An Open Letter to the Outdoor Industry


Most of my friends in the Outdoor Industry have been in Salt Lake City, Utah this week for what is to be the last installment of the OR Show to be held there.  The show is relocating to Denver for reasons that have been covered in better detail and frankly by better bloggers than I.

 I recently participated in a fellow Facebook friend’s thread about an article that recently appeared in Outdoor Magazine entitled Patagonia’s Big Business of #Resist. In that thread, I made some pretty opinionated posts (Ed. Note: shocker), that were pretty much ignored.  

In this article (and as discussed in the Facebook thread) Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard basically called the leaders of the Outdoor Industry, ‘weenies’, saying ” In short order, he criticized the fishing industry, the surfing industry, and REI for failing to give enough money to environmental causes. “The whole outdoor industry is just run by a bunch of weenies,” he went on, “And they’re not stepping up. They just suck the life out of outdoor resources and give nothing away.”

Before I begin with the crux of this post in earnest, I want to make a few things clear.  I have dozens upon dozens of outdoor industry acquaintances, Facebook friends, people that I blog with etc.  I do not want this post to be construed as anything related to them individually.  They are all good people that care about what they are doing.  

Having said that… I have some opinions…

Now, it would be reasonable to say, ‘You hypocrite, don’t you contribute to a prominent outdoor magazine?’  And the answer to that is yes.  I am part of the problem.

But I think there are a few things that the Industry can do to improve itself.

Be more inclusive

Inclusion is a huge buzzword right now.  ALL of the brands, companies, panel discussions are filled with discussions about inclusivity.  But in all honesty, all that I see is talk.  The companies’ actions don’t speak to their goals and ideals.  With all due respect, all that any of us see are 28 year old caucasian males that look like they just got out of a climbing gym with a flowing mane and a freshly oiled beard.  Or a female hiker that looks like she just participated in American Ninja Warrior.

Where are persons of color? Asians, Africans, native Americans, Pacific Islanders? Because its not enough to put them on your speaking panels at OR.  You have to bring them into everything.  Because their groups are hiking and they belong.  Frankly, we NEED them to participate.  So don’t just give them an invite to dinner, let them eat.

Other than Ma Boyle, when’s the last time that you saw an elderly person or person over 65 in an outdoor ad?  Yet I see people of that age in the clothing and gear, ALL THE TIME. Or out on trail, or in their kayak, or at REI.

Transform the culture to reward doers and not talkers

One of the biggest peripheral complaints that I have with the industry is that we are great at talking about doing things, whether it be campaigns, advocacy, hashtags, etc. but we are not good at actually DOING THINGS.  I am embarrassed to say it, but frankly, I can’t do anything because no one will let me.  

But we must become doers in our communities.  We must stop talking and actually do things. Even if it is small, one small act is better than talking about twenty (20) big things that never actually get done.

Reward storytellers, adventurers, bloggers and the like that are actually DOING things

I came to my current job from the private sector.  I understand what it means to push product and to be under pressure to sell.  To feel the pain of two consecutive bad quarters and to have to worry about what that means. So I understand WHY heretofore that the OI has basically rewarded with ambassadorships the best bloggers, the best Facebookers, the best Instagrammers, the best Pinteresters, the best Snapchatters.  

Look, I get it.  These folks are GOOD at what they do, and to be frank, I envy them.  And I’m admittedly jealous of their skills.  

 But what I think would be beneficial to the companies is to just once promote the little guy.  The me of a year and a half ago that was hungry, adventurous, getting going in the social media outdoor world.  Take a chance on these folks!  They will 100% make the brands proud.  Too often, the folks that ARE chosen as brand ambassadors, don’t really even want to ‘do it’ and see it as a burden.  “Another tent, omg!”  

Disband the fraternity and sorority

I’m going to be absolutely frank.  The industry often feels so much like the snobbiest fraternity or sorority at wherever you went to college.   I’ll describe the feeling thusly… It’s like you are non-Greek, and you really want to be, but then you don’t, but yeah, you kinda do, but you don’t rush because you know that they will just say no.

If I had a nickel for every social media post that I have seen that said something along the lines of ‘who do I know that does ______________?’  Invariably, the post will flood with people like me, dying for a chance to get in the club, only to be told, ‘Oh, you’re not welcome here, but Suzie is. We do yoga together and she’s so rad!”  Editor’s note:  If I know any Suzies, I love you still.

STOP HIRING YOUR FRIENDS, AND CHOOSING THEM FOR EVERYTHING THAT YOUR COMPANIES DO.  Spread the wealth, give others a chance.  For once, DON’T just hire or allow your climbing sesh partners to work with you.  Just try it.

Reassess what you’re selling

Look, I’ve never worked a day at an outdoor company except for my non-paid opportunity to contribute to Backpacker Local’s web presence and some blurbs in the magazine which of course I’m grateful for.  

I don’t pretend to understand the economics or the financial implications of what they sell.  My advice here is from pure opinion…

But 99% of us do not need a Mountain-Glo tent that costs $500.00.  We just don’t.  With apologies to my friends whose jobs it is to sell products, we don’t need half the stuff you’re selling.  Now, I don’t want you to sell ANY less gear.  I just want the gear to be usable, affordable, and just enough quality to last.  And I want you to sell MORE of that gear.

I’d like for a big brand once to just say, we’re going to find a way to make the best $90.00 tent that can possibly be made, and to sell a metric crap ton of them.  Instead of ‘Hey, here’s this $749.00 tent spun from the silk of a spider only found on one mountain in the Andes.  We’re calling it the Stoke.’

Do I have all the answers?  Nope.

Have I ever or will I ever run an outdoor company?  Nope, because it would fail.  I’m supremely unqualified to run a business of this nature although I’d certainly try my hardest to make it work.

These are just my ideas from the outside looking in at an industry that I so desperately want to improve.

Let me know your thoughts…


2 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Outdoor Industry

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