashion demands of new divers.
"Prior to 1980, you had a choice of black," said Betsy Edmund, vice-president of marketing at Henderson Divewear, a manufacturer of Lycra diving skins. "1983 to 1987 saw the first use of pastels and print fabrics, although we sold them strictly on a made-to-order basis," she continued.
But 1990, said Edmund, will be different. Next year, the company plans to offer colors and prints on an actual stock program. "We're moving into a decade of niche marketing," said Edmund, "And we tailor our color stories based on who will participate. Diving has become an activity participated in by a wide demographic mix of people, many of whom want a choice on the rack."
Edmund said that the divewear market had been influenced by fashion trends in the larger active market. She felt confident that the addition of color would garner approval from divers, whom she characterized as statement-conscious.
"Diving apparel is one of the easiest products to express yourself with, and the addition of new color lines has rack appeal for this type of consumer," she said.
Given that, Edmund said, the company had decided that 1990 will be "our first foray into neon. We're going with large basic colors with neon accents, strengthening our color stories with brighter primary colors and prints, and introducing tropically oriented fluorescents for people who leave the U.S. to dive."
Henry Perla, vice-president of Fathom Divesuits, said his company was also introducing more color. "Right now, bright is right, and the industry is moving to cater to a more fashion-oriented market," he said.
Perla agreed with Edmund that "suits started picking up color around 1980," which he interpreted as "a direct offshoot of the ski industry." He predicted that "1990 is going to see more neons and prints. This is what is happening in the other active industries, and scuba always seems to follow those industries in terms of fashion." Perla also focused on another reason that created the demand for fashion, singling out the "explosion of women into the sport" as a key factor. "Women seemed to really push the demand for more colorful suits," he said. "When men began to see this, they also became interested in more colorful stuff in scuba."
Bob Terry, national sales manager for Body Glove wetsuits, said the company had introduced color several years ago in response to "demands" of divers, but he envisioned a different future for color. "Our decision to incorporate color was basically just a fashion thing, because, once the functionality had come around, we had to concentrate on that end of the market. People who dive are individualists who desire a certain amount of fashion," said Terry. "If they weren't individualists, they'd be playing baseball."
Unlike Edmund and Perla, Terry said that "entering 1990, you might see things go back to a more basic look, at least in the coastal areas. Middle America will probably still be into bright colors, but we're taking a different track."
Terry did stress, however, that, whatever the style chosen, scuba participation was on a positive increase. "People like the interaction with the environment that diving offers," he said. "Even in the Midwest, people are much more turned on to ecology. An outdoor lifestyle is definitely in these days."
Folks at Nike couldn't agree more. The company recently released a water sports line called Aquagear, which is designed to appeal to, among others, scuba divers. "We got into the water sports business because we felt there is definitely a market for this type of activity," said Liz Dolan, director of public relations for Nike, Inc. "The traditional Nike customer tends to be a baby boomer with a fair amount of disposable income, and we have found that this consumer is adding activities like scuba diving to his list," she continued.
Since the line is geared towards this type of consumer, Nike, too, is incorporating a more fashion-conscious approach. "The water sport customers that we cater to are willing to spend money on something that looks good and performs well," said Dolan. "Something that merely does one or the other of these won't meet their expectations."
PHOTO : Henderson's dive suit incorporates both pattern and neon colors.
Black, Jeff. "Scuba makers dive into fashion." Daily News Record 19.208 (1989): 22+. Popular Magazines. Web. 6 Dec. 2009.
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