Buyers Choose Camo Patterns Based on Variety of Factors. How Do You Know What to Stock?

Consumers base their camouflage choices on brand loyalty, terrain, pursuit, garment performance and simple eye appeal.

Buyers Choose Camo Patterns Based on Variety of Factors. How Do You Know What to Stock?

“We’re in Mossy Oak country,” says Lee Oaks, of Lonnie’s Sporting Goods in Corinth, Mississippi. “If it’s not Mossy Oak, it doesn’t sell well for us. We do sell some Realtree, but Mossy Oak’s Bottomland and Greenleaf outsell other patterns significantly for us.”

Lonnie’s Sporting Goods sits only a couple hours’ drive from the small Mississippi town where Mossy Oak was born, the one it still calls home. The company’s humble beginnings, paired with its decision to stay in its hometown once it was large enough to do otherwise, engenders strong feelings among its following. Its competitors enjoy similar standings among their own home communities as well.

Brand loyalty is an interesting aspect of marketing. Geographic proximity to each establishment’s headquarters comes into effect for camouflage giants Mossy Oak and Realtree, based in West Point, Mississippi, and Columbus, Georgia, respectively. TrueTimber Camo, based in Spartanburg, South Carolina, holds a strong footprint along the East Coast. Beyond local geographic relevance, each of these camouflage patterns approaches the job of concealment in two distinct ways.

Realism Realized

Modern hunting camouflage traces its lineage to Jim Crumley’s Treebark, born in 1979, and to Realtree and Mossy Oak, which both appeared some five years later. All three sought to improve upon military surplus clothing, then the only option for hunters who hoped to disappear in the outdoors. Invention of all three brands and their various patterns preceded digital imaging and the modern fabric printing technology that allows such images to be reproduced on clothing today. The first patterns for all three were hand-drawn. The camouflage revolution that spanned the two decades that followed sought to improve upon that with each successive iteration. The movement ultimately created camouflage patterns featuring leaves and limbs as realistic to the eye any two-dimensional image will allow. 

The avalanche of improvements tracked directly with the advent and growth of computer-aided design and with the development of photo manipulation software. These also coincided with improvements in printing technology for fabric, and for the heat transfer paper and films used to decorate the assortment of hard and soft goods that fill stores today.

A Camo for All Seasons

A generation of hunters later, the camouflage conversation has come full circle. The market has split into two distinct directions and has added an important third byway, one that returns to the mid-1980s and modern camo’s beginnings. Today’s camo giants typically offer at least one umbrella pattern, a number of niche patterns, and one or more digitally generated or inspired patterns. The umbrella patterns are useful in a wide variety of terrains. The niche patterns are photorealistic and are dedicated to specific terrains and pursuits — duck blinds focusing on marshland, hardwood trees for early whitetail bow applications, sage and stone combinations for the Mountain West — plus digitally created or inspired patterns that don’t attempt photorealism but use shades and colors to approximate a terrain.

Interestingly enough, these latter digital patterns sprang to popularity from the emergence of modern military patterns — desert camouflage that came around to resume its place in the pantheon of outdoor pursuits. Camo as a statement of fashion has always been a consideration for consumers. When the U.S. Army’s digital desert tans turned up in surplus stores, a new avenue for the camo conversation opened.

Let’s Go Retro

Perhaps most significantly, the retro movement sweeping America’s camo consumers should be of particular interest to retailers. This development began with social media trends and countless Throwback Thursdays online. The appeal of Mossy Oak’s Bottomland pattern and Realtree’s original eponymous edition never really went away. A number of hunters eschewed the camo arms race and stuck with the simple, hand-drawn or painted patterns that helped start it all. In the late 2010s, the online auction house became a place hunters and outdoor enthusiasts of all ages avidly bought and sold hunting garments that were then up to 25 years old. They sought these specifically for the old patterns they carried — versions left behind in the technologically driven chase for a better way to hide. A number of each company’s original licensees had continued to produce products in the old patterns, so consumer recognition of these designs did not disappear. Now these patterns have sparked new interest with young hunters, because the patterns are both old and new at once. 

Today, both Mossy Oak and Realtree dedicate a significant portion of their marketing efforts to fueling the fire beneath the resurgence of these patterns’ popularity. Both now promote a number of garments and products printed in these patterns.

High Performance, Powerful Preference

Sitka is a whole different client,” Oaks says, and that short statement goes a long way toward separating the conversation. 

Sitka is a player in the camouflage conversation because they’re a player in the high-performance garment market. High-performance garments are designed for service in extreme conditions and are favored in the non-consumptive outdoor market among mountain hikers, rock climbers, mountain bikers, backpack campers and others who want to be equipped to seek out difficulties in terrain, weather, altitude and more. Whether they actually do seek such extremes is immaterial — the fact they go forth dressed and equipped to do so is a statement that helps define not only what they do, but the way they see themselves and the way they want to be seen. This psychology of camo marketing has always had its place in the business, but the high-performance garment industry is helping drive this to much greater heights. The high-performance garment market intersects with elements of the hunting market, and it is at this intersection that Sitka first planted its flag. What began as clothing decorated in a proprietary camo pattern and marketed to sheep hunters has spread to include a much wider variety of pursuits. In every case, the high-performance garments are suitable for nature’s extremes. Markets have grown beyond sheep hunting and now include mule deer and elk as well as waterfowl and more.

Runway Runaway

These garments’ desirability as a fashion statement helps distinguish the line as well. Patterns from the major camouflage innovators mentioned earlier are available on the widest imaginable variety of products. Gear decorated in these brands spans the absolute limits of the market in quality and price point. From the cheapest disposable lighter to the most expensive firearm or UTV, these patterns are designed and produced specifically to be indistinguishable from one application to the next. Standardization in the various decorating processes means a consumer’s pants match his shirt, which match his gun, which matches his bow, which matches his UTV. It also means his lowest-quality, least-expensive garments match his highest-quality, most-expensive garments when they’re all purchased in the same pattern.

The drawback in this quality control and supply chain achievement, at least from a marketing standpoint, is very straight forward. Consumers who want those who see them to equate the quality of the gear they’re wearing with their commitment and prowess as a hunter have more difficulty making that unspoken statement if the camo pattern in question does not set them apart. At a glance, a lightweight pair of cotton pants and a long sleeve t-shirt that, together, might sell for $70, look just like much higher-quality gear that may sell for 10 times as much or more. 

Buyers of Sitka products don’t have that problem, because the opportunity for such confusion doesn’t exist. While a rack of Sitka clothing represents quite a sizeable investment, it’s something for every retailer to consider, weighing not only current clientele, but the retailer’s greater market reach beyond. Sitka speaks to a different client, one worth attracting for their spending power alone.

What’s the bottom line in camo these days? There’s no one hot pattern we can tell you to stock. The really old-school stuff is still selling to customers who love the “vintage” look. The high-tech digital stuff sells well to an entirely different consumer, and the in-between, run-of-the-mill basic photorealistic patterns are probably going to remain your bread and butter. Match the terrain in your area and the season with a handful of patterns, ask customers what they’re looking for, and you should keep the majority of shoppers happy. 


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.