Columbia Sportswear is a manufacturer and distributor of outdoor-related clothing, footwear, and related equipment.
The company, which is headquartered in Portland, Oregon, was founded in 1938 by Paul Lamfrom. He, together with his wife, fled Nazi Germany and set up shop in Portland where they purchased a hat distributorship.
Eventually, his daughter Gert, who ended up marrying Neal Boyle, became the firm’s chief executive after her husband died from a heart attack in 1970. Her son Timothy eventually took over in 1988 and remains CEO to this date.
Meanwhile, the company began to expand from selling hats to all kinds of outdoor apparel. In 1986, for example, Columbia introduced its now-infamous Bugaboo parka, which became an immediate hit with alpine skiers.
The firm’s continuous growth has allowed it to IPO back in 1998 during which it raised $100 million. Today, Columbia’s business is being valued at more than $6 billion. Going public, furthermore, enabled Columbia to scoop up various businesses such as footwear maker Sorel in 2000 and Mountain Hardwear in 2003.
For the fiscal year 2021, Columbia Sportswear generated $3.1 billion in revenue, up 25 percent from the year prior. Profits rose by a whopping 445 percent to $450.5 million. Its revenue numbers peg Columbia Sportswear as one, if not the leading outdoor apparel company in the world.
Of those $3.1 billion, around $2.56 billion can be attributed to Colombia itself (~ 82 percent). The rest falls on Sorel ($321 million), prAna ($142 million), and Mountain Hardwear ($106 million).
Additionally, Columbia Sportswear employs more than 10,000 people across 129 outlet retail stores, 13 branded retail stores, and its multiple offices. It, furthermore, operates four brand-specific e-commerce websites.
The methodology with which competitors of Columbia Sportswear are ranked is based on a variety of data points. Information such as the revenue generated, number of employees, valuation, and anything else that’s relevant is being taken into account
This analysis should not be seen as a purchase recommendation. It is merely a summary of the competition that Columbia Sportswear faces as of today. In order to ensure comparability, we only look at competitors that are primarily known for producing outdoor apparel targeted at both normal as well as affluent consumers.
As a result, brands such as Adidas or Nike, which also produce comparable clothing lines, are not being taken into account. Additionally, single-product brands such as Osprey (bags) or Forsake (hiking boots) are disregarded as well.
So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the top 12 competitors of Columbia Sportswear.
1. The North Face
Headquarters: Alameda, California, United States Founder(s): Douglas Tompkins, Susie Tompkins Buell Year Founded: 1968
The North Face, which was started by husband-and-wife duo Douglas and Susie Tompkins (who later also co-founded fashion brand Esprit), has been behind some of the most iconic designs in the outdoor industry.
Most notably, its Base Camp Duffle, as well as Mountain Jacket, are often used by professional mountaineers to climb the world’s most challenging mountains. This is also where The North Face got its name from as the northern side of a mountain is often the toughest one to climb, which the founders wanted to pay tribute to.
The original founders sold the company in 1970 to businessman Kenneth Klopp. In 2000, VF Corporation paid $25.4 million to purchase The North Face, which it owns and runs to this date (alongside brands like Dickies, Eastpak, Supreme, Timberland, and Vans).
For the fiscal year 2021, The North Face generated $2.5 billion in revenue ($9.2 billion for VF in total). It operates more than 200 stores across the world and employs close to 3,500 people.
One random (and tragic) side note: Douglas Tompkins unfortunately (and somewhat ironically) died in 2015 during a kayaking trip in Patagonia, Chile – a region that certainly served as an inspiration for the next company on this list.
Headquarters: Ventura, California, United States Founder(s): Yvon Chouinard Year Founded: 1974
Patagonia, when it comes to sheer brand awareness and strength, is undoubtedly one of the biggest competitors to Columbia Sportswear.
The DNA of Patagonia is grounded in its social purpose. For example, it donates one percent of its annual profits to non-profit environmental groups.
It, furthermore, vehemently rejects fast fashion. As a result, it not only produces long-lasting products but even offers a repair and reuse program with which customers can trade in their products.
Therefore, it certainly does not sell at the scale that brands like Columbia Sportswear or The North Face do. On the other end, its commitment to quality and sustainability allowed it to charge more for its products, which is a clear sign of brand power.
Patagonia remains in private ownership to this date. Previous reports, which were released before the coronavirus pandemic, have put its annual revenue at around $1 billion. Additionally, Patagonia employs over 2,500 people.
Headquarters: Épagny-Metz-Tessy, France Founder(s): Georges Salomon Year Founded: 1947
Salomon started by selling ski binders and soon became a leading brand in the industry. They sold over one million of them every year by the mid-1970s.
The company eventually expanded into alpine boots and a range of other types of outdoor apparel. In 2001, it launched its first clothing line, signaling a shift towards Salomon as an all-around apparel brand.
Salomon was purchased by Adidas in 1997, then sold to Amer Sports, which also owns Arc’teryx (mentioned later), Atomic, Wilson, and other brands, for €485 million in 2005. Adidas abandoned its ski equipment and clothing lines when it sold Salomon.
The company counts about 3,000 employees and 190 retail stores in its arsenal. Unfortunately, Amer Sports was delisted in late 2018 after being sold to Anta Sports, which means it does not file income reports anymore.
Therefore, revenue and profit numbers for Salomon are currently not available. However, in 2018, the last year when Amer Sports was still filing income reports, Salomon had generated $500 million in annual revenue.
4. Jack Wolfskin
Headquarters: Idstein, Hessen, Germany Founder(s): Ulrich Dausien Year Founded: 1981
Another one of the leading outdoor brands that originated outside of North America is Germany-based Jack Wolfskin.
For the first 12 years of its existence, Jack Wolfskin had only supplied other specialist stores. In 1993, it opened its first store.
The company changed hands multiple times. Most recently, Callaway Golf Company had acquired Jack Wolfskin for €418 million in November 2018.
For the fiscal year 2021, Callaway, which also has its own namesake brand focused on golf and owns other brands like Odyssey, generated around $3.1 billion in revenue. Of that, $817 million can be attributed to the ‘Apparel, Gear and Other’ segment, which includes the Jack Wolfskin, TravisMathew, and portions of the Callaway brand.
Moreover, Jack Wolfskin employs over 1,400 people who are mostly employed across the European region where its brand is the strongest. It, furthermore, operates close to 500 retail stores.
5. Canada Goose
Headquarters: Toronto, Ontario, Canada Founder(s): Sam Tick Year Founded: 1957
Canada Goose, which began life as Metro Sportswear, was initially a working-class brand targeted at laborers in Canada.
Its now-famous jackets have also been part of some impressive excursions such as being used at Antarctica’s McMurdo Station or when Laurie Skreslet became the first Canadian to summit Mt. Everest.
While Canada Goose caters to a more affluent customer base, it nevertheless has managed to become one of the leading brands in the outdoor space.
In 2013, Bain Capital acquired a majority stake in the company, which went public in March 2017, raising $250 million in the process.
For the fiscal year 2021, Canada Goose generated $903.7 million in revenue, slightly down from the $958.1 million it recorded the year prior. It is currently valued at around $2.5 billion. Canada Goose only operates 20 retail stores but employs over 1,500 people.
Headquarters: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada Founder(s): Dave Lane, Jeremy Guard Year Founded: 1989
Another Amer Sports-owned property is Arc’teryx, which got its name from the Archaeopteryx lithographica, the first reptile to develop feathers for flight (i.e., the first bird).
Arc’teryx was originally a company selling Gore-Tex jackets to people that spent a lot of time climbing or mountaineering, but now they represent all varieties of gear for people who are outdoorsy.
The company was actually sold to Salomon in 2001 and switched hands two more times after the Amer Sports and Anta Sports purchases went through.
Arc’teryx currently operates 75 stores across the world and employs over 1,500 people, but unfortunately does not disclose revenue numbers as of today.
Headquarters: Freeport, Maine, United States Founder(s): Leon Leonwood Bean Year Founded: 1912
The famous Bean Boot, the invention of Leon Leonwood Bean, came into being after he suffered from cold and wet feet following a hunting trip. His idea was to combine the reliability of rubber for the soles with a leather upper. Ironically, the first 90 out of 100 pairs were sent back by customers as the bottom rubber separated from the leather top.
Luckily, the founder and company prevailed and, throughout the years, were responsible for some iconic product designs such as its Zipper Duffle or Norwegian Sweater. The company, despite Bean’s death in 1967, remains in family ownership to this date.
For the fiscal year 2020, L.L.Bean recorded sales of $1.59 billion, up 5 percent from the year prior. L.L.Bean operates 54 stores in 19 states across the United States, along with 25 stores in Japan. It, furthermore, employs over 4,600 people.
Headquarters: Kent, Washington, United States Founder(s): Lloyd Anderson, Mary Anderson Year Founded: 1938
REI, short for Recreational Equipment, Inc., is a co-op that was started after the Andersons imported an Akadem Pickel ice axe from Austria to partake in The Mountaineers Basic Climbing Course. They then set up a co-operative to aid other outdoor enthusiasts to purchase quality equipment.
The Andersons managed to recruit 21 of their friends who each paid $1 for a lifetime membership. That co-op has now grown to 20 million lifetime members, about 15,000 employees, and 168 retail locations which are mostly based in the United States.
Apart from offering other brands, such as The North Face or Patagonia, the company has also developed its own clothing line called REI Co-op. Owning one, if not the largest online shop for outdoors, consequently allows REI to push its own products.
9. Eddie Bauer
Headquarters: Bellevue, Washington, United States Founder(s): Eddie Bauer Year Founded: 1920
Another retailer turned outdoor apparel manufacturer is Eddie Bauer which began producing clothing in the mid-1930s.
The firm’s namesake founder, after a fishing trip, almost died from hypothermia, which prompted him to create the design of what would become the first visibly quilted down insulated outdoor apparel jacket available to U.S. customers (called The Skyliner).
Eddie Bauer has a long and illustrious history, which includes outfitting dozens of mountain expeditions through the decades. By the 1980s, it had grown into an apparel manufacturer, offering products including jackets and pants. The company was also one of the first to move into catalog sales.
Eddie Bauer, after various ownership changes (and even going through bankruptcy in 2003), was acquired in May 2021 by Simon Property Group for an undisclosed sum. The company, furthermore, employs close to 3,000 people and operates around 370 retail locations.
Unfortunately, neither Simon Property Group nor Eddie Bauer itself currently disclose revenue or profit figures for the company.
10. Helly Hansen
Headquarters: Oslo, Norway Founder(s): Helly Juell Hansen Year Founded: 1877
Certainly, the oldest company on this list, Helly Hansen has been designing and manufacturing clothes for close to one and a half centuries.
Sea Captain Helly Juell Hansen, together with his wife Maren Margrethe, began by selling workwear for long days at sea.
Helly Hansen now generates $400 million in revenue per year and employs over 1,000 people. The company’s ownership changed multiple times throughout its existence. Most recently, in May 2018, it was acquired by Canadian Tire Corp. for CA$985 million.
Headquarters: Rohnert Park, California, United States Founder(s): David Huntley, Eric Reynolds, Lock Miller Year Founded: 1971
Marmot was founded by students at the University of California, Santa Cruz. They started the Marmot Club, a mountaineering club for enthusiasts.
They started off by making parkas and sleeping bags in their dorm rooms but soon expanded to offer a range of other outdoor apparel. They, furthermore, became the first outdoor brand to use Gore-Tex in 1976, which is now seen as one of the firm’s key stepping stones.
Marmot became part of Newell Brands in 2016, which acquired Marmot’s parent company Jarden Corporation for $16 billion in 2016.
Newell generated $10.6 billion in revenue for the fiscal year 2021 but did not disclose how much of that could be attributed to Marmot. The company currently employs around 200 people and operates three retail stores.
Headquarters: Burlington, Vermont, United States Founder(s): Jake Burton Carpenter Year Founded: 1977
Burton was founded as a way for founder Jake Burton to live the outdoor lifestyle he loved. At the time, he was an investment banker who had grown tired of life in his city.
In fact, it’s now the leading snowboard manufacturer in the world. However, the brand has since expanded into selling all kinds of outdoor clothing including snow jackets, protective gear, and more.
Burton is estimated to generate over $400 million in annual revenue. The company, which is still family-owned, furthermore employs over 1,000 people and operates around 70 flagship stores. It also sells its products via its own as well as third-party eCommerce stores.
Columbia Sportswear Competitive Advantage
The competitive advantage of Columbia Sportswear is grounded in the firm’s scale, which is exemplified through a variety of factors such as stores in operations or owned brands.
As previously stated, Columbia Sportswear is by far the largest company on this list when it comes to revenue generated. In that regard, it is only really challenged by The North Face.
Operating at such a scale consequently allows the company to get its product into more customer hands. Those revenue numbers then enable the firm to open more retail locations, which makes its flywheel spin even faster.
As a result, Columbia Sportswear does not rely on one single sales channel. In fact, only about 50 percent of its revenue is generated via wholesale (i.e., selling in bulk to other retailers) while the rest is generated via its own online and offline stores.
Additionally, one-third of its revenue comes from outside of the United States, which indicates that the brand has some staying power in foreign markets.
Scale is what ultimately allows Columbia to increase its negotiation power with suppliers, which in turn keeps prices for its products competitive and thus makes them obtainable for more customers.
Canada Goose, for example, purposefully chose to limit its total addressable market (TAM) by charging substantially higher prices. While this leads to greater sales margins, it ultimately limits its ceiling.
Another advantage of Columbia Sportswear’s scale is its ability to expand into new product categories. The company boasts a selection of more than 5,000 items and sells products in almost every category imaginable.