I must admit, I don’t know every tactical haberdasher off the top of my head, so I Googled “tactical clothing” and found a whole host of tactical tailoring options for the well-dressed tactician:
• Vertx brands itself as apparel “for the operational athlete.” Their clothing is what would happen if those ripped six-pack abs of UnderArmor met a baggy pair of BDUs.
• Speaking of ripped six-packs, the uber muscleman company itself, UnderArmor, has its own line that includes the Gen II Tactical Pant.
• No wonder I don’t know the players. It’s hard to keep track of all the tactical apparel makers. I had never heard of these guys—Canada Goose. They offer a Tactical Outer-Pant. “Tough as nails and built to wear like iron,” trumpets a product description, “Canada Goose Tactical outer pants for big men offer lightweight, hypoallergenic insulation and a world of practical features like ankle zips for easy on and off over boots.” I’ve written a bit of marketing copy in my time but I’m just not sure I’d describe trousers as “tough as nails.” That would hurt.
Of course there is—there had to be—a Web site called “tactical clothing” (Tacticalclothing.org). They, of all people, ought to be able to define exactly what transforms an ordinary pair of trousers into “tactical pants.” And they do:
“Tactical clothing is extremely important for hunters and military soldiers, as well as anyone that needs to be undercover and protected from the elements. Tactical clothes range from pants to undergarments, and include vests and groin guards. Your gear is designed to protect your body while still allowing fast movement and plenty of jumping and running when needed.”
I read on. I wondered about tactical boots. How exactly do tactical boots differ from, you know, regular boots.
“Tactical boots are important if you plan on traversing the wilderness for whatever purpose. A good pair of boots can do so much for you while you are wandering in the wild, but a bad pair can hinder your progress significantly. The boots are important and should be worn at all times. If you get your tactical boots wet, then do not remove them until you are safe at camp. Doing so beforehand can result in sickness.”
Yikes! Sickness! From taking off my boots too early! What am I on, the Bataan Death March?
Not done yet, the copy writers addressed helmets. If there’s any item of apparel that has to be tactical, it’s a helmet. Or so I thought.
“Helmets are not really necessary, and are only really needed for those in the military or police force. However, if you are a hiker or hunter and you feel safer with a helmet, then use one. Tactical helmets can add to the camouflage element of the wilderness, and only serve to hide you more accurately with your surroundings. Helmets with small lights can be useful in the night or when exploring caves.”
Not necessary? Helmets? Tell me it ain’t so!
Okay, so enough of my sarcasm. What about the real effect of all these companies jumping into what has become an extremely crowded space? Once again, the predictable and expected has occurred—fierce competition.
Textiles are textiles—it’s fabric stitched into shape. The operative word is “stitched” because that’s the labor component of textiles and in case you’ve been wondering what that sucking sound is, to paraphrase Ross Perot, it’s sewing jobs going to Asia. Gone, actually, past tense.
If you want sewing done, go to China or Vietnam or Cambodia or any of the emerging economies in the Pacific Rim because that is where you’ll find all the buyers from Wal-Mart and Cabela’s and 5.11 Tactical and Blackhawk and everyone else in the “rag business,” including such rag merchants as Gucci and Armani. (You didn’t think that $120 pair of jeans actually came from Italy, did you?)
So given that all these brands of tactical clothing source their wares from Asia, they all pay more or less the same thing for labor. So how do they compete?
There are several ways, the first of which is distribution. Who can get the product to market the most efficiently? Companies with established distribution channels have a leg up here. Given the companies here are all big dogs, they all have good distribution. Dead heat, no leg up for anyone except possibly Blackhawk.
What about features and innovation? Hey, we’re talking about pants, not transatlantic jetliners! Two legs, a zipper, some pockets. Yes, they all have their claims to fame, these tactical tailors, but basically their products are interchangeable. There is no iPhone among them.
That leaves branding and marketing. Here you have a significant war going on between elements of the Clone Army. Right now, I like the way Blackhawk is aggressively advertising and the way they’ve taken a head-on attack approach against category-leader 5.11 Tactical. EOTAC is doing a good job as well.
However, there’s one other way to compete with a commodity—and I submit that “tactical clothing” has become a commodity—and that is price. He who undercuts his competition wins. Blackhawk is once again a very aggressive player in allowing their distribution to get down and dirty on price.
There’s a lot going on with the “tactical clothing” segment of the industry. Me? I think I’ll go back to wearing jeans.