FIGHTING THE CLIMATE CRISIS HOW TO BUILD A SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS SUPPLY CHAIN COMEBACKS 5 CASE STUDIES
TREND REPORTS NEW SKI TECH PRE-OWNED GEAR SALES +50 HOT NEW PRODUCTS
LIFE AFTER PATAGONIA ROSE MARCARIO’S NEXT ACT
W i nt e r 2 0 2 2
Your membership to the goods. Two magazine subscriptions Offline navigate and route plan with Gaia GPS Premium Expert written gear and destination guides Online skills and fitness courses Unlimited access to Outside TV
I ss u e N o . 7
66 MISSION: NET ZERO
The climate crisis is already wreaking havoc on the industry. Our in-depth package offers a road map to a sustainable business.
80 WINTER ALL-STARS
A new nonprofit empowers allies to fight for the planet, inclusion, and adventure. B Y K A E LY N LY N C H
94 AN ICON’S WILD RIDE
Nine top retailers share their secrets for selling snow gear.
Despite decades of upheaval, Neptune Mountaineering keeps coming out on top.
B Y R YA N S T U A R T
BY MICAH LING
86 IT’S GOOD TO BE KING
He calls himself a pole maker, but Jake Lah is also the genius behind the market’s most innovative tents. B Y K E L LY B A S T O N E
90 AN OATH FOR THE TIMES
OUTSIDE BUSINESS JOURNAL
98 OUTSMARTING THE SUPPLY CHAIN
Delivery headaches? Not for these five creative companies.
On the cover
BY AMELIA ARVESEN
I L L U S T R AT I O N B Y S I M O N P R A D E S
PHOTO COURTESY OF DAC
18 INDUSTRY BUZZ
Shops get innovative with efforts to retain employees in a turbulent time.
20 YOUR NEXT CUSTOMER Urbanites are ready to buy.
36 FRESH VOICES
Meet an apparel entrepreneur, a ski patroller turned advocate, a rookie retailer, and an activist skier.
38 CHEAT SHEET
Are you still using these offensive phrases?
22 SHOW BIZ
Coded lanyards ease anxieties.
TikTok is booming—so why isn’t the outdoor industry posting?
Climate grief is a good thing.
42 NINE TO FIVE
Diversity-focused hiring takes commitment.
How to deal with vaccine rules.
44 THE CONVO
Former Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario looks ahead.
We’re addicted to polybags.
Who gets the job done better: indie or in-house sales reps?
32 SHOP TALK
Can the honor system work?
OUTSIDE BUSINESS JOURNAL
Recycling breakthroughs, an apparel brand goes to the moon, and federal money for outdoor rec. Plus: a love letter to old-school ski hills.
GEAR 48 OBJ 50
Check out the season’s most anticipated gear.
59 THE TREND REPORT 60: Ski-coaching tech 62: The used-gear boom 64: Size inclusivity
10 EDITOR’S NOTE 12 CONTRIBUTORS 104 SKETCHY
PHOTOS BY (FROM LEF T) SCOT TEVEST; ANGEL A FARMER; WORN WEAR/PATAGONIA
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What gives you hope for the future of our planet? EDITORIAL
EDITORIAL DIRECTOR Kristin Hostetter DEPUTY EDITOR Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan SENIOR EDITOR Andrew Weaver
Project Drawdown Supersmart scientists working on moonshots like nuclear fusion
The global population’s slowing growth rate
BUSINESS EDITOR Julie Dugdale CULTURE EDITOR Kiran Herbert
Indigenous activists and plant medicines
GEAR EDITOR Corey Buhay CONTRIBUTING EDITOR Jon Dorn CONTRIBUTORS Amelia Arvesen, Nancy Averett, Kelly Bastone, Kari Brandt, Jiakai Chang, Mandela Echefu, Courtney Holden, Eric Hui, Keely Larson, Justin La Vigne, Patrice La Vigne, Micah Ling, Margaret Littman, Kaelyn Lynch, Shane McFalls, Jayme Moye, Devaki Murch, Geoff Nudelman, Lisa Palmer, Christine Peterson, Simon Prades, Heather Balogh Rochfort, Kay Rodriguez, Connor Ryan, Tracy Ross, Cristina Spano, Ryan Stuart, Lydia Wade, Kara Richardson Whitely Hydroponic gardens
SENIOR SALES DIRECTOR My daughter. She and a friend, both 8, created a Save The Earth club. Rob Hudson (610) 552-4041 firstname.lastname@example.org SALES MANAGER Casey Vandenoever (303) 253-6419 email@example.com CLIENT SUCCESS MANAGER Ron Bertola (949) 300-0502 firstname.lastname@example.org PUBLIC RELATIONS email@example.com
The planet’s proven record of surviving cataclysmic change
DESIGN & PHOTOGRAPHY ART DIRECTOR Robert Sawyer
Seaweed restoration aquaculture to combat the impacts of ocean acidification
PHOTO EDITOR Louisa Albanese
PRODUCTION DIRECTOR OF CIRCULATION & CUSTOMER SOLUTIONS John Albin DIRECTOR OF PRODUCTION & MANUFACTURING Barb Van Sickle SALESFORCE COORDINATOR Cossette Roberts PREPRESS MANAGER Joy Kelley
PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER KIMMEL/GETT YIMAGES
PREPRESS SPECIALIST Amber Novotny
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER Robin Thurston CHIEF OPERATING & COMMERCE OFFICER Danielle Quatrochi CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER Ajay Gopal CHIEF PRODUCT OFFICER Christopher Glode Ford F-150 Lightning CHIEF PEOPLE OFFICER Jade Curtis CHIEF EXPERIENCE OFFICER Drew Elder My kids and their friends CHIEF REVENUE OFFICER Scott Parmelee CHIEF LEGAL OFFICER Christina Halliday CHIEF TELEVISION OFFICER Mark Burchill VICE PRESIDENT & GENERAL MANAGER, OUTDOOR GROUP Jon Dorn Greta VICE PRESIDENT, SALES & STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPS Sharon Houghton VICE PRESIDENT, CONTENT STRATEGY Zander Baron VICE PRESIDENT, MARKETING PJ Rabice Our community’s passion and persistence
OUTSIDE BUSINESS JOURNAL
OUR CLIMATE COMMITMENTS
The steps my company is taking to reduce its environmental impact
neutrality. That path has been made easier by the pandemic and the changing landscape of the media business. We’ve reduced office space, travel, and employee commuting after seeing ample evidence that remote work really does work. And we’ve substantially reduced our overall magazine print run—the most carbon-intensive part of our supply chain— reinvesting those dollars in digital initiatives. Working with our longtime climate partner, Cooler, we calculated that Outside’s footprint in 2021 was just over 23,000 tons of carbon. This information gives our climate task force a road map for what to attack next; it also informed our strategy for neutralization. That strategy will make Outside carbon neutral by 2026 by eliminating an increasing percentage of our footprint in each of the next five years. For 2022, Outside has purchased and retired carbon permits from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that will prevent an amount of pollution equal to 20 percent of our footprint. In real terms, eliminating that 20 percent is the equivalent of preventing 5.3 million pounds of coal from being burned or 12 million miles from being driven. In 2023, we will increase our purchase to 40 percent, and so on in increments of 20 percent until 2026, when we reach 100 percent. (To learn more about footprinting and how carbon permits work, see p. 74.)
CARBON REDUCTION AND NEUTRALIZATION
Our business has long used polybags to enclose subscriber mailings or advertiser brochures with copies of our magazines. Going forward, we’re limiting the number of these mailings in addition to shrinking our print runs. And
we’ve already switched to biodegradable bags for the mailings that remain. As the founder of the Plastic Impact Alliance, I’m very proud that my company has taken this step. (For more on our industry’s polybag problem, see p. 28.) ZERO WASTE
After moving into our new offices on Pearl Street in September, our facilities team shifted all paper and kitchen supplies to recycled, reusable, or compostable materials; installed compost bins throughout the building; and began educating staff on best practices. Already, we’ve seen a dramatic reduction in landfill waste as well as overall paper use. Are these steps enough? Not without your help. As you read our special climate report in this issue (p. 66), I hope you’ll be inspired to make your own commitments. Getting started can be as easy as riding a bike around the neighborhood.
Kristin Hostetter Editorial Director
With help from external experts, we spent much of 2021 identifying potential reductions in our emissions, measuring Outside Inc.’s footprint, and blueprinting a path to carbon
10 O U T S I D E B U S I N E S S J O U R N A L
Scan to learn more about polybags and what outdoor brands are doing to reduce usage.
ILLUSTRATION BY SHUOSHU; DIGITALVISION VECTORS / GETTY IMAGES
very Thursday afternoon, a bike rolls out the back door of our office at 1600 Pearl Street, OBJ’s headquarters in Boulder, Colorado. Towing a large utility cart, it makes a circuit of 10 retail shops run by outdoor brands such as Black Diamond, Norrøna, Patagonia, and Stio, collecting more than 900 pounds of plastic in 12 weeks. This recycling initiative—launched last fall in partnership with Eco-Cycle—is not going to save the planet all by itself, but it has diverted roughly 74,500 polybags from the waste stream and is helping us collect data on the size of our industry’s plastic problem. It’s also part of a larger effort by Outside Inc., our parent company, to take meaningful action on sustainability. A year ago in these pages, CEO Robin Thurston announced three climate commitments. Citing the importance of a healthy ecosystem to our customers and industry, he pledged that Outside would: • become climate positive by 2030 • eliminate polybags from our business by the end of 2022 • turn our HQ office into a zero-waste facility by the end of 2022. Going into the new year, Outside is ahead of schedule in achieving these commitments. There’s a lot of hard work ahead, but as with many mission-driven initiatives, we’re discovering unexpected business benefits. Here’s our report.
For 50 years, Ranpak’s mission has been to deliver sustainable packaging solutions that help improve supply chain performance and costs, reduce environmental impact, and support a variety of growing business needs globally.
“My first job was at a locally owned outdoor store,” says Ling, who traces the ups and downs of one of Boulder’s iconic gear shops in “Neptune’s Wild Ride” (p. 94). “It’s where I bought my first legit sleeping bag and tent, both of which I still use. So I love to see the evolution of a store like Neptune Mountaineering. These places really make a community.” Neptune’s in-store museum also impressed the Salida, Colorado-based freelancer: “Being able to visually trace the improvements in climbing and skiing equipment is so wild.” Find more of Ling’s recent writing in Outside, Esquire, Bicycling, Runner’s World, and 5280.
“The most notable takeaway for me when reporting ‘All Due Respect’ [p. 76] was realizing the opportunity for reciprocity by the outdoor industry, whose outsize reliance on Indigenous homelands makes it poised to help lead efforts to respond to the climate crisis,” says the Fairbanks, Alaska-based journalist. Monet moved to the state last summer after years of traveling there for climate reporting so she could devote more on-theground time to “stories that transcend politics and exploitative, victimizing narratives.” Her work has recently appeared in Sierra, The Nation, and her subscription newsletter, Indigenously.
How the climate crisis is affecting me : Rare Torrey Pines in a local state park I’ve been going to since I was little are slowly dying because of a climaterelated increase in bark beetles. It’s really sad to see.
New thing I’m doing to combat climate change Walking or biking for every errand within 5 miles—that’s almost everywhere in my mountain town!
How the climate crisis is affecting me As a journalist, I’ve been arrested on taken Treaty lands for reporting on anti-pipeline demonstrations.
Next big project
All-time favorite winter gear shop
Salida Mountain Sports
12 O U T S I D E B U S I N E S S J O U R N A L
Next big project
Writing about Indigenous mushers of the Iditarod
While reporting “Staying Power” (p. 18), this Nelson, BCbased journalist was touched to learn more about the impact independent retailers have on their communities. “In Pittsburgh, when a beloved movie theater that offered free screenings of It’s a Wonderful Life during the holidays was shut down, 3 Rivers Outdoor resurrected the screenings in the shop’s parking lot,” she says. Not to mention, “a lot of outdoor industry superstars got their start working at mom-and-pop gear shops.” Moye’s work has also appeared in Outside, Canadian Geographic, and Condé Nast Traveler.
All-time favorite winter gear shop Little Mountain Ltd, where I grew up in Mentor, Ohio. Next big project
I just started a story about the inland temperate rainforest in British Columbia. Our coastal temperate rainforests get a lot of attention because of the massive old-growth trees there. But in our valley bottoms in the interior, we’ve also got some giants!
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
OBJ’s fall intern is a San Diego-based writer and Northwestern University journalism student. He was pleasantly surprised by what he found when reporting on the industry’s plastic problem for “It’s in the Bag” (p. 28). After working on a few other pieces about solutions to plastic pollution, “I wanted to continue diving into the data about where the industry is right now,” he says. “What surprised me the most were the different ways people have found to skin this proverbial cat. It’s really heartening to see.” Chang’s work has recently appeared in OBJ’s digital coverage and Northwestern’s Helicon magazine.
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As the producer for Grassroots Outdoor Alliance’s Connect show, Murch welcomed the chance to share details about her show’s color-coded lanyard system for “Rules of Engagement” (p. 22). Along with vaccine and mask requirements, the lanyards are “an example of what worked, and by sharing and communicating these strategies, we can continue to host safe events,” she says. And she offers this advice for other event planners: “Just order [the lanyards]. Get more than you think you need. And remember, a good number of people will not even read the signs.” When not attending trade shows, Murch can be found at home in Boulder, Utah.
New thing I’m doing to combat climate change Supporting the vendors, partners, businesses, and organizations that are doing the work to make system-level change All-time favorite winter gear shop
Idaho Mountain Touring in Boise, Idaho
Veteran environmental journalist Palmer has been writing about the climate crisis for years, but while reporting “Road Map to Net Zero” (p. 70), she was still surprised to learn how much room there is for improvement in this industry. “Outdoor businesses have the potential to do all the little and big things that can move the planet forward,” she says. Palmer, who is a professor of science communication at George Washington University and the author of Hot, Hungry Planet: The Fight to Stop a Global Food Crisis in the Face of Climate Change, splits her time between Washington, DC and New Mexico.
“I always love to work on topics that have a connection to my personal life, such as questions about the climate crisis and our children’s future on this beautiful planet,” says cover illustrator Prades, who lives in Offenburg, Germany. The cover’s theme hit particularly close to home, as some of his friends lost everything to last summer’s catastrophic flooding in the western part of his country. One more personal note: The child pictured on the cover is his son, Louis. Find more of Prades’s recent work on several book covers from Penguin and Harper Collins, and in Rolling Stone, Wired, and Outside.
This Vancouver Island, BCbased journalist was drawn to writing about top retailer strategies for “Secrets of the Best Winter Shops” (p. 80) because “I wanted to learn more about the emerging and innovative strategies gear shops are adopting to compensate for these wild times,” he says. One notable fact his reporting uncovered: While ski sales went through the roof almost everywhere else in 2021, they declined in Florida (blame travel hesitancy). Find more of Stuart’s recent work in Ski Canada, Outside, Men’s Journal, and Hakai.
New thing I’m doing to combat climate change Riding my bike. If I’m out late, I take an electric scooter through a ride-share app.
New thing I’m doing to combat climate change Eating local, seasonal vegetables; avoiding all sorts of plastic; riding a bicycle or train whenever possible
How the climate crisis is affecting me I lived through the Pacific Northwest’s heat dome last summer and saw how much marine life died. Shells from clams and oysters are still piling up on the beaches near my home.
Next big project
Leading a trip for GW students from Sitka to Juneau, Alaska, as we learn how climate change is affecting the people, land, and animals there
14 O U T S I D E B U S I N E S S J O U R N A L
Next big project
Participating in ultraendurance bike races through Belgium, Spain, and France
All-time favorite winter gear shop
My local one, Ski Tak Hut in Courtenay, BC
PHOTOS BY (LEFT) KATHERINE BROOKS PHOTOGRPAHY; ANITA MAKRI; COURTESY
3 Wholesale Trends to Watch in 2022 Innovation in B2B eCommerce thrives as buyers become savvier digital users. See how brands are harnessing technology to step into a new future. 1 DIGITAL SHIFTS PROPEL RECORD-BREAKING SALES
2 FLEXIBLE FULFILLMENT COUNTERS SUPPLY CHAIN WOES
Virtual showrooms replicate in-person experiences online, and 3D
Multi-brand manufacturer Tecnica upgraded its DTC, B2B,
modeling expedites go-to-market and reduces sample production
online and oﬄine ecosystem, radically improving their
costs. Even heritage brands are reinventing B2B sales. Christian
fulﬁllment capabilities, which allowed them to shuﬄe
Louboutin used augmented reality to showcase its Arpoador
inventory in real-time to cater to a consumer-centric model.
sneakers for Spring/Summer ‘22, and Burberry wove 3D product renderings into its merchandising model. 3 EXIT OMNICHANNEL, ENTER CONNECTED COMMERCE As NuORDER’s wholesale platform becomes fused into Lightspeed’s POS and B2C eCommerce solutions, the industry is achieving a global transformation that delivers exceptional consumer experiences and uses data to drive sell-through. Global spending on order management software will grow to $1B+ in 2022. Investing in integrated point solutions mean business can enable 24/7 commerce and sell anytime, anywhere.
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W W W. N u O R D E R .C O M
WHY we do what we do at HOLO: We believe humans of all backgrounds have the right to purchase sustainable products that don’t cost a bunch of money and that allow them to pursue their outside adventures.
H O LO FOOTWEAR h o lo footwear.c om
Outdoor brands need TikTok (p. 24)
PHOTO COURTESY OF OSPREY PACKS
This shop runs on trust (p. 32)
Urban adventurers gear up (p. 20)
An uptick in city folks getting active outside gives outdoor brands a new target market.
BUSINESS / INDUSTRY BUZZ
How are independent outdoor shops retaining employees—not to mention morale and integrity— in a pinched hiring market?
hen Christine Iksic heard that a Public Lands store was opening in Pittsburgh in fall 2021, she didn’t panic. Her specialty store, 3 Rivers Outdoor Co. (3ROC), has successfully coexisted with REI and Patagonia for four years, so the arrival of the new outdoor chain concept store (under the Dick’s Sporting Goods umbrella) wasn’t overly alarming. While Iksic can’t afford to pay the higher wages that her competitors do, or offer health care benefits, she’s never lost an employee to one of Pittsburgh’s bigbox outdoor retailers. In fact, she has several former green vests on her payroll who say they prefer 3ROC’s close-knit staff—they hang out in the store even while off the clock—and the fun family vibe. So Iksic was completely blindsided when her business partner broke the news that he was leaving to join the Public Lands team last July.
Months later, Iksic fights back tears. “He said Public Lands reached out to him,” she says. “It just feels so predatory.” Iksic is still trying to make peace with the circumstances— and the fact that given the choice, she might have done the same thing. “[Public Lands] pretty much doubled his salary and offered him stock and health benefits, plus workfrom-home and weekends off,” she says. “How could you say no?” As an independent retailer, Iksic is not alone in her struggle to attract and retain good employees. Most mom-and-pop gear shops can’t match the hourly $12.50 starting rate at, say, Public Lands, let alone its management salaries, corporate benefits package, and 401(k). While there are currently only two Public Lands stores, in Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio, it’s possible the new chain will take off the same way REI did. With 174
18 O U T S I D E B U S I N E S S J O U R N A L
retail outposts in 41 states, REI continues to expand, with recent store openings in Portland, Maine; Santa Cruz, California; Chicago, Illinois; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Tampa, Florida; and, coming in summer 2022, Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Even small towns, which have a limited pool of employees, are feeling the effects of REI’s reach: On November 5, REI opened in Jackson, Wyoming, a town of just 10,000 people. Adding to the tension is a pandemic-fueled staffing shortage that’s driving up hourly rates nationwide. In Seattle, Sandeep Nain, owner of Ascent Outdoors, was understaffed all summer because employers like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Starbucks were advertising $19 an hour to start, plus a signing bonus. Finally, in the fall, with the holiday season looming, Nain felt he had no choice but to increase his hourly rate to $19—which
ILLUSTRATION BY ROBS, DARIA VOSKOBOEVA, CSA IMAGES; ISTOCK / GETTY IMAGES PLUS
By Jayme Moye
ILLUSTRATION BY ROBS, DARIA VOSKOBOEVA, CSA IMAGES; ISTOCK / GETTY IMAGES PLUS
required that he also give his existing staff a raise to reflect the upward shift. “The costs are heavy,” he says. “But there’s no other way to get new employees right now.” Sarah Morton, owner of Clear Water Outdoor in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, founded her shop 16 years ago. From the outset, Morton knew she would never be able to compete with the big chains on pay. Instead, she drew on the 20 years she spent working in outdoor retail before opening her own store to create the best work environment she could imagine. Clear Water Outdoor extends a discount to employees’ families, pays employees to work store-led community events ranging from stand-up paddleboard races to turkey trot runs, provides free boat and paddleboard rentals to employees on weekdays, and takes staff to buying shows with all expenses paid, among other perks. But Morton is most
proud of the personal attention Clear Water Outdoor gives staff to “build them up” as employees and human beings. Exhibit A: When a part-time employee who was attending college graduated with a degree in psychology, she had trouble finding work in her field. Morton encouraged the young woman to step into a full-time opening for assistant manager, and gifted her the book Why We Buy, about the psychology of shopping. Finding employees’ passions and helping them grow doesn’t eliminate all Morton’s retention woes, but it helps: Sixty percent of Clear Water Outdoor’s staff started at least a decade ago. Kellie Strong, for instance, is a buyer who’s been with the company for 13 years. “I went through some pretty serious autoimmune disease stuff and the flexibility they gave me to work from home, to get my job done when I could, allowed me to continue to work while I was figuring out how to heal,” she says. “Any time any of us has gone through something difficult, everyone helps out, whether it’s covering tasks, letting them have the time off they need, or checking in on them personally.” David Polivy, the founder and co-owner of Tahoe Mountain Sports in Truckee, California, says that these types of intangible benefits can be more valuable to employees in some towns than the one-size-fits-all approach to compensation deployed by big-box retailers. In Polivy’s community, for example, as in many mountain towns across the Western U.S., housing inventory and affordability are employees’ biggest pain points. Accordingly, Polivy gives employees loans for security deposits, co-signs leases with them, and helps them find replacement housing when they face eviction because the property they’re renting is going up for sale. “Working at a big-box chain, you might have a nice corporate benefits package,” Polivy says. “But is REI going to come in and pay your security deposit for [a home rental] without expecting to be repaid for a year or two? The creative compensation options that you can get in specialty retail are potentially much more impactful, especially in the short term.” Similarly, Lucy Hedrick, co-owner of Wilderness Sports in Dillon, Colorado (where an REI opened across the street in 2017), is in the process of transforming what used to be a consignment section on the store’s upper level into three apartments to use as employee housing. Plus, she and another co-owner with a relevant financial services background worked together to implement
*Sources include Apartment List and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
NUMBER OF LOCATIONS REI OPENED IN 2021
SIZE, IN SQUARE FEET, OF EACH INAUGURAL PUBLIC LANDS STORE
HOURLY STARTING WAGE AT PUBLIC LANDS
RISE IN NATIONAL MEDIAN RENT PRICE OVER 2021
INCREASE IN NATIONAL RETAIL JOB OPENINGS, OCT. 2020-OCT. 2021* small-business health care benefits for staff. “It’s really important for employees here, with housing so tight and cost of living so high,” Hendrick says. “If you don't have the skills to figure out how to do it, find someone who does—a consultant or another smallbusiness owner.” Polivy says these highly personal employee perks mirror the personal touches customers have come to expect at mom-and-pop shops— which is the reason they often choose them over bigger chains. “We’ve done the curating for [our consumers],” he says. “We choose between thousands of styles of footwear every season to narrow down what’s going to be the best for our customers and our community.” That same thoughtfully tailored attention can go a long way with employees. WINTER 2022
BUSINESS / YOUR NEXT CUSTOMER
CITY FOLK NEED GEAR, TOO
As more urban dwellers venture into local green spaces, outdoor brands should seek them out—strategically. By Kay Rodriguez
’ve spent most of my adult life within the concrete confines of cities. When I was young, my family just didn’t do things outside. The fleece-wearing, trail-traipsing, peakbagging folks I saw in adventure magazines seemed like a different breed from me and everyone I knew. My experience isn’t unique. An estimated 83 percent of the U.S. population resides in urban areas, and the hurdles to outdoor recreating are significant for much of that demographic. Many urbanites rely on public transportation, and the cost and pace of city living often means we have limited resources to plan big outdoor adventures. The pandemic, though, upended the notion that people have to travel far and spend heavily to get outside. As indoor venues shuttered and people flocked to local outdoor areas, government organizations like the National Park Service began funding improvements to infrastructure in urban parks and green spaces, especially in underserved areas. And participation in low-barrier activities like running, biking, and camping has seen record increases. According to the Outdoor Industry As-
20 O U T S I D E B U S I N E S S J O U R N A L
sociation’s 2020 report “The New Outdoor Participant,” 36 percent of these new freshair seekers live in cities. Moreover, they are more ethnically diverse and represent a wider range of income brackets than existing urban adventurers. The report also indicates that new entrants have been historically ignored, stating that “a lack of information about where to go, how to participate, and whom to participate with can be a barrier to trying new outdoor activities.” Yet, notably, more than 60 percent of those surveyed planned to continue their new outdoor pursuits post-pandemic. That’s an open invitation for brands to convert neophyte urban adventurers into lifelong customers. But they first need to circumnavigate some basic roadblocks, starting with versatility and cost. Most entry-level recreationists are aware that they don’t require sport-specific, specialized gear, which can come with an intimidation factor. Accordingly, more outdoor brands are designing for city folks who want a pair of shoes they can wear hiking, paddling, and biking. “We hear all the time from our customers that a Cotopaxi prod-
uct was the first piece of outdoor gear they purchased,” says Jeffrey Steadman, community engagement director at Cotopaxi. “It’s pretty appealing to have gear that not only gets you to work every day, but helps you summit a peak or explore a new town on the weekend.” Then there’s the most difficult hurdle to clear: helping urban customers physically—and mentally—get to where they can embrace nature in a deeper way. Most urbanites can step outside and jog down the sidewalk. But right now, they just don’t see themselves—or people who look like them—mountain biking or snowshoeing through a forest preserve. Successful marketing in urban communities requires a more thoughtful strategy than simply adding diverse faces and bodies to ad campaigns. At a minimum, brands can capitalize on OIA’s suggestion to curate social media content with information about close-to-home green spaces, public transit options to access further-out parks and trails, training for outdoor activities, and linking up with like-minded urban adventurers. “If you want to support the culture of getting outside, you need to invest in the [cultural] infrastructure,” says Constance Beverley, CEO of Share Winter Foundation, which funds programs to make winter sports accessible to a diverse community of youth. “Are you partnering with organizations that introduce sports in a safe environment? Are you providing education programs to make people feel empowered outside? Brands must embrace these ideas to fully tap into the urban outdoor market.” As for me, I woke up one day in my downtown Chicago high-rise, craving a hike but not knowing where to turn. Soon after, I founded the Urban Outdoors digital community to equip city dwellers with tools to get outside. Outdoor brands have an opportunity to bring these 101 experiences to the next level. Let’s hope they seize it.
PHOTO BY THE NORTH FACE
Urban audience: Seemingly unlikely collaborations, like this one between The North Face and Gucci, hint at the growing appeal of outdoor culture to customers outside the traditional adventure space.
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BUSINESS / SHOW BIZ
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
As the world reconverges, one trade show producer has fine-tuned a simple tool for navigating—and respecting—personal comfort.
long with much of the world, I made some exciting return-to-normal plans this past summer. I penciled in the Big Gear Show, Outdoor Retailer, and a dear friend’s wedding in August. As an event producer coming off of a pandemic-induced hiatus, I was stoked to see my colleagues and friends after 18 months of hibernation. Plus, I was gearing up to put on the Grassroots Connect show in November, and I was eager to talk booth layouts and logistics. I’d even filled my downtime with courses and certifications in areas like event hazard and risk management, and I’d been developing contingency plans, safety protocols, and organizational strategies to ensure a safe environment for the fall show. None of that prepared me to be an attendee at any of these gatherings. I drove four and a half hours up to Salt Lake City. And then, Saturday morning, I just couldn’t do it. I canceled everything. What would have made a difference? Nothing. It was a personal state of mind. Even with precautions, the benefit of going to these gatherings—for me—did not outweigh the risk, perceived or real, of becoming a Covid-19 statistic. My nerves were not indicative of everyone’s mental state, but they did illustrate a larger issue: As we re-emerge into large-format gatherings in public places, acknowledging— and respecting—people’s personal space is integral to pulling off events that hinge on positive, in-person interactions. Given what we know now about the intractable staying
power of the virus (even mitigated by vaccines), we can assume this isn’t a temporary issue. Plus, there’s that “intimacy creep” to which every outdoor trade show attendee can attest: when someone you’ve emailed with countless times but never met pulls you in for a big, uninvited bear hug. We are, after all, an industry that thrives on camaraderie. That’s why, for Connect, we fine-tuned a solution that had launched at the Big Gear Show: the colored lanyard system. At registration, each participant was required to select a lanyard, courtesy of Chums eyewear retainers, in one of three universally familiar colors, each representing personal comfort levels: green (I’m OK with contact); yellow (please keep your distance); and red (caution, I’m sensitive to contact and appreciate distancing). We also aligned the colors with relevant songs on the event playlist and posted them on reminder signage throughout the convention center (think: Christina Aguilera’s “Come On Over” and Stevie Nicks’s “Stand Back”) to keep things fun. And voilà: Attendees had visual indicators to convey how they preferred to interact, sans judgment or awkward conversations (“Are you hugging? Should we hug?”). “We’re all happy to be back at shows, but I totally understand if someone doesn’t want a hug on day one,” says Heath Christensen, Cotopaxi’s director of wholesale. “[The system] was a great way to respect people’s comfort levels as we all get used to in-person events again.”
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One key with a system like this is softening the surrounding language to ask for participation rather than framing it as a policy demanding compliance. This should help planning teams—whether a pandemic rages or not—make the path to attendance reassuring and seamless, not challenging and aggressive. And while no doubt some find it overkill, the lanyard is a tangible step forward in forging that path through the oxymoron that is social distancing. It’s a way to give people a voice in a conversation that’s not always easy to have. “What was most surprising was how much we underestimated how important it was for people to express how they felt about managing risk around the pandemic,” says Kenji Haroutunian, trade show director of the Big Gear Show. “Attendees truly appreciated this simple visual communication tool.” While Outdoor Retailer at one point considered a similar color-coded button system, directors are instead just requiring masks at all times and social distancing measures at Snow Show 2022. Regardless, it’s clear that stringent precautions help in this new normal where gathering safely and respecting boundaries are as important as the business at hand. When I asked an attendee to describe, in one word, how he felt about being at Connect, he replied, “Comfortable.” Success.
ILLUSTRATION BY ROBS & HERMANN MUELLER / GETTY IMAGES
By Devaki Murch
TikTok is one of the fastest-growing social media apps in the world. It’s time the outdoor industry got on board. By Heather Balogh Rochfort
hen Zoe Bommarito first opened the TikTok app with the new National Forest Foundation (NFF) account, she had no idea what she was doing. As NFF’s then marketing manager, she thought the shortform video-sharing platform could be useful for outreach (she left the job last December). Within two weeks, a basic reel she posted went viral and she awoke to 25,000 followers overnight. Just over a year later, that number has more than doubled to 62,000. “In the last few years, our audiences have stagnated on Facebook and Instagram, so that kind of growth was unprecedented for us,” Bommarito says. “Right away we realized that TikTok is a powerful tool.” Founded in 2017, TikTok is projected to surpass 1.5 billion active users by the end of 2022. In just five years, that’s 50 percent more users than Instagram reported in its first eight years. This despite counterefforts from giants like Google and Meta (formerly known as Facebook), which tried to mimic TikTok by adding similar features, like Instagram Reels. In fact, TikTok has seen 43 percent growth since competitors launched the copycats. The secret:
unfiltered creativity that’s low on pretense, high on fun. Think recording features like green screen, duet mode, a “stitch” option to incorporate other users’ content, and a wide array of music for business accounts. These are the underpinnings of a platform that thrives on originality and imagination rather than perfectly curated (read: misleadingly flawless) photos. While compelling, the data only tell half the story. The second piece of the app’s power lies in its massive social influence, so strong that McDonald’s tapped a trending TikTok personality to help reimagine its iconic logo for a digital rebranding. And once-struggling late-’90s “it” brands like Abercrombie & Fitch have enjoyed a recent renaissance thanks to Gen Z TikTok activity hyping up nostalgic trends. In fact,
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a bulk of the country’s 2021 viral trends (alternately hilarious, dangerous, and highly inadvisable TikTok challenges) originate on the app, and a majority of users prefer TikTok’s “For You” feed to Instagram’s “Discovery” tab since it provides a more customized layout. Yet a quick glance shows that the outdoor industry is sorely missing from the platform. Sure, you can find some brands with a cursory search, but not many post on a regular basis—if at all—and follower numbers are lackluster. Salomon is one of the few actively using TikTok. As the ski/ hike/run brand’s global head of social media, Adrien Marchand, says, “A lot of people still think it’s the app for teenagers who like to dance in their parents’ living room.” But in just nine months, Salomon has accrued more than 109,000 followers and amassed more than 2 million engagements. By contrast, the brand’s Instagram account boasts a million followers but saw 10 percent fewer engagements during the same time period. While follower counts look good on the surface, engagement metrics (likes, shares, comments) are a better indication of a brand’s success. With both Gen Z and millennial audiences dubbing Instagram too staged, TikTok’s adoption of on-the-fly, unretouched moments as its bread-and-butter content offers outdoor entities a golden ticket to reach younger audiences who want to adventure when, where, and how they want, scenery and Instaworthiness be damned. Says Bommarito: “TikTok values authenticity.” Still need convincing? The hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt has reached more than seven billion video views. “Show up and live your brand values,” she says. “The organic growth will follow.”
ILLUSTRATION BY CRISTINA SPANÓ
BUSINESS / MESSAGING
PACKTALK OUTDOOR Imagine rushing down the slope and talking to each other just like you would at the hotel, or bar. Packtalk Outdoor allows you to do just that! Communicate, laugh together, warn each other of potential danger or give tips in real-time with always-on group intercom based on our revolutionary mesh technology. No reception? No problem! The Packtalk Outdoor works without the need for internet or cellular connection. It is fully weatherproof, withstanding the toughest conditions and has a battery life of 8 hours letting you enjoy a whole day of skiing without worries. Connect your smartphone to the Packtalk Outdoor via Bluetooth to listen to your favorite tunes with JBL sound, or make and answer calls – all while your phones stays safely in your pocket.
ALWAYS-ON GROUP COMMUNICATION
HIGH QUALITY SOUND
firstname.lastname@example.org | cardosystems.com/snow
BUSINESS / PIVOT
HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT
Amid turmoil over federal vaccine mandates, some outdoor brands have quietly issued their own requirements.
n the summer of 2021, Kim Miller found himself in a familiar position: considering the best move to shepherd his team through a life-threatening storm. In his previous life as an expedition leader, he’d shouldered that very burden on plenty of high peaks. As the CEO of Scarpa North America, he now faced a different deadly threat: Covid-19. “My mentality as a leader is to keep people safe,” Miller says. “And motivated, engaged, and happy at a time when people are freaking out.” So, the Boulder, Colorado–based subsidiary of the global alpine footwear brand implemented a new policy: Barring a religious or health-related exemption for which the company would make reasonable accommodation, all employees were required to get vaccinated against Covid-19. At the time, a handful of the 25 employees had not yet gotten their shots, but Miller says there was no pushback. By July, all had gotten the jab save one staffer with an approved health reason. Scarpa then qualified for Boulder County’s vaccine certification, which provides exemption from the county’s indoor mask mandate for companies with a 95 percent vaccination rate. “We take it seriously,” Miller says. “Nobody comes in our building who’s not vaccinated. We ask for proof from the office maintenance staff and the FedEx carrier.” Vaccine mandates are, of course, controversial at the national level right now. The Biden administration’s requirements for federal employees, government contractors, health care workers, and private companies with 100 or more employees have stirred contentious debates about government overreach, not to mention ongoing litigation that thwarts cohesive implementation. Some
companies, including Denver-based outdoor industry behemoth VF Corporation (parent company to The North Face, Smartwool, and Timberland, among others) have taken matters into their own hands by issuing their own companywide vaccine policies. Smaller brands have followed suit, like Scarpa and the Longmont, Colorado–based Deuter USA. Deuter introduced vaccine-ortest requirements in August 2021 for two reasons. First, to protect staff with vulnerable family members and small children, says managing director Jonathan Degenhardt: “We wanted to make sure our team didn’t feel like their jobs were putting their families at risk.” Second, operations and profitability were subject to a devastating domino effect: “Logistics, sales, accounting, and marketing are all under one roof,” he says. “Because of our size, we have to be 100-percent functional. If any of us go down for an extended time, that affects our productivity. If we’re not shipping, we’re not invoicing.” By October, despite slight initial resistance from a handful of people, all employees had rolled up their sleeves. While smaller staff sizes help considerably in smooth execution, both Degenhardt and Miller recognize that “bedside manner” boosted their success in employee reaction and retention. “If I’d just walked in and said, ‘Everyone’s getting vaccinated or you’re
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outta here’—that’s the wrong tone,” says Miller, who carefully solicited input from team managers, consulted with Scarpa’s attorneys to avoid infringing on anyone’s legal rights, and privately communicated with each employee to understand concerns. Similarly, at Deuter, employees were given paid time off for recovery and an understanding ear, no matter the reason for any initial hesitation. “I have not seen any issues with morale because we are trying to be sensitive to how each employee feels,” says Deuter controller April Sawyer, whose cousin died from Covid in February 2021. “Our HR and management staff have had personal conversations with each employee, and I feel the employees have been very up-front about their feelings.” While the mandate concept is still somewhat of an experiment in social science, the health outcome, at least for Deuter and Scarpa, has proved reassuring: Despite the persistent risk, neither company has seen any outbreaks as of press time. And while the idea of a vaccine requirement is “sprinkled with subjective influences, like politics,” Miller says, “we are neutral on that. I always go back to: This is what the science says.” Bottom line? “I feel really good in a really bad situation,” Miller says, “about what we’ve done, how we’ve learned from what we’ve done, and how we’re faring.”
ILLUSTRATION BY ROBS; JOHN PARROT/STOCKTREK IMAGES/STOCKTREK IMAGES
By Julie Dugdale
ADVENTURE • COMFORT • DESIGN
WE USE ALPACA FIBER IN OUR BLEND BECAUSE I T I S S O F T E R , S T R O N G E R A N D WA R M E R . AVA I L A B L E AT D A H LG R E N S O C K S . C O M
BUSINESS / NUMEROLOGY
IT’S IN THE BAG
The outdoor industry knows it has a polybag problem. While many brands are looking at alternatives to curb the glaring plastic waste—and some, like prAna and NEMO, have already changed their packaging practices— progress is slow. Plus, while technically recyclable, polybags are neither accepted curbside nor widely taken at recycling centers. Hence the reason proliferating mounds of discarded plastic pouches end up in the trash every day. Here, we take a closer look at the problem—and a better way forward.
9: Percentage of global plastic waste that has ever been recycled 14: Percentage of U.S. plastic packaging that is recycled now 69: Percentage of U.S. plastic packaging that ends up in a landfill 180 BILLION: Number of polybags the global fashion industry—which includes textiles and products in the outdoor industry—uses annually (that’s equivalent to the weight of 80,000 elephants)
SO WHY DO OUTDOOR BRANDS EVEN NEED POLYBAGS?
It’s about weighing the cost of ruined clothes.
By Jiakai Chang
Plastic packaging and containers account for 40 percent of global plastic produced, and our appetite for them seemingly knows no bounds. Here’s how much (in tons) we’ve been making in the U.S. 2010
Percentage of garments that were damaged beyond sellability when Patagonia conducted an experiment by running items through the shipping system at its Reno distribution center without polybags.
Percentage of a garment’s carbon footprint for which a polybag accounts. Meaning (by some logic): The environmental impact of throwing away a damaged garment far outweighs the impact of using a polybag.
Petro-based materials aren’t the only options. Check out what these forwardlooking brands are using.
It’s hard to ignore the rising digital shopping trend—especially for outdoor brands that have seen a spike in interest juxtaposed with limited in-person retail throughout the pandemic. This is how much plastic packaging waste we can expect to see from global e-commerce if we don’t change things now.
PAPER: Surf-inspired apparel brand Outerknown ditched virgin plastic in favor of Vela bags, made from durable, transparent paper that’s biodegradable and recyclable curbside. Thus far, Vela bags have replaced 105,039 pounds of plastic polybags. A ROLLING FOLD, PLUS RAFFIA: Longtime sustainability pioneer prAna hit its zero-plastic goal in 2021 by using a roll-pack method for 70 percent of its garments and securing them with recyclable raffia ties. (The rest is shipped in Vela paper bags.) CORNSTARCH: Fishing gear and apparel company Grundéns uses 100-percent biodegradable polybags made from a polylactide derived from cornstarch. Cut into strips, the bag can be composted curbside and will decompose in under a year.
4.5 4 3.5
2 1.5 1 2021
The Plastic Impact Alliance (a coalition of more than 430 outdoor companies and the brainchild of OBJ editor Kristin Hostetter) teamed up with the nonprofit Eco-Cycle to launch a three-month pilot program in late 2021 to collect, quantify, and recycle polybags from outdoor retailers in Boulder, Colorado. (Learn more on p. 10.)
Every day in 2019, global polyethylene consumption accounted for 772,603 tons of carbon emissions. Capturing that single day’s worth of emissions would require roughly 38.63 million trees growing for a year.
Polybags collected by the end of the pilot, accounting for 901 TOTAL POUNDS OF PLASTIC from 11 PARTICIPATING outdoor businesses (including Outside, OBJ’s parent company). Those bags are being recycled by Trex, a company that manufactures wood-alternative composite decking.
THAT MEANS REMOVING A YEAR’S WORTH OF EMISSIONS WOULD REQUIRE MORE THAN
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= 200 MILLION TREES Sources: EPA, Oceana, Statista, Climate Neutral Group, Lonely Whale Foundation, Eco-Cycle
BUSINESS / FACE OFF
INDIE VS. IN-HOUSE REPS: WHICH IS BETTER? Two brand representatives—one independent, one internal—make their cases.
Stephen Nance, Principal Freestone Sales Group
Being an independent sales rep isn’t for everyone. Success requires a lot of heavy lifting. After all, independent reps are business owners—which can present its own headaches—but most independent reps you meet wouldn’t have it any other way. The biggest reason? We create our own destiny. There isn’t a glass ceiling above us like what in-house reps might experience. We get to create the life we want, and there’s no true boss watching everything we do. That’s why people say indie reps are always working but never have to work. The more we sell, the more money we make, so we’re not short on motivation to work hard every day and reach out to our dealers for sell-through reports so we can fill holes with available inventory. And since indie reps are able to increase the size of their agency, it’s nice for brands to leverage the expertise of that whole agency. In return, even a small brand under the umbrella of any given rep group might get four or five reps selling their product. Independent reps also tend to balance the retailer-brand relationship well—some would say better than in-house reps, who make their money solely off the brand. But since we make straight commission, we tend to favor sustainable partnerships so we can sell to the same people and places for years to come. I like to think of us as relationship specialists. In my opinion, retailers don’t buy from brands, they buy from people. Just because in-house reps are often the cheapest way to have your brand represented in any given territory doesn’t mean it’s the best way.
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TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK. Kari Larsen, Sales Director The North Face
I have worked on both internal and external sales teams for The North Face since 2002. In fact, I was the owner of the first woman-owned agency to represent The North Face back in 2016. I loved running my own ship, but I’ve found that there’s a lot of value in sales teams being internal. Since going in house in 2018, I’ve discovered that the communication and collaboration we have now is more seamless than in the past. I can now easily work simultaneously with various teams, which gives me a better understanding of the brand’s long-term vision. Our internal teams work better across regions because we align much earlier in the process in terms of sharing information and collaborating on sales, marketing, and product. In house, we can dial things up and down to fine-tune and maximize sales in all channels. We learn from each other’s experiences, bring insights to the table earlier, are more responsive to account needs, and offer a more holistic view of the brand to our partners. Making the move to go internal has provided me with a level of support, coaching, and leadership that’s boosted my confidence and allowed me to grow into a better businesswoman. It’s also offered a nice work-life balance. Owning your own business requires a lot of hours beyond the everyday workload. Not having that extra stress has really allowed me a better balance, and I find myself enjoying the outdoors more. Which, after all, is why I got into this industry in the first place.
ILLUSTRATION BY IOANMASAY/ISTOCK / GETTY IMAGES PLUS | PHOTOS BY COURTESY
WE CREATE OUR OWN DESTINY.
BUSINESS / SHOP TALK
Should you leave your shop unattended? One daring outdoor apparel brand says the practice has boosted trust—and sales. By Margaret Littman
cott and Laura Jordan headquartered SCOTTeVEST, their pocket-laden outdoor clothing line, in Ketchum, Idaho, because they love to hike with their three poodles in the Wood River Valley. The sleek glass-and-concrete building includes the retail shop and showroom on the first floor, an e-commerce office on the second floor, and a climbing wall in the stairwell between the two. They live upstairs, where they enjoy views of the Sun Valley ski area. When Scott, the brand’s CEO and co-founder, wanted to take the pups for a hike last summer, he didn’t have a staffer to mind the store. So, he bought a few hundred dollars’ worth of electronics, including a Ring doorbell, motion sensors, an Alexa Echo speaker, and security cameras. He put a sign on the door explaining the concept of “honor shopping.” When customers ring the doorbell during business hours, his phone alerts him, he introduces himself over the speaker, and he opens the door remotely so they can shop solo. He encourages them to ask about product features, colors, or sizes via the shop’s microphone,
which is always on, or to dial his cell. When they’re ready to buy, he’ll come back if he’s nearby, or they can pay via PayPal and he can keep hiking. “I’m a social animal and I like building relationships,” Scott says, “so I work to manage expectations so the experience isn’t weird.” The company, which generates “seven figures” in annual revenue and doesn’t currently employ other staffers, counts honor shopping as a success. The Jordans don’t have to preside over an empty shop, and, Scott says, customers appreciate that they can try things on at their leisure. “Trust begets trust,” says Carla Smith, a retiree from Calgary who honor-shopped at SCOTTeVEST while vacationing in the area. “If you are willing to make the first move and show you trust people, it will be reciprocated.” Indeed, Laura says customers have been more likely to return to the website for repeat online purchases after honor shopping. That said, there are drawbacks to the concept. Customers who value hands-on assessment for the fit of a boot or the size
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of a paddle may find the lack of in-person assistance off-putting. Plus, accessibility challenges—say, for items stocked on high shelves—or purchase returns mean shoppers would have to plan a visit during staffed hours. Nevertheless, the idea is likely to catch on, says Brittain Ladd, a global retail and supply chain consultant based in Dallas: “A lot of people think it’s about labor shortages, but it’s primarily about convenience. It gives the consumer the ability to shop when they want, in a cost-effective way [for the store].” In most of the honor-shopping programs Ladd has set up, regular customers register in advance, so their credit cards are on file—a different approach from the SCOTTeVEST model that invites new folks to wander in. For small outdoor retailers, Ladd envisions a true showroom setup, with paddles and fishing rods on the floor—and no sales associate on site—so customers can get the hands-on experience they miss with online shopping. When ready to purchase, they’d receive the item from a staffed window or via delivery within 24 hours. For customers like Smith, the no-pressure buying environment is perhaps most appealing of all. And the Jordans get that. “I hate it when someone is following me around asking me if I need help, except when I want help,” Scott says. “We kind of ‘Bewitched’ the moment and made that possible.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF SCOTTEVEST
Solo shopping: SCOTTeVEST invites customers to browse and buy without a sales associate on site.
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How to diversify your hiring (p. 42)
PHOTO BY ANGELA FARMER
Rose Marcario fights for our future (p. 44)
Channeling climate grief into action (p. 40)
Rose Marcario in Indian Canyon, on the ancestral home and reservation of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians near Palm Springs, California
CULTURE / FRESH VOICES
PHOTO BY SCHAUN CHAMPION
Mandela Echefu, co-owner of Wheelzup Adventures, in Cumberland, Maryland
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Growing up in Hawaii, I’d hike and go to the beach, but I didn’t see snow until I was in college. Instantly, I was hooked on winter. When I moved to Boston for graduate school, I ended up wearing my 3-in-1 snowboarding jacket everywhere despite it being powder blue and not styled for everyday wear. That experience inspired me to build a bet ter coat, something that was fitted and could function both on and off the slopes. In 2016, I launched Terracea through Kickstarter. Today we have 18 unique styles debuting for Fall 2022. We seek to balance fashion and sustainability without sacrificing performance. Growing a business from scratch hasn’t been easy. I often struggle to connect with the outdoor industry’s gatekeepers, and staying true to myself sometimes feels like a handicap. However, I’m in the business of being forward-thinking and unique, which is what’s going to get us noticed.
As an infant, I slept in a box under the ticket window at Ski Green Valley, a small California ski hill my godparents owned. By age four, I was assisting fallen skiers with a Disney-themed fanny pack stuffed with BandAids. So began my love affair with emergency medicine. At 25, I became a ski patroller, and five months in I knew I’d found a career. I’ve now been ski patrolling in California and Nevada for 10 seasons, six of which I’ve spent as a director and two as the president of the Association of Professional Patrollers. It’s a male-dominated industry, though, and I wanted to elevate female patrollers. In 2018, I launched the Women of Patrol Instagram account, and two years later I turned it into a nonprofit. We offer scholarships, networking opportunities, clinics, and soon, a mentorship program for women in the field. We’re cultivating a cohort of empowered female patrollers who support one another as we save lives.
In October 2008, while driving through the highlands of western Maryland, I was accosted by a mountainside ablaze with the colors of fall. I pulled over and stood enraptured for 15 minutes. I drove away determined to chase that feeling of awe and spend more time outdoors. I started biking and hiking, then skiing and paddling, until eventually, I wanted to work in the industry. In April 2021, my wife, Jamie, and I opened Wheelzup Adventures in Cumberland, Maryland—the result of extensive market research, mentorship, and faith. We designed our retail store, clinics, and events so that novices feel welcome and experts feel at home. As an African American, I see many parallels between Appalachia and the African-American people— both have so much to offer but generally lack resources and opportunity. I’m working to increase both in Cumberland through outdoor access, knowledge, and community, helping to facilite healing and freedom in nature.
I grew up with a fractured connection to my Lakota culture and the outdoors. Learning to ski changed everything, allowing me to connect to the land and my lineage. As an Indigenous pro skier, I’ve learned how to better listen to the landscapes that move me and that I move with. The ecological and spiritual value of the places I ski has helped me to integrate my heritage daily. It’s also led me to forge my own path as an environmental activist, creative, and leader. Thanks to the sport, I’m a better version of myself and a braver member of my community. These lessons culminated in Spirit of the Peaks, a film I wrote and codirected about my journey—now available on YouTube and rei.com—as well as a new scholarship program I’m leading with a coalition of industry brands that targets Indigenous skiers and snowboarders. I told my story—I’m now helping other Native folks create their own.
PHOTOS BY COURTESY (3); SCHAUN CHAMPION
PHOTO BY SCHAUN CHAMPION
CULTURE / CHEAT SHEET
“Low on the totem pole” A totem pole is a sacred cultural artifact; this phrase belittles it. Ditto with “spirit animal.”
“Ninja” We see this one mostly in job descriptions. Like “guru,” the word is culturally appropriated and it’s gendered as masculine, which can discourage female applicants.
“Peanut gallery” This term stems from the section in vaudeville-era theaters where Black patrons were forced to sit.
“Uppity” This is a racist term, historically used in the South to describe Black people who didn’t know their place.
WATCH YOUR MOUTH
Lexicons evolve. Let’s grow ours by ditching these outdated expressions.
Skiing has a bad rep for being white and elitist. This phrase doesn’t help.
“Sold down the river” “A sexy new product” Let’s keep sex out of the workplace— and not tie something’s inherent value to its attractiveness.
“Crazy” or “hysterical” The words here aren’t the issue. It’s how we deploy them in oppressive ways, like when describing women who challenge authority.
“Drink the Kool-Aid” We all want devoted employees and customers, but this phrase makes light of the Jonestown massacre, which left 918 people dead from cyanide-laced Kool-Aid.
“Handicapped,” “emotionally crippled,” or “lame”
Like “slave driver,” this is a reference to the slave trade.
“Squaw” Originally translated as “woman” in the Indigenous Algonquian language, today the “S-word” is an ethnic and sexual slur.
“Tribe” Often used as a cutesy way to describe like-minded people, “tribe” has colonial origins as a bureaucratic term forced on Native Americans and incorrectly applied to many Africans.
“You guys” Positing men as the status quo excludes women and non-binary folks.
These terms perpetuate ableism, the social prejudice that people with disabilities are inferior.
“You look so young”
“Long time, no see”
“You’re so articulate”
This phrase originated as a mockery of Native Americans’ broken English. Similarly, “no can do” mocked Chinese immigrants.
This implies that the speaker is surprised by someone’s ability (often a woman or person of color) to speak well.
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This microaggression glorifies youth and perpetuates ageism.
PHOTO BY BIG SQUAW MOUNTAIN RESORT IN GREENVILLE, MAINE | ILLUSTRATION BY ROBS
By Kiran Herbert
ast September, sitting in a meeting room with my colleagues, a consultant described himself as a “slave driver.” A few weeks later, on a Zoom call, I heard a CEO talking about the work a company was doing in “Colombia, India, and Africa.” The former makes light of the horrific experience of slavery while the latter’s mention of Africa lumps together an entire continent and all the people on it. No harm was meant in either instance, but that doesn’t make the language any less damaging. As a young woman of color, I’m often asked where my family is from (code for “Why are you brown?”) or told how lucky I am not to have to wear sunscreen. Research shows that these types of microaggressions add up, taking their toll on the health of minorities by sending the message that they don’t belong. Our daily lexicon includes dozens of common words and phrases that draw from a nasty history, perpetuate stereotypes and white supremacy, and demean others. The following list isn’t exhaustive, but reflects language commonly used in outdoor industry offices, job postings, and trade show aisles. Some might dismiss it as wokeness run amok, but there shouldn’t be anything political about speaking with respect.
“They ski in jeans”
CULTURE / UNFILTERED
CLIMATE GRIEF IS A GOOD THING
How last summer’s environmental disasters flipped me from despair into action By Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan
that every summer from now on would be this bad—or worse. Would the air ever be clean enough for my two small kids to experience a bluebird mountain summer? Would those ecosystems even be around when they hit the prime of their lives? It got harder and harder to concentrate at work, as dark thoughts about society’s imminent collapse intruded on my deadlines. Once, talking about climate change with a near-stranger, I burst into tears. Plenty of us are experiencing climate anxiety, grief, and guilt. It’s terrifying, depressing, and uncomfortable; nobody wants to hang out in that mental space. But as I’ve grappled with my own climate grief over the past months, I’ve come to believe that it’s actually a good thing. It took real panic to spur me to action. I used to care about the climate crisis in a kind of detached, helpless way. But last summer’s smoke left me with a pressing sense of responsibility. Since then, my family has committed to biking and busing as much as possible, and we’re shopping
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for a used electric car. Solar panels are going up on has helped me our garage roof. I shake off that got involved with a local climate acawful sense tion group, and I’ve of climate taken my kids to three environmenparalysis.” tal rallies so far. I make regular calls to my Congressional reps. I’m switching my IRA to a fund with zero fossil fuel investments. And I used my influence as deputy editor of this magazine to put the global crisis front and center (see p. 66). I’m not going to save the world by myself. But taking action has helped me shake off that awful sense of climate paralysis. And we need everybody on board to save the places we all love. So join me: Don’t sink into denial or despair, but keep the urgency you’re feeling. Use it as fuel to do something, anything, everything you can to fight for a better, more livable future.
ILLUSTRATION BY ROBS; CSA IAMGES & JEN / GETTY IMAGES
ast summer really sucked. Across the planet, deadly heat waves, storms, flooding, and wildfires put an exclamation point on the reality of the climate crisis. And I felt it on a local level: In my hometown of Missoula, Montana, smoke from megafires across the West rolled into our valley in early July and lingered for weeks. We canceled our usual camping trips, trail runs, and hikes as I obsessively checked the air quality, hoping for a window where I could at least let the kids play in the backyard. Then, in August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a new report. It warned that the world must achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 if we’re to avoid irreversible damage to the planet. Which brought our collective hurtle toward catastrophe into high relief. I’ve known and cared about climate change for decades, but the combination of living under that cloud of smoke and science’s most dire warning to date reached me on a new, more emotional level. I found myself awake at 3 a.m., worrying
CULTURE / 9 TO 5
CHANGING UP THE RANKS
Want to build a more diverse workforce? Here’s a guide for attracting applicants, ensuring candidates are assessed fairly, and other best practices.
ook around our stores, offices, and trade show aisles, and it’s clear the outdoor industry still has a diversity problem. Data from the workplace nonprofit Camber reveal that our ranks remain 81 percent white, compared to the U.S. population at large, which is 58 percent white. Besides the obvious equity issues, we’re also short-shrifting our businesses: Studies repeatedly show that diverse companies are more likely to outperform their less diverse competitors on profitability, innovation, and worker satisfaction. Simply hiring more diverse staff won’t fix our diversity problem. If your work environment isn’t inclusive and your business practices are inequitable, then diverse talent is unlikely to stick around. We’ve created this guide as a step-by-step resource for any company willing to rethink how it hires. Conduct an internal audit
Before you begin actively recruiting, it’s important to take a company temperature check to examine the culture and systems currently in place. Have diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) been prioritized in your vision, mission statement, and core values? If not, write an equity commitment statement and set up internal policies to solidify your goals. Are practices like regular compensation reviews in place to make sure all employees are treated fairly? Establish a method for ensuring pay equity, such as using a salary benchmarking tool like Payscale. It’s important to also take stock of your current demographics, as well as those of your partners, vendors, and any models in marketing campaigns. In order to measure improvement, you have to know where you began. Take Action: Hiring a consulting firm that specializes in DEI, such as the nonprofit Beloved Community, will help you lay a road map—and show employees that you’re serious about the work.
Diversify your hiring team
Build a hiring team with a wide range of experiences and, if possible, demographics. According to Renita Smith and Emily Newman, co-CEOs of Camber, a diverse hiring team that’s undergone anti-bias training is more likely to yield diverse talent. Watch out for confirmation bias— the tendency to favor new information that supports one’s existing beliefs (in this case, about a group of people)—and affinity bias, where people show a preference for candidates who are similar to themselves or have the same background they do (e.g., you went to the same college). Take Action: Evaluate your own biases using Harvard’s many free Implicit Association Tests (IAT), available online. LinkedIn Learning also offers a more in-depth “Unconscious Bias” course led by Stacey Gordon, founder and CEO of Rework Work.
Write an inclusive job description
While important, it’s not enough to simply broadcast boilerplate text declaring your company an equal-opportunity employer. Instead, that messaging should be made
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explicit to all current and prospective employees, and backed up with specifics about your company’s goals and policies. And the hiring focus should be on transferable skills in job qualification requirements, rather than on specific industry experiences. If you’re hiring for a customer service position, for example, people with conflict resolution and interpersonal skills could be a great fit regardless of their previous roles or education. In job descriptions, note that your company will consider alternative ways an applicant might have gained experience outside of traditional pathways. Avoid jargon that could confuse or discourage those trying to break into the industry (see p. 38), and always include a salary range, which helps prevent pay gaps among minority hires. Take Action: Run every job description through the “Gender Decoder,” an online tool that scans text for masculine- and femininecoded words. Ideally, all of your advertisements would skew female, as research shows women are less likely to respond to masculinecoded language (while femininecoded language had little effect on men).
ILLUSTRATION BY ROBS; MALTE MUELLER, SONIA LIGORIO / GETTY IMAGES PLUS
By Courtney Holden
ILLUSTRATION BY ROBS; MALTE MUELLER, SONIA LIGORIO / GETTY IMAGES PLUS
Tap into diverse talent pools
Post your position through alumni and professional organizations, like the National Society of Hispanic MBAs, and on specific job boards, like those maintained by the Black Career Women’s Network or Teresa Baker’s In Solidarity Project. And make an effort to actively recruit from places where diverse talent is entering the workforce, such as Tribal and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. “We’re making sure job opportunities are broadcast further by posting positions on the Professional Diversity Network and Historically Black Colleges and Universities Career Center, and attending College Diversity Network events,” says Damien Huang, CEO at Eddie Bauer. Take Action: Make positions remote where possible in order to attract candidates from a wider geographic range, and offer flexible hours to better accommodate caregivers and people in different time zones.
Rethink the assessment process
When advancing candidates through interview rounds, establish diversity quotas. Research published in Harvard Business Review
found that when a final candidate pool has only one minority applicant, that person has a statistically nonexistent chance of being hired. To avoid this scenario, employ the “two in the pool” rule; if there are two minority candidates, their chances increase dramatically. When it’s time to start interviewing, Eileen Mulry, vice president of human resources at SRAM, recommends adopting a “truth in advertising” outlook. “Candidates appreciate it when you tell them what you are good at, but also what improvements you are working on organizationally,” Mulry says. Take Action: Eliminate potential bias by blanking out names and universities on resumes. A blind assessment tool like PXT Select can help predict job success without giving away candidate details.
Set employees up for success
A workplace study by Sun Microsystems found that formal mentoring leads to higher performance ratings, higher retention, more promotions, and an estimated 1,000 percent return on investment through more effective and efficient business practices. Ideally, the mentor and mentee have similar lived experience, e.g., both are women or Latinx. At
smaller companies, a simple buddy system can also be a highly effective way to ensure new employees thrive, as can regular anonymous surveys and check-ins between staff and HR at established intervals. Biannual performance reviews aren’t just about improving output— they’re a key opportunity for employees to provide feedback, helping to build investment in the company. Take Action: During onboarding, every employee should be set up to understand what success in the role looks like, with a yearlong plan that outlines what’s expected at regular intervals.
Change doesn’t happen overnight, and there’s never an endpoint when it comes to building a more inclusive workplace. In addition to annual internal audits, consider launching a DEI committee, helping to establish employee resource groups, and providing resources for both. Take Action: Benchmark your company’s DEI progress with the Camber Survey System (open to members), an all-staff survey run by the Claremont Evaluation Center.
CULTURE / THE CONVO
“The time for backdoor diplomacy is over. We have this giant stick—our economic might—and we act like we’re carrying a toothpick.” Let’s not beat around the bush. Where does the outdoor industry fall short on environmental initiatives?
RM: Three areas: action, advocacy, and philanthropy. The industry’s business actions, political demands, and charitable giving simply don’t match the urgency and magnitude of the climate crisis. We should be the loudest advocates for protecting 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030, but we’re not. We have this incredible economic might, we create more jobs than the oil and gas industry, and yet outdoor companies and affiliate groups have been largely mute on the climate crisis and hesitant to push on local, state, and federal governments. The time for backdoor diplomacy is over. We have this giant stick— our economic might—and we act like we’re carrying a toothpick. What about advocacy groups like
When it comes to meaningful environmental action, former Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario believes most outdoor businesses are woefully ineffective. By Andrew Weaver
ose Marcario doesn’t work in the outdoor industry anymore, but her influence hasn’t waned—a testament to her vision and farsighted leadership. The former chief executive, who ran Patagonia for seven years until her departure in 2020, shepherded the legendary brand through the beginning stages of a pandemic and the entirety of a chaotic presidency. Many say she left the company in far better shape than she found it. “I accomplished everything I set out to do at Patagonia,” Marcario says. “I left the company with a strong balance sheet and a strong brand. The company’s values were clearer than ever. [I moved on because] I wanted to work more directly on solutions to the climate crisis. I’ve only got so much time remaining on this planet.”
In the nearly two years since her departure, Marcario has been busy. She serves on the boards of multiple early-stage companies, among them plant-based protein brand Meati and electric car maker Rivian. She’s a partner at ReGen Ventures, a venture capital firm that funds forward-thinking, environmentally conscious startups. She’s also more convinced than ever that the outdoor industry hasn’t followed the example she tried to set at Patagonia by honoring the company’s ethical convictions above all else. Now that Marcario has settled into the next stage of her career, we sat down to get her honest thoughts about the industry she still loves—what we’re doing right, what we’re not, and why seismic change in our business practices is more crucial than ever.
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lobbies directly in Washington?
RM: Personally, I don’t see them pushing as hard as they could. The oil and gas industry gets $20 billion in subsidies a year from the government. I think we’re being too nice. Why do you think businesses are afraid to take the kind of bold action you’re talking about?
RM: I think it’s fear of reprisal from customers. These companies say all the right things on their websites, but when the Trump administration slashed three million acres of public lands with a pen stroke, for example, we at Patagonia couldn’t get any commercial companies to join us in pushing back in a significant way. How sad is that? To me, that was a low point in our industry. What enables Patagonia to take a firm stance when others won’t?
RM: Leadership from all sides—from Yvon [Chouinard], the board, and the manage-
PHOTOS BY (LEFT) ANGELA FARMER; (RIGHT) TIM DAVIS / COURTESY OF PATAGONIA
TALK IS CHEAP
Outdoor Industry Association, which
PHOTOS BY (LEFT) ANGELA FARMER; (RIGHT) TIM DAVIS / COURTESY OF PATAGONIA
The Patagonia Provisions team celebrates the release of its carbonsequestering beer with Marcario (right) in 2016.
“When you’re on the right side of history, you have nothing to fear in speaking out.” ment team. Our leadership understands that when you’re on the right side of history, you have nothing to fear in speaking out. Who cares if you’re a lone voice in the wilderness if what you’re saying is true? Patagonia has always been a leader in environmental initiatives, but some say it has struggled with issues of
believe in just selling stuff anymore—at least not for its own sake. We have enough stuff in the world. Unless that stuff makes the world measurably better and eradicates outdated, polluting systems, what’s the point? These new efforts I’m involved with are, like Patagonia, using business as a force for good. They’re scaling solutions that are on the right side of history.
Those individuals, by their apathy, inaction, and fear, are complicit in the destruction of our natural world and we should take them to task for it. The people who are simply overwhelmed, it may be that they just need to be taught how to have an impact. At Patagonia, we heard all the time from customers that they don’t know what to do, and we built ways to connect them with causes.
The future looks increasingly bleak.
What gives you hope?
diversity and inclusion. Why do you think that is?
What keeps you up at night?
RM: Without a doubt, the legacy companies that make up the bulk of our industry’s economic might, Patagonia included, have had significant structural issues for a long time. They were built by white men in most cases, and as a result, there’s a lot of institutional racism the industry is coming to terms with. In Patagonia’s case, we have really low employee turnover, so it isn’t easy to achieve speedy change. Still, the truth is, we have a long way to go. We need to see better representation on boards and executive teams across the industry. Although we completely changed our recruiting methods to better reach the BIPOC community during my tenure at Patagonia, as well as expanded our philanthropy to social justice causes, we still have a lot of work to do.
RM: I’m deeply disturbed by the idea that we’ve hit a point at which we can watch the crisis unfold before our eyes in real time. The unknown, cascading impacts of the environmental tragedies we’re witnessing also frighten me. My wife and I live in British Columbia and we had lots of flooding last year. Because of that, farmers here say some of the topsoil has been destroyed. That topsoil destruction will have downstream environmental consequences, which themselves will have cascading effects. Those long-term unknowns keep me up at night. Yet some people seem to remain apathetic in the face of impending catastrophe. Why do you think that is?
How do you see your current work as an extension of your efforts in the outdoor industry?
RM: For me, it’s all about using business as a part of the climate solution. I spent much of the last decade as a retail CEO, but I don’t
RM: I’m going to separate this out into two kinds of people—those who have data and knowledge at their disposal and choose to do nothing, and those who are simply uninformed or overwhelmed. The first category includes a lot of people in boardrooms.
RM: Mentoring incredible entrepreneurs who are risking everything to build a better world absolutely gives me hope. For instance, look at what Rivian just did—the biggest initial public offering of 2021. They put 1 percent of their equity into a fund to protect wilderness and inhibit climate change. That is a big deal. That represents about $1 billion in impact that will grow as the company grows. No public company has made that out-of-the-gate commitment before. We saw a few other IPOs in 2021 from companies that say they care about the climate crisis, but none of them have put their money or their stock where their mouth is. That’s a big one, but it’s not the end of the list. Building a nature-positive global economy—that’s also exciting and hopeful to me. Conservation led by Indigenous wisdom: hopeful. Accelerating our shift to renewable energy: hopeful. Food systems that work with nature and don’t pollute with poisons and destroy pollinators: hopeful. There are quite a few. We’re in dire straits right now, but the situation is not completely without hope. WINTER 2022
CULTURE / HOMAGE
Paying respect to outdoor awesomeness. By Kiran Herbert and Andrew Weaver
NEW LIFE FOR BATTERIES Currently, electric bikes—not cars—are the world’s best-selling electric vehicles. While e-bikes are great for reducing emissions, they aren’t without their own impact. Like electric cars, they’re powered by lithium-ion batteries that are environmentally intensive to produce (they last two to five years). Boulder, Colorado-based PeopleForBikes hopes to address sustainability concerns with a first-of-its-kind, industry-wide battery recycling program. The nonprofit has collaborated with Call2Recycle to ensure end-of-life batteries are safely collected and properly recycled, rather than dumped in landfills. “Our goal is to make electric bicycle battery collection and recycling seamless for customers, retailers, and brands,” says Leo Raudys, CEO of Call2Recycle. In November 2021, more than 40 bike suppliers and manufacturers committed to support and fully fund the program; retailers will be able to sign on as collection sites come February, and batteries will start being recycled in summer 2022. FLY HIGH Every serious camper knows the frustration of waking up to a saggy, soggy rainfly. Polyurethane-coated nylon, the industry’s standard material for tent flies, soaks up water, dries slowly, and is often made from virgin materials—bad for campers and the environment alike. Looking for a solution, the NEMO team dreamt up OSMO, a new fabric built around a 100-percent recycled nylon/polyester weave that repels water better than traditional flies. OSMO will debut this year in the brand’s Dagger and Hornet Elite tents, which meet flame-retardant standards without the inclusion of any nasty toxins like per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). “By choosing high-performing recycled yarns and PFAS-free finishes to build OSMO, we’re continuing our commitment to sustainable design for people and the planet,” says NEMO Product Development Manager Gabi Rosenbrien.
Mad River Glen in Fayston, Vermont
OLD-SCHOOL SKI RESORTS By Lydia Wade As resorts continue to merge and Disnify, adding Fast Tracks, luxury accommodations, and heated gondolas, Mad River Glen has dared to remain largely unchanged. Founded in 1949, the small, proudly independent Vermont ski area offers skiing—and only skiing—as it used to be. It’s one of only three resorts, along with Alta and Deer Valley in Utah, that doesn’t allow snowboarders. For those of us who ski there, that’s part of the appeal. When I joined the resort’s marketing team in 2020, I feared backlash from my snowboarder friends and heated messages
SHOW ME THE MONEY In November 2021, President Biden signed the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law. “This is the first time a large infrastructure package prioritizes and recognizes the importance of the outdoor economy alongside traditional infrastructure projects,” says Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director at Outdoor Industry Association. “The infrastructure bill is a landmark investment that will benefit people, parks, and public lands and waters across the country.” A few of the budget allocations we can expect: $350 million to construct wildlife-friendly roadway crossings, $250 million to improve access to Forest Service lands, $100 million to improve recreation sites on federal lands, $14.65 billion for estuary restoration and stormwater management projects, and $100 million set aside for natural infrastructure solutions that enhance resilience to drought and wildfires.
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demanding change. The messages came, but I took pride in explaining that, as the only cooperatively owned ski area in the country, Mad River Glen and its shareholders value tradition. Our trails are mostly ungroomed, passes are hand-scanned, and lift lines short, all of which help preserve the resort’s magic. We prefer a warm, family vibe to new, flashy upgrades—and I hope that never changes.
PHOTOS BY COURTESY OF (LEFT) INTUITIVE MACHINES; (RIGHT) MAD RIVER GLEN
OUT OF THIS WORLD For the first time in 50 years, the U.S. is bound for the moon. Leading the mission is Intuitive Machines, whose Nova-C lander will launch on a SpaceX rocket in early 2022, destined for the lunar south pole. Anticipating the moon’s extreme temperatures—think -250 to 250°F—researchers looked to Columbia Sportswear: The company’s Omni-Heat Infinity thermal-reflective fabric will wrap exterior panels of the Nova-C. Itself inspired by NASA tech, the distinctive gold metallic foil launched in fall 2021 and currently insulates Columbia jackets, hats, and boots while still allowing for breathability. According to Joe Boyle, Columbia brand president, “Our Omni-Heat Infinity technology has been tested in freezing temperatures on glaciers in Alaska and Chile, but the moon represents an entirely new frontier.”
Tech to help you ski better (p. 60) Selling used gear (p. 62)
ILLUSTRATION BY ROBS
The plus-size boom (p. 64)
This season’s newest gear, ranked
GEAR / OBJ 50
OBJ 50 By Patrice & Justin La Vigne
Combing through 243 submissions for the coolest gear of Fall/Winter ’22 is not unlike postholing through unconsolidated snow: We spent weeks slogging through specs, photos, videos, and emails with PR reps. Here’s what we noticed: Gear just keeps getting more innovative— and, often, more expensive. Inflation is rising at its fastest pace in a generation, after all. Prices ranged from $2.99 for a hydration mix to $14,500 for a bike. Some categories had a plethora of submissions (we’re looking at you, shoes and apparel), while others had a dearth (where’s the ski and snowboard equipment this year?). Bottom line: There’s a ton of exciting new stuff launching this season. Here are the 50 most coveted products, ranked.
With submissions up this year, we needed help making final decisions. We combed through mountains of entries, winnowed the list to 64, and then tapped the opinions of internal editorial staff, a panel of trusted gear testers, and consumers drawn from the pool of Outside+ members. Each voter ranked the products on a scale from 1 (zero interest) to 10 (high stoke), and then we tallied the totals to come up with the top 50 picks. To provide some transparency, we’ve indicated the top three picks (according to average scores) among each voting group.
TIE FOR SECOND THIRD
TIE FOR THIRD
(1) RAB MYTHIC ULTRA JACKET
(2) OUTDOOR RESEARCH SURESHOT HEATED SOFTSHELL GLOVES
(3) PATAGONIA SUGAR DOWN HOODY
THE PROMISE This featherlight puffy retains warmth even on the longest, coldest, and wettest days.
THE PROMISE It’s a first in the industry: a biobased insulated jacket.
THE DEETS An aluminum-coated lining behind the interior fabric reflects body heat back to skin, while 900-fill, dry-treated goose down (with a hydrophobic finish) keeps out the cold. Offset baffles around the torso trap warmth around the core and provide more mobility through the arms. Even better: It’s under 9 ounces.
THE DEETS With three heat settings and touchscreen-compatible fingertips, these battery-powered gloves leave little threat of cold digits. The nylon-spandex blend provides twoway stretch, while the fleece lining and elasticized, gusseted wrists seal in warmth.
THE PROMISE Balance warmth and dexterity with these gloves.
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THE DEETS The 12-denier polyester shell and liner fabric are made from renewable sugarcane fiber instead of petroleum. The material performs identically to standard polyester in terms of water resistance and durability, and the 800-fill virgin goose down is responsibly sourced. Even the zipper and zipper pulls are eco-friendly, with 30 percent of their polyester coming from sugarcane.
ALL PHOTOS BY COURTESY
ALL PHOTOS BY COURTESY
(4) IBEX WOOL AIRE JACKET $285 THE PROMISE A puffy jacket that stays warm for life.
(5) QALO TRAQ BLUETOOTH-ENABLED TRACKABLE DOG ID TAGS
THE DEETS In contrast to down or synthetic jackets, this one is insulated with 90 percent merino wool. Unlike down, wool doesn’t lose loft when wet. And unlike polyfills, it doesn’t break down over time. Add to that a 20-denier, windproof and water-resistant nylon shell, and you get a high warmth-to-weight ratio in an 11.4-ounce package. Sustainability bonus: The fabric is PFC free and bluesign certified.
$50 THE PROMISE Find Fido without loading him down with a bulky GPS device. THE DEETS This clever ID tag contains a tracking device in a silicone ring. The tracker then pairs to a smartphone via Bluetooth. The battery can survive an hour submersed in water, and it lasts up to two years.
(6) MERRELL MOAB 3 MID THERMO $160 THE PROMISE Merrell’s number-one hiking boot gets a winter upgrade. THE DEETS Between the 200 grams of PrimaLoft Gold Eco Series insulation and the grippy Vibram Icetrek outsole, this boot has been redesigned for the fourth season. But feet won’t get too sweaty, either: The proprietary waterproof membrane seals out water, but lets moisture vapor escape.
GEAR / OBJ 50
(7) SMITH I/O MAG IMPRINT 3D GOGGLE $450 THE PROMISE Faces come in all shapes and sizes, but these goggles are always a perfect fit. THE DEETS Each pair is built based on a custom, 3D-printed scan to match the exact specs and contours of the user’s face. Customers can also personalize their choice of lenses and straps. The foam-to-face fit eliminates light leaks, air gaps, and hot spots for the widest possible field of vision.
(8) RUMPL NANOLOFT PUFFY TRAVEL FLAME BLANKET $149 THE PROMISE Go ahead, get close—no embers can ruin this camping blanket. THE DEETS This blanket is woven with a proprietary fire-resistant fiber, which is blended with cotton and polyester for softness and can withstand 10 seconds of flame exposure without melting. The blanket is also machine washable (washing doesn’t diminish fire resistance).
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(9) MSR EVO TRAIL SNOWSHOES WITH PARAGLIDE BINDINGS $150 THE PROMISE Bindings that offer a perfect blend of comfort, ease, and security. THE DEETS These spiderweb-like bindings wrap your boot without pinching. Two rolling buckles secure the webbing and straps around the foot and ankle, while the stretchy mesh eliminates pressure points. As for the ’shoe itself ? Steel traction rails molded into the deck provide unparalleled grip on steep trails.
(14) YAKIMA EXO OPENRANGE DELUXE
(10) CHACO FOOTWEAR RAMBLE PUFF LACE
(12) MONTANE ANTIFREEZE XT HOODIE
THE PROMISE Camp booties that can actually handle rough terrain.
THE PROMISE This midlayer alpine jacket offers exceptional warmth for its weight.
THE PROMISE This roadworthy storage box unfolds into a camp kitchen.
THE DEETS Just like your favorite mountain athlete: Rugged on the outside, soft on the inside. This 14-ounce pair of slippers boasts a beefy foam-rubber outsole with 3-millimeter lugs, a water-resistant nylon exterior, and a bungee lacing system. Inside, feet cozy up to quilted synthetic insulation and a soft fleece lining. It might just be the last winter camp shoe you’ll ever need.
THE DEETS The 100-percent recycled Pertex Quantum Eco outer shell is packed with 750-fill, dry-treated down for a total weight of 16 ounces. Yet it doesn’t skimp on alpine-ready features: A climbing helmet-compatible hood, two-way front zipper, high insulated collar, and three zippered pockets complete the piece.
THE DEETS Made of impact-resistant plastic, the box can live inside a vehicle or attach to your trailer hitch via Yakima’s EXO connector system. The all-in-one design will fit your whole cooking kit, and deploys into a fully functional kitchen with tables, a cutting board, a collapsible water station, and lantern hooks.
(13) TEREN DESIGNS CAMPFIRE JACKET
(15) BACKCOUNTRY ACCESS FLOAT E2-35 AVALANCHE AIRBAG
$400 THE PROMISE You may never need to patch this stylish insulated jacket.
(11) AKU CRODA DFS GTX $400 THE PROMISE These mountaineering boots are shockingly lightweight. THE DEETS Thanks to a lighter, slimmer Vibram outsole—that still provides necessary stability and grip on ice and snow—this pair barely hits 3 pounds. The Kevlar upper coupled with an elasticized structure resists both impact and abrasion while providing freedom of movement. The boot is designed to fit both traditional and semi-automatic crampons.
THE DEETS Heat-resistant aramid fibers—the same material found in ballistic-rated body armor—allow this burly, 2-pound jacket to withstand everything from campfire embers to driving rain to demanding bushwhacking, giving it the protection of a hardshell with the breathability of a softshell. The exterior includes additional wool-based Lenzing fibers for added softness, and the hydrophobic PrimaLoft Gold insulation (made from 75 percent postconsumer recycled water bottles) adds warmth.
$1,300 THE PROMISE Defend against disorganization and avalanches with this efficient ski pack. THE DEETS The airbag inflates using a supercapacitor, which powers the compressor using magnetic energy rather than a chemical reaction (upshot: You can take it on a plane). It deploys faster and more reliably than standard tech, even in temps down to -30°F. The 35-liter pack also sports pockets and a side compartment for hassle-free gear management on the fly.
GEAR / OBJ 50
(16) BIG AGNES PARKVIEW 63 (M’S) AND GARNET 60 (W’S)
(18) OSPREY MUTANT NIMSDAI 90
(20) EVOC GEAR BACKPACK 90
THE PROMISE Tested by Nepalese mountaineer Nirmal Purja (“Nims”) on K2, this is a pack worthy of the harshest environments.
THE PROMISE An expedition-worthy pack at a budget price.
THE PROMISE Big Agnes treks into the pack category with a commitment to recycled fabrics. THE DEETS Besides being built with 85-percent recycled fabrics, the pack reflects the brand’s commitment to Leave No Trace with a 7-liter attachable “trash can.” Proprietary compression lifts the bottom panel to pull loads inward and upward, maximizing stability. Between a removable top lid and 10 liters of overstuffing capacity in the spindrift collar, this bag is built for extended trips.
(17) RUDY PROJECT PHOTOCHROMIC SPINSHIELD SUNGLASSES WITH IMPACT X
THE DEETS For big-mountain travel, efficient carry is a must. The aluminum frame was built to transport up to 60 pounds of gear. Helmet, rope, and snow tool attachments keep the essentials organized, and the buckles’ unique shape makes them glove friendly. A removable top lid provides added versatility for lower-altitude adventures.
(19) CEP COMPRESSION SKI TOURING 3/4 BASE TIGHTS
THE PROMISE Whether the sun comes out or clouds move in, your shades can stay on.
THE PROMISE Compression tights tailor-made for big ski days.
THE DEETS These photochromic lenses not only adjust opacity and color (changing from transparent to red, brown, or black as conditions change), but they’re also extremely impact resistant thanks to a semi-rigid, patented polyurethane originally developed for military and aerospace activities. Grippy temples and nosepads add security for high-output adventures.
THE DEETS These three-quarter-length baselayer bottoms provide compression in specific areas, like the thighs, to promote better circulation, reduce muscle fatigue, and boost muscle repair for ski junkies who want to get out day after day. A blend of synthetic, wool, and cashmere delivers fit and temperature regulation, while a high waistband prevents slippage.
THE DEETS With a whopping 90 liters of space split between two large main compartments and multiple pockets, you can pack all the layers and winter gear you need—and then some. A sheet of closed-cell foam keeps the pack bottom from soaking through and lets it stand up on its own, and the 600-denier polyester defends against wear and tear.
(21) SIX MOON DESIGNS SWIFT V $215 THE PROMISE This ultralight pack comes in at an ultralight price. THE DEETS Even though this 49-liter pack only weighs about 2 pounds, it doesn’t skimp on features. The removable hipbelt has two large pockets, and customizable shoulder straps let you choose either a running vest-style harness or a traditional hiking setup. Large chest pockets with zippered compartments and an exterior 5-liter mesh pouch help keep gear organized.
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(24) HOT KUP $80
(22) NITE IZE SQUEEZE CLIPPABLE PHONE HOLDER $20 THE PROMISE Pockets too small? This gripper keeps smartphones safe and accessible. THE DEETS Attach any phone to a belt or pack strap with the holder’s squeeze clamp, which uses inner springs for a secure grip. The clip adjusts to fit thick straps, and rotates 360 degrees for on-the-go snapshots in either portrait or landscape orientation.
(23) GORDINI RADIATOR MITT $160 THE PROMISE Blizzardproof and ridiculously comfy aren’t mutually exclusive. THE DEETS Made with Gore-Tex and bluesign-approved polyester, this mitt’s shell is wind- and waterproof. Down insulation keeps it packable and is one of the reasons the pair weighs in under 10 ounces. A wool fleece lining adds extra comfort, and the oversized cuff has a drawcord to seal in warmth.
THE PROMISE Expand your camp menu with this smart gadget.
(26) SCARPA 4-QUATTRO XT $799 THE PROMISE Plant-based plastics are sparking a new generation of ski boots.
THE DEETS This sub-pound, battery-powered, 12-ounce cup can boil water or blend ingredients (with an attachment), adding shakes and soups to on-the-go food options. Users will get three brews out of the battery life, but the double-wall vacuum-sealed cup keeps drinks warm up to 18 hours even when turned off.
THE DEETS The polymer used in this ski boot comes from castor oil, which is extracted from a nonedible crop. Use of this renewable material reduces carbon dioxide emissions from the boots’ manufacturing by 32 percent. As for performance: The carbon insert provides torsional rigidity, and the boot’s full-coverage, grippy sole improves traction.
(25) XTRATUF ANKLE DECK BOOT ICE
(27) SEA TO SUMMIT TANMI QUILT
THE PROMISE Tackle shoulder-season rain and ice with these rubber lifestyle boots.
THE PROMISE This down comforter converts into a sleeping bag.
THE DEETS Knobby, multidirectional lugs are slip resistant and also provide traction. The lightweight, ankle-high rubber upper makes the boots fully waterproof, and the faux shearling interior keeps feet cozy. Front and back pull tabs make them easy to slip on and off.
THE DEETS The Tanmi Quilt is an adaptable, two-person comforter stuffed with 750-plus-fill down. Users can secure the quilt at the footbox for a lightweight sleep system, or attach it to Sea to Summit sleeping bags to add 10 extra degrees of warmth.
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(28) LIFESAVER WAYFARER $100 THE PROMISE You’ll never again have to wonder if your filter is compromised. THE DEETS This filter has a fail-safe that stops the flow of water when the membrane needs replacing. The whole kit—including a 4-foot hose—fits into a pocket and weighs 10 ounces. It filters up to 5,000 liters at a standard flow rate of 1.1 liters per minute. A replaceable hollow-fiber membrane blocks viruses, bacteria, and cysts, and an activated-carbon disc (also replaceable) traps heavy metals.
(29) TECNICA ZERO G PEAK CARBON $1,140 THE PROMISE These ski boots weigh less than some hiking boots. THE DEETS At 4 pounds for the pair, this boot is built with a focus on downhill performance and fit. The fix points are set higher on the cuff and lower on the shell to better hold the foot in place, plus ensure stiffness and torsional rigidity. A carbon-reinforced sole adds strength, and the thermo-moldable liner provides customizable fit.
(30) ELWIS PRO H600R
(32) ZAMBERLAN 9000 ZARATHRUSTA GTX RR BOA
THE PROMISE Massive lighting power in a tiny package.
THE PROMISE This boot’s seamlessly integrated gaiter ensures superior warmth.
THE DEETS This rechargeable headlight’s 630-lumen output can send a beam the length of three football fields (almost 1,100 feet), yet it’s only 6 ounces and comparable in size to other headlamps. Subzero operating temps will appeal to night skiers and winter runners alike. The lithium battery takes four and a half hours to charge, and lasts about that long at full power.
THE DEETS The sock-like, synthetic-knit integrated gaiter topping this stiff-soled mountaineering boot provides mobility and comfort. The closure system relies on a BOA twist, meaning easy adjustments with or without gloves. The toebox has a RECCO chip, which can help SAR teams locate you in an emergency.
(31) HYDAWAY CAMP BOWLS $39 THE PROMISE The first insulated collapsible bowls on the market. THE DEETS This nesting set includes two bowl sizes (12 and 32 ounces). Both pop open and feature a sturdy, stainless steel rim with a polymer snap-on lid. A thick foam sleeve keeps food warm and doubles as a carrying case. All components are dishwasher safe.
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(33) SUNDAY AFTERNOONS MERIDIAN THERMAL BEANIE $36 THE PROMISE Practical touches make this more than just a beanie. THE DEETS Small slits near the temple keep sunglasses in place, and a ponytail opening lets your hair hang free. Lined with a soft and breathable microfleece, this low-profile hat can be worn alone or under a helmet.
(34) TERRAMAR FUSION MID-LAYER WITH GRAPHENE
(36) PRANA INSULO STRETCH HOODED JACKET
(38) FLYLOW GEAR MAGNUM PANT (M’S)
THE PROMISE Meet the next wonder material in textiles.
THE PROMISE Insulation created with way less carbon.
THE PROMISE Stay protected and mobile in these softshell pants.
THE DEETS Graphene fibers, which are stronger than steel yet flexible, are infused with polyester in this midlayer. The graphene increases your skin temperature without leaving you hot and sweaty, resulting in superior thermoregulation. Other attributes include an integrated balaclava hood and three zippered pockets.
THE DEETS The heat-free manufacturing process used to make the 60 grams of PrimaLoft fill within this recycled-nylon shell produces 70 percent fewer carbon emissions than normal synthetic fill. Use it as a midlayer or on its own. Bonus: This hooded jacket is compressible enough to fit into its own zipped pocket for stowing away.
THE DEETS A burly, 150-denier, DWR-coated outer shell provides maximum water resistance, while remaining pliable enough for high-output activities. And when it’s not dumping snow? A 7/8-length zipper allows ample venting and makes delayering easy. On the inside, a jersey backing offers next-to-skin softness.
(37) BLACK CROWS ORA XPORE RIPSTOP JACKET
THE PROMISE This ultralight ice tool can handle ski mountaineering and alpine ice climbing.
(35) BLACK DIAMOND EQUIPMENT VENOM LT TECH
THE DEETS Weighing less than 11 ounces, the Venom LT Tech ice tool has a reverse-curved pick geometry designed for precise sticks. The hammer attachment and adjustable FlickLock-style pommel are both removable, and the grippy shaft tapers to a replaceable steel spike.
THE PROMISE Nanopore technology delivers next-level waterproofing. THE DEETS This jacket blocks wind and rain using a thin, stretchy, ripstop polyester membrane perforated with billions of nanopores, which are 20,000 times smaller than water droplets yet large enough to let water vapor escape. Other notable features include a removable powder skirt, stowaway drop tail, large pit zips, and six zippered pockets—at the hips, arms, and chest.
(39) ARTILECT FORMATION 3L SHELL THE PROMISE This shell’s proprietary multilayer technology will end clammy transitions. THE DEETS Unlike typical DWR, the EMPEL treatment on this shell is fully fused around each fiber and doesn’t fill in valleys in the weave, letting vapor escape faster. An internal coating on the 70-denier nylon shell reradiates heat to the body, while the hydrophilic membrane dumps moisture even when you’re standing still.
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(42) HOUDINI SPORTSWEAR MONO AIR PULLOVER (40) KNOG BILBY RUN 400
(44) ALECK 006
THE PROMISE All the comfort of a synthetic sweater—but without the microplastic pollution.
THE PROMISE A headlamp designed to keep you safe on the roads as well as the trails. THE DEETS This USB-rechargeable, waterproof headlight weighs just 3 ounces, and boasts a 400-lumen output. Made of form-fitting, clear silicone, the no-slip band stays put even on high-powered runs. Activate a unique red halo effect within the band to illuminate yourself to cars or other trail users.
(41) LIFESTRAW PEAK SERIES COLLAPSIBLE SQUEEZE BOTTLE WATER FILTER SYSTEM 650mL: $33; 1L: $38 THE PROMISE This collapsible filter bottle is an ultralighter’s delight. THE DEETS A sub-4-ounce weight and slim build make this durable filter bottle ideal for long trips. It lasts up to 1,900 liters and can be screwed onto other small-mouth water bottles.
THE DEETS This half-zip midlayer reduces microfiber shedding by 80 percent, emitting fewer microplastic particles into our water sources. (Compared with conventional fleece, which has exposed, cut-off fibers, this one uses longer, loftier fibers sandwiched between two layers of fabric.) A zippered chest pocket and stretchy, form-fitting cut round out the features.
(43) NATHAN SPORTS BFF PUFFER JACKET $200 THE PROMISE This featherlike insulation mimics down. THE DEETS The Beyond Down loose fill—95 percent recycled polyester, 5 percent down— stays evenly distributed within the polyester shell without clumping. Two zippered hand pockets, an interior chest pocket, and a hem cinch complete the 15-ounce jacket.
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THE PROMISE Keep the convo going as you shred the gnar. THE DEETS Not only can you listen to tunes within your helmet, but these Bluetooth headphones, which insert into the helmet’s ear padding, can be mated for group comms with a push-to-talk button. Use the Aleck GO! app on your phone to see your group’s real-time GPS locations as well as terrain details for most U.S. ski resorts and a handful in Canada, too.
(45) XERO SHOES MESA TRAIL WP $140 THE PROMISE A popular trail runner gets an upgrade. THE DEETS The new XP version adds a waterproof membrane, a more abrasion-resistant upper mesh, a seam-sealed inner liner, and a gusseted tongue. Yet the extra protection only bumps the weight up by 3.6 ounces for the pair.
(46) JOGO COFFEE AND TEA BREWING STRAW $25 THE PROMISE Cowboy coffee with a minimal footprint? We’ll gladly drink through a straw. THE DEETS This little tool eliminates the waste and hassle of a drip filter, press, or pod brewer, but still brings you premium coffee in the wild. Drop grounds (or loose-leaf tea) and hot water directly in a cup, stir, then use the straw to drink it. The silicone tip won’t burn you, and the whole kit is dishwasher safe (cup not included).
(47) LINE SKIS BLADE OPTIC $900 THE PROMISE This ski bucks metal-laminate construction traditions for better performance. THE DEETS LINE’s proprietary metal construction crosses an aspen-veneer core horizontally instead of vertically. The result? The best of both worlds: The torsional rigidity and strong edge grip evoke the performance of a metal ski, while the snappy responsiveness mimics that of a non-metal one. Available in four waist widths (92, 96, 104, and 114 millimeters).
(48) SALEWA ORTLES GTX PRO STRETCH JACKET
(49) ATOMIC BACKLAND CTD HELMET $410 THE PROMISE Internal tech warns you when your helmet needs replacing. THE DEETS An app records impacts to this helmet in five different zones. When an impact event exceeds a certain threshold, your emergency contacts get an automatic SOS with GPS location. The app also notifies you when cumulative impacts reduce the helmet’s effectiveness. Bonus: This brain bucket is triple certified for skiing, cycling, and climbing.
(50) FARM TO FEET WAITSFIELD 2.0 $39 THE PROMISE Space-age knitting that would make grandma’s jaw drop. THE DEETS A 200-needle machine densely weaves 19.5-micron merino wool for perfectly even coverage on this sock. Ventilation channels allow for airflow, while the knitting method eliminates unwanted cold spots and seams. Ideal for skiers: extra cushioning in the shin.
THE PROMISE This hardshell is light on weight, but heavy on technical utility. THE DEETS A three-layer Gore-Tex Pro fabric provides weatherproofing and breathability, while four-way stretch gives skiers and riders enough freedom of movement to quickly initiate turns. Other highlights include two chest pockets large enough for avy transceivers and generous pit zips for easy venting. The whole package weighs only a pound.
Calling All Retailers Want to join our voting team and help us decide which products to feature in the next round of OBJ 50? Just send a note to email@example.com.
Tech for ski coaching |
The gear resale boom |
Looking into the future of outdoor gear
2022 TREND REPORT
PHOTO BY AARON COLUSSI
GEAR / TREND REPORT
GEAR / TREND REPORT
“SIRI, MAKE ME A BETTER SKIER”
Will new tech take the instructor out of instruction? By Tracy Ross
here’s a lot of math that goes into hurtling down an icy, 40-degree face. If you’re racing on the pro circuit, your coach is constantly calculating things like g-force, ski angle, body angle, and turn shape. That same feedback would also help average skiers who just want to smooth their turns or make it down a black-diamond run, but until recently, it’s been hard to come by without a World Cup coach or spendy private lesson. Now, a handful of companies are developing tools to bring expert-level ski coaching to your smartphone. Learn to Carve from a Computer A month ago, I got my hands on the Carv system to see how well this ballyhooed app works. Retailing for $149 plus a subscription of $199 per year, the tool consists of bootshaped inserts that fit between your shell and inner boot and link to a tracking unit that clips to your booster strap by a small cable. The tracker unit interfaces with an app that provides computerized feedback on your technique and offers suggestions on how you can improve—either after you ski or while you’re skiing. After an easy, 20-minute setup that included calibrating the boot to the tracking unit, I was ready to Carv my brains out. At the top of the lift, I hit “Record” on the app, and for the duration of my run Carv tracked my overall “ski IQ,” which was based on things like how well I edged, how round my turns were, and how consistently I initiated a turn. Then, back on the lift, I could watch a video tutorial that focused on a problem area, based on my scores (from 0 to 100 percent). Not only was the game of constant improvement fun, but I also found that I noticeably sharpened my skiing skills.
Others clearly think so, too. Demand is currently outpacing supply, says Carv’s CEO Jamie Grant. “We’ve sold out every season since launch [via Kickstarter in 2016].” So far, 20,000 Carv members have skied over 621,000 miles, measuring over 50 million turns. For those who’d prefer a flesh-and-blood coach over Carv’s velvety-voiced AI, there’s Givego, created by Salt Lake City-based entrepreneur Willie Ford in 2020. It works by connecting users to certified sports coaches, instructors, and professional athletes. When skiers send Givego a video of themselves doing whatever skill they’d like to improve (carving trenches, shredding steeps, floating through trees), the coaches provide personalized feedback. (Givego is free to download. Experts set their own price for consultation; the average is $20 for an hour.) “I started skiing last season after moving to a mountain town from Alabama,” says user Kyle Rusak, who found it challenging to maintain confidence at higher speeds and used the app to connect with Jeb Boyd, one of the best pro instructors in the country. “I was amazed at how helpful his advice was. After a couple of short, asynchronous sessions,
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my skiing improved substantially.” And then there’s SKEO, developed by a Swiss tech company and two-time World Cup champion downhiller Bode Miller. Designed for professionals (racers, coaches, and instructors), it’s also great for recreational skiers. The system tracks data on a skier’s stamina, turn quality, ski-to-snow engagement, style, and body position with a set of sensors that affix to the user’s skis and chest. The retail price is $449 for sensors, mounting brackets, a chest sling, and a charging pad. Similar to Carv, the analytics land on your smartphone. Skis that Think For the past few years, brands have been working to put coaching tech directly into the skis. In 2018, Rossignol joined forces with a company called PIQ to embed motion sensors that tracked important metrics, including speed, turning angles, transitions, and the g-force of each turn, into the materials of a ski. An integrated computer analyzed skiers’ technique and sent data to their smartphones so they could study themselves
PHOTOS COURTESY OF CARV
(From left) Carv’s app, sensors, and Ski IQ chart
later. But then PIQ went out of business, and “the app worked for a while, then started crashing,” says Alpine Category Manager Jake Stevens. “So we pulled the plug.” But ski designers aren’t giving up. Since 2018, Elan has been working on a smart-ski prototype equipped with sensors that give skiers real-time readouts on things like body balance position, edge activation, ski flex, dynamics, and turn phases. When finalized, the setup will allow audio guided coaching on snow. Global Brand Director Melanja Korošec says Elan is the only ski company with the patents for the tech it’s creating, and that it’s still tweaking the sensors to make sure the ski will fly without hiccups when it debuts. Come launch (“soon,” but the exact date is TBD), the company expects
the skis to take tech-assisted coaching well beyond what’s on the market. Competitors “offer mostly gadgets that may measure movements of the skier and their position as an add-on technical solution,” Korošec says. “[But] they are not using readings directly from the skis.” From the Boots Up In 2015, Atomic started working on the industry’s first “smart ski boot” with biomechanics experts from Salzburg University. The goal: to create a boot that can help skiers become more aware of their balance and where they can apply more pressure for better performance. The result, the Hawx Ultra Connected, talks to Atomic’s free Connected app, which then relays information to the skier. “This product is great for the target consumer because you can dissect your skiing down to each individual turn and compare exactly how you ski versus the best in the business—like ‘benchmark’ athlete Daron Rahlves, who won World Championship gold
in the Super G in 2001,” says Atomic’s head of boot development in Austria, Jason Roe. “Your run is also boiled down to an overall carving score that is a direct reflection of how well you ski. It’s quite addictive to keep your score at the level you want it to be.” Expect to see the Connected in use at various Canadian ski schools this January, and it should be available in the U.S. soon after. Looking to the future, Elan believes there will be increasing demand for technology that puts skiers’ progress in their own hands. “We live in a data-centric world, and people are already constantly learning, evolving, and honing in on their skills from the feedback provided by technology,” Korošec says. “Products like smart skis will provide real-time feedback. This allows skiers to learn at an accelerated pace.” When challenges like Covid and supply chain issues start to resolve (see p. 98), prepare for a wave of skiers ripping down the slopes, their personal coaches softly purring from the pockets of their coats. WINTER 2022
GEAR / TREND REPORT
MAKE ONCE, SELL TWICE
Outdoor brands are building new retail channels through the sale of used gear.
he next time you go to buy a new piece of gear from a brand or retailer online, there’s an outside chance you’ll be offered a gently used version as an alternative. You can thank the recent explosion of the used-gear marketplace for that. According to research from online resale platform ThredUp, the pre-owned outdoor gear market is projected to balloon to roughly $75 billion by 2025—an eye-popping figure for a trend still young in the industry. Historically, only a select few brands offered used products for sale through their traditional channels. In recent years, though, that tide has started to turn. “It’s an incredible value proposition for those that can do it,” says Dylan Carden, consumer analyst at William Blair, a Chicago-based financial services firm. “This is moving at breakneck speed and it’s a way for companies to circumvent a disrupted supply chain.” (See p. 98.) Whether you call it “resale,” “recommerce,” or “used gear,” the idea is the same. Selling used gear serves the dual goals of keeping
product out of the landfill and capturing business from customers seeking secondhand goods at a discount. Third-party companies like eBay and Poshmark have long provided a home for this type of commerce, but now outdoor brands are increasingly taking control of the process. Jumping on the Bandwagon The basics of brand-controlled used gear sales are fairly straightforward. Companies either work through a service platform like Trove, which helps brands sort, repair, and resell products, or they use peer-to-peer (P2P) software like Recurate, which integrates into their online stores. P2P software provides the functionality for a consumerdriven marketplace, where customers list and sell their own gear, with brands taking a percentage of each sale. “The evolution [of recommerce] is so hard to quantify,” says Asha Agrawal, managing director of corporate development at Patagonia, whose role includes overseeing the brand’s Worn Wear recommerce business.
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According to Agrawal, hunting for used gear has “emerged as a favored way to buy among certain cohorts of customers,” a trend that confirms consumers don’t always need shiny, new things. “They often prefer the value and the stories from used [gear],” Agrawal says. The recommerce game in the outdoor industry looks different depending on the company, its products, and its scale. The big names with lots of inventory (and customer returns) can use a service like Trove to get deadstock and archival items into the resale marketplace quickly. Smaller or more niche brands that don’t have as much product on hand may fare better with P2P services like Recurate, where customers essentially run the marketplace. “Our demand [for used gear] is far outstripping our supply,” says Peak Design founder and CEO Peter Dering, whose company used Recurate to build its new Peak Design Marketplace, a space for customers to buy and sell used Peak Design gear directly within the brand’s website.
PHOTO COURTESY OF WORN WEAR / PATAGONIA
By Geoff Nudelman
PHOTO COURTESY OF WORN WEAR / PATAGONIA
Patagonia’s Worn Wear program is a leader in the rapidly expanding used-gear market.
Peak Design is a prime example of a niche brand that benefits from a dedicated customer base and thrives in a specialty online marketplace. According to a 2020 survey the brand circulated among its online customers, 27 percent of Peak Design shoppers own 10 or more of the company’s products, and half of its customers were already buying and selling used gear online before the Peak Design Marketplace was up and running. On the other end of the spectrum, large multibrand marketplaces target the masses, from casual shoppers to brand-dedicated diehards. REI’s Good and Used, which launched in 2018 with Trove handling some of the technical aspects of gear resale, is one such marketplace. Last June, both Cotopaxi and NEMO Equipment announced resale partnerships with the platform, which helped those brands achieve a quick entry into the space. Wooing New Customers Ken Voeller, REI’s director of circular commerce and new business development, says that beyond keeping existing outdoor gear in use longer, resale provides important avenues for customer acquisition and retention. “In 2021, we sold north of a million used units,” he says. “That’s up significantly from 2019 [the last year of ‘normal’ sales before the pandemic hit]. It lowers the barrier to
entry to getting outside, and we see our trade-in offering as a way [for customers] to stay engaged with REI.” This cost consideration is potentially transformative for higher-end brands like Arc’teryx, whose steep pricing is often a challenge for new-customer acquisition. Used gear lowers that barrier and is already proving successful with customer conversion, according to Arc’teryx VP of Recommerce Dominique Showers. “We are seeing tremendous engagement from a younger audience looking to enter into the outdoor activities we design for,” she says. And it’s not all online. Arc’teryx and Patagonia are both making efforts to bring usedgear sales into brick-and-mortar retail spaces. Arc’teryx recently opened its first ReBird store in New York City, which has a dedicated section for repairs and recommerce. Patagonia has integrated Worn Wear into various retail concepts—including two full-floor takeovers at stores in Brooklyn and Denver for the 2021 holiday season. The Climate Angle Environmental impact is another oft-touted benefit of used-gear resale—and those claims aren’t hot air. “The bulk of Patagonia’s emissions—95 percent—come from the supply chain, and most of that is material manufacturing,”
outdoor gear market is projected to balloon to roughly $75 billion by 2025.”
Agrawal says. “Through our Worn Wear program, we’ll continue to offer customers clothes with 60 percent lower emissions than new.” (See p. 70.) NEMO Global Distribution and Sustainability Manager Theresa Conn says that the company’s recent lifecycle assessment found that more than 80 percent of associated carbon impacts for a tent occurred before the product left the factory. “As the bulk of the greenhouse gas emissions are tied up in the product itself,” she says, “our goal is to keep products in circulation for as long as possible.” Of course, this doesn’t take into account the bigger dilemma of developing an economically viable way for outdoor brands to produce less in the first place, which would prevent more emissions at their source. But building channels to keep gear circulating in the wild longer is definitely a step in the right direction. WINTER 2022
GEAR / TREND REPORT
Outdoor brands are finally starting to see that building clothing and gear in plus sizes is a boon for the bottom line.
hen I was planning my first Kilimanjaro climb nearly two decades ago, plus-size women’s apparel wasn’t a thing. As a size-26 woman, I wore an XXL men’s jacket that pulled tightly across my hips. The cuffs hung several inches below my fingertips. The shoulders and collar were boxy, letting the wind inside. All in all, I was cold and uncomfortable in ill-fitting clothes as I inched toward the 19,343-foot summit. Back then, everything in my gear closet either fit poorly or was retrofitted. My pants were custom-created by a tailor who took two pairs of TravelSmith trousers and sewed them together so they would fit me. Perhaps even more painful: When I went into an outdoor shop—even for something unrelated to my size, like a pair of boots or a water bottle—I’d have to share my long résumé of hiking escapades to feel like the sales staff took me seriously. That was back in the early aughts, before many in the outdoor community accepted this fact: Being plus size is average. Today, I’m an influencer, board member, and brand advisor for many outdoor companies and organizations that share the philosophy that every body is an outdoor body. There is more than a moral case for the industry to embrace body diversity and inclusion in its product offerings and marketing. There is a business case as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 73.6 percent of all U.S. adults over age 20 are overweight or obese, and the average woman wears a size 16. The plus-size women’s apparel market was val-
ued at $29.8 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow to $46.6 billion (13 percent of the total U.S. apparel market) by the end of 2021, according to Statista, which specializes in consumer data and marketing. And yet, only one-eighth of clothing options are offered in plus sizes (anything above size 36 for men and 12 for women). Scaling to Fit It makes me wonder: Why has it taken so long for brands to embrace larger sizes? I believe that many companies don’t consider plus-size people outdoor recreationists. When seeking partnerships for my adventures and documentary projects, brands have outright told me I didn’t fit their image. One logistical reason for this sizing gap may be that creating an extended size line is fraught with judgment. When Nike unveiled plus-size mannequins in 2019, critics lambasted the company for promoting obesity. And, of course, the mechanics of extended sizing are complex. A company cannot just take its biggest size and make it bigger. People carry weight in different ways, so the process of extending a line is almost double the work. Brand-new patterns must be created. There are friction points (such as between the thighs) to consider in terms of durability
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and skin sensitivity. And designers must determine if the item’s cut will hold larger swaths of fabric in place while a plus-size adventurer like myself is in action. Then, retailers have to carry additional inventory. And those products cannot just be tucked into a dark corner of a shop or website with zero marketing. They won’t sell that way, and when they don’t sell, companies abandon the lines. Things are changing. At Outdoor Retailer Summer 2021, GCI Outdoor’s display caught my eye. Finally, someone was making chairs that would actually fit my behind! On Kilimanjaro, I was forced to sit on buckets instead of the too-small camp chairs provided by our guides. “We absolutely are trying to market to a bigger America, and there are a lot of reasons for it,” says Jeffrey Polke, one of the founders and co-president of GCI Outdoor. Of course, Polke wants more people to enjoy the outdoors, but gear for larger bodies also sells. In 2019, GCI introduced its Freestyle Rocker XL, a chair that is four inches wider than the regular size and able to accommodate up to 400 pounds. The XL version now accounts for 50 percent of rocker sales at Academy Sports + Outdoor stores (a sporting goods chain with more than 250 doors).
PHOTO BY GREGORY MOUNTAIN PRODUCTS
By Kara Richardson Whitely
PHOTO BY GREGORY MOUNTAIN PRODUCTS
“It made us realize that we should do XL versions of other things,” Polke says. So far, the brand has five other XL chairs. “You don’t have to squeeze into something to feel like you fit in.” A Seller’s Market Extended sizes aren’t exactly new. A very small number of outdoor companies—like L.L.Bean, Columbia, and Eddie Bauer— have been serving the plus-size market for decades. Andrea Kelly, senior merchandiser of extended sizes at Columbia Sportswear, has been a champion for plus-size outdoor clothing at the company for 11 years. About 15 years ago, 17 percent of the brand’s women’s clothing—typically the best-selling items—was offered in extended sizes. By spring 2023, that number will grow to 50 percent. “The [plus-size] product we have is definitely in high demand,” says Kelly, who attributes Columbia’s success to its combination of good pricing and performance technologies, something that is often lacking in other plus-size lines of outdoor clothing. “We continue to see astronomical growth. The more we offer, the more it sells.” Indeed, more and more companies are seizing this opportunity to grow their audience and revenue.
In 2020, Gregory Mountain Products launched its new Plus Size line, designed to fit people with up to 60-inch waists. Since then, other established brands, such as Smartwool and Outdoor Research, have introduced extended sizes in some products. REI has also expanded plus-size collections. Entire companies have even launched around the premise of serving the plussize market. Raquel Vélez is a size-16 skier who was forced to wear rain pants over sweatpants because she couldn’t find good technical ski pants. “As a size 16, I am literally average,” Vélez says. “The fact that I was unable to find anything that fit me was a true mind-boggler.” So Vélez, who has a background in engineering, took up sewing and pattern-making and created her own apparel company, Alpine Parrot, in 2019. Like other clothing companies, Vélez uses algorithmic grading to adjust the patterns from size 14 up. She also diversified her fit model approach. Instead of relying on a single model, she used 30 people to test her patterns. Arwen Turner and Kara Hardman, who founded the startup WNDR Outdoor, had also struggled to find clothes that worked. Turner remembers learning that a brand she loved would be launching plus-size gear. But
Gregory partnered with Jenny Bruso (right, with Tasheon Chillous, left, and Rob Nathan, center) of the group Unlikely Hikers to develop its line of plus-size backpacks.
the size range came up too short for her. “It’s almost worse when a company says they are size inclusive and their stuff still doesn’t fit you,” Turner says. “It’s like being rejected twice.” That’s why WNDR plans to launch its pants this fall in sizes up to 30. We’ve all seen the data that outdoor participation exploded during the pandemic. If, in line with the CDC’s figures, three-quarters of those new participants are overweight, outdoor companies should be actively seeking to serve this market. “This is an epic opportunity that can no longer be overlooked,” Turner says. “I don’t think most people realize what it’s like to have ill-fitting clothing for most of your life and then have the epiphany of wearing something that fits,” Vélez says. “It’s completely transformational.” WINTER 2022
The aftermath of the 2021 Alameda fire in southern Oregon. Climate change is fueling increasingly destructive wildfires.
The time for urgent climate action is now. Here’s how to make your company a force for good.
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You’re concerned about climate change. You recycle and bike to work. Maybe you’ve even bought an electric car. That’s great. But here’s the thing: It’s still not enough. If we don’t act more aggressively right now, you can forget about shorter ski seasons and start worrying about the extinction of humankind. It’s that bad. United Nations Secretary General António Guterres calls it a “code red” moment for humanity. But we can keep this planet livable. The world’s top scientists tell us that by swiftly phasing out fossil fuels and other sources of emissions, we can stabilize temperatures by 2050. That means every person, country, and brand must make real changes. “Every business emits some greenhouse gases and will have to reduce them,” says Bruce Usher, codirector of Columbia University’s Tamer Center for Social Enterprise. If we don’t? Then the climate heats up by 2°C or more*, and life on Earth becomes a disaster movie. Your kids will live to see this happen. You very well could, too. Of course, one single business can’t slow the climate crisis. But action begets action. “It helps drive your peers if you, as a single company, achieve reductions in your value chain emissions,” says Richard Heede, cofounder of the Climate Accountability Institute. And there’s a silver lining: Increasingly, consumers are rewarding brands that take action. This special report is designed to help you make real change. Three outdoor businesses feeling the impacts of climate change offer a peek into the future on page 68. We cover why buying carbon offsets isn’t going to cut it on page 74, and we spotlight climate justice issues on pages 76 and 78. And crucially, on page 70, we outline 11 steps to take now to achieve a net-zero business by 2050.
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The clock is ticking. Let’s get to work.
*1.5°C Read more
OBJ coverage of climate activism.
- The upper limit of warming (above preindustrial temperatures) the Earth can sustain before severe disruption to global systems. The planet has already warmed 1.1°C. WINTER 2022
Shuttered doors, distribution delays, and lost revenue: For many outdoor businesses, climate change is already wreaking havoc. By Christine Peterson Fifteen years ago, Al Gore sounded the alarm about climate change, warning about melting ice caps, droughts, and rising sea levels. Some of us were seeing these changes firsthand in Alaska and other remote locations, but for most Americans the impacts of the crisis seemed awfully abstract. Until now. According to The Washington Post, one in three Americans lived through a weather disaster in 2021. And the rise of megafires, superstorms, atmospheric rivers, and bomb cyclones is not just disrupting our summer adventures and ski seasons; it’s also presenting very serious challenges to our shops, supply chains, trail crews, and business futures. Here are three outdoor companies facing these issues head on.
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Shuttered in the Dark It took 12 days to reopen Massey’s Outfitters in New Orleans after Hurricane Ida smacked Louisiana with 150-mph winds and rain last summer. That meant 12 days during which owner Bobby Johnson and others worked in the dark, cleaning up water that ran through a damaged roof and waiting for the internet and power to be restored. It was 12 days during which he had to turn away customers who needed generators, water filters, and other survival goods. Without power and internet, he says, the store just couldn’t operate. Johnson’s father-in-law started Massey’s Outfitters in 1972, and
PHOTO BY STEVE SMITH; ILLUSTRATION BY FREESOUL PRODUCTION / ISTOCK / GETTY IMAGES PLUS & ROBS
It’s Already Here
PHOTO BY STEVE SMITH; ILLUSTRATION BY FREESOUL PRODUCTION / ISTOCK / GETTY IMAGES PLUS & ROBS
he and his brother-in-law, Mike Massey, now own and operate three locations in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Covington, Louisiana. They know the realities of owning businesses in a hurricane-prone region. But the old stormproofing methods are becoming insufficient as climate change fuels longer and longer hurricane seasons with ever-stronger storms. “When I started in ’93, we would have a storm scare every couple of years,” he says. “Now it’s a storm scare every year.” And the setbacks keep getting worse. In addition to closing the New Orleans store for 12 days, Hurricane Ida shut the Baton Rouge store for three days and the Covington one for six. Johnson figures it cost his business $140,000 in lost sales—during a month that’s lean already. “It’s frustrating,” he says. “And as a business owner, I worry about the staff and what they’re going through.” The company’s operations staff was flung to hotels throughout the region during Ida, some working with spotty internet and cell service for three weeks. Many employees now worry every year about losing their homes or cars to the next monster storm. Johnson is evolving. His stores established two more backup internet systems, and he’s looking into additional generators. He’s also stocking more disaster supplies. He sold almost $20,000 worth of solar panels and GoalZero power stations in the days before Ida. “Find me a rechargeable fan, because I could have sold 150 of them,” he says. But the silver linings, he notes, don’t outweigh the costs. “Any hurricane could cause our business to be wiped off the map,” he says. “But the biggest worries are all the stuff that will keep us from being open and the additional costs after the storm—everything you have to do that isn’t normal.”
Smoked Out During the worst of the summer 2021 smoke season, the air quality index outdoors in Reno, Nevada, measured 400, well above the “hazardous” threshold of 300. Indoors, it surpassed 200: officially unsafe for working conditions. As smoke rolled in from California’s Dixie and Caldor megafires, Patagonia’s major distribution center sent home hundreds of employees to protect them from the “stagnant, smoke-laden place,” says Chris Joyce, Patagonia’s head of distribution, logistics, people, and sustainability. Even public schools closed. “Twenty-five years ago, when this building was built, it relied on the idea that you’d have nice, cold, clean mountain air to draw in at night in order to cool the building,” Joyce says. “We kept our energy usage low by not having air conditioning units to try to cool a 300,000-square-foot space. But that meant for the entire summer, we no longer could bring cool, clean air into the building.” Last summer was the center’s worst yet. Smoke season lasted 12 weeks in 2021 (up from six weeks in 2020), forcing the building to close for two full days and three partial days. Patagonia took a bottom-line hit not only in employee wages for those days (paid out in full), but also in buying pallets of portable air-filtration systems for employees to take home at half price. The company noted losses from shipping delays to e-commerce and wholesalers: “Millions of dollars sitting on the dock,” Joyce says. Joyce is working through how much it will cost to retrofit some kind of energy-efficient cooling system into the main warehouse.
Early estimates come in around $2 million, and that doesn’t include the other nearly 500,000 square feet of warehouse buildings the company has in Reno. Moving elsewhere seems futile. “Because this is climate change, there’s nowhere in the West that isn’t being impacted by smoke or fires more and more heavily each year,” he says. The brand has felt the impact before: In 2017, when Patagonia’s leadership team waged war on the Trump administration’s decision to shrink Bears Ears National Monument, they worked from hotel rooms spread out across Southern California after being displaced from their main campus by the 281,000-acre Thomas wildfire. Patagonia has spoken out about public lands and climate change issues for years. And every year, it gets more and more personal.
In Hot Water Hilary Hutcheson saw climate change coming. When she started guiding anglers on rivers in Northern Montana in the 1990s, climate scientists were already warning of what would come. “They correctly predicted earlier snowmelt, which would make trees grow sooner and soak up the water that we’d need come August,” she says. “We’re seeing unprecedented warming on classic trout streams, which leads to undue stress on fish, plus hybridization of native and non-native species that threaten ecosystem stability, wacky runoffs that can strip native trout beds, dried-up riverbeds, increased nutrient loads, and epic wildfires that wipe out habitat and erase shade.” For a fly-fishing guide and the owner of a fly shop (Lary’s Fly and Supply in Columbia Falls, Montana), that means working in a fundamentally different place from what she’s known since childhood. Fly-fishing has seen a resurgence since the pandemic, so business is good right now. But Hutcheson knows it likely won’t last. “I’m aware we can have good seasons,” she says, “but the overall impact of climate change is not something we can recover from in the long run if we let it continue to do what it’s doing right now.” In 2018, a fire ripped through Glacier National Park, forcing Hutcheson off the river for nine days. Similarly, she’s heard from other fly-fishing outfitters that they experience a dramatic drop in business during bad fire seasons. Already, many rivers face longer “hoot owl” restrictions, meaning anglers must stop fishing by 2 p.m. because hot water stresses fish (and angling makes it worse). Some rivers have closed completely, putting more pressure on other waterways. “And when we have wildfires, we get some cancelations because clients don’t want to breathe the smoke and they can’t see the mountain views,” she says. “For me, I don’t care about making money. I care about the people and the planet and the anglers coming. It is going to wreck the fishery overall.” Hutcheson is using the opportunity to talk to clients about climate change and how they can make a difference. Her fly shop is carbon neutral: She’s reduced energy use from appliances and changed supply chain shipping patterns, and she buys carbon offsets. She recently produced a short film called DROP about the impacts of climate change and possible solutions. “We’re focused on selling trips and fly rods, but our success gets the attention of policy makers who recognize the economic importance of the outdoor community,” she says. “So I hope we keep reminding them that we’re powerful and growing.” WINTER 2022
TO Halting climate change requires companies to start slashing their carbon emissions now. Here’s how to get on the path to a cooler future. By Lisa Palmer & Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan likely you can do it at a lower cost and more intelligently, and come up with the best practices for your business.” How, exactly, do you start? We put together the strategies that will have the greatest impact on your company’s carbon footprint, from leaning on factories to produce your gear with renewable energy to upgrading appliances at HQ. Some steps are entirely within your control. Others require collaborating with industry partners and using your economic influence. Do that, and your business can make significant strides right now.
1. Measure Up The first step in any net-zero plan is taking an inventory of your business’s carbon footprint—a process divided into three levels, or scopes. The first one is fairly easy: Look at the direct emissions that occur from sources that you own or can control— known as Scope 1. The next step is examining indirect emissions, which don’t occur at your facility, but are part of your energy footprint nonetheless. This is Scope 2. Scope 3, which covers emissions from your supply chain and product use, is the trickiest—and most important. Whether you make tents, water bottles, or wool socks, Scope 3 likely accounts for 65 to 80 percent of your company’s total carbon footprint.
• Company vehicles • Boilers & furnaces in headquarters, retail stores & warehouses • On-site equipment
• Electricity used for lights, heat & cooling on site
• Factory emissions • Manufacturing waste • Purchased • Raw material extraction • Employee commuting goods & • Shipping goods • Business travel services • Emissions from • Investments customers traveling • Product to store end-of-life
Jeannie Renne-Malone, vice president for sustainability at VF Corporation, and her team have found that raw material extraction, processing, and manufacturing account for the majority of the company’s climate impacts; VF Corp’s direct operations only account for 1 percent of total emissions across their inventory. “So now we know to put the majority of our emphasis on raw materials and factory operations,” Renne-Malone says. That includes a vision to source 100 percent of their company’s top nine materials from regenerative, responsibly sourced, renewable, or recycled sources by 2030. So how do you figure out your company’s total emissions? Bring in the experts. The nonprofit Climate Neutral has so far helped 337 brands measure (as well as reduce and offset) their carbon emissions. REI’s director of sustainability, Matthew Thurston, says the co-op joined Climate Neutral because the nonprofit brought a high level of methodology and standardization to the process. Another option is Cooler, the company that Outside Inc. selected to measure and neutralize the footprint of OBJ and the other brands in its portfolio. Cooler uses peer-reviewed calculators to help businesses figure out their total climate impacts, and its software enables brands to display product footprints and carbon reduction data at checkout (see page 75).
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The science is clear: We must get to net zero by 2050. It’s a big objective—truly, a mission—requiring ambitious action starting right now. But taking a stand on climate doesn’t have to be a budget buster; in fact, leading outdoor businesses see it as a path to assuring long-term sustainability. What’s more, the global transition to clean energy is already underway, and brands that aren’t evolving risk getting left behind. “The sooner you get started on it,” says Bruce Usher, codirector of Columbia University’s Tamer Center for Social Enterprise, “the more
Your next step is committing your company to science-based targets* for reductions. But making a lofty promise isn’t enough—you need interim goals to keep everyone accountable. “By not setting interim targets, many companies fall short of the climate ambition needed,” says Amy Morse of the Environmental Defense Fund. “They’re just setting a distant goal of net zero by 2050 without having a robust near-term action plan.” A meaningful pledge must include:
Interim goals such as cutting emissions by a certain amount each year and by 50 percent by 2030
Concrete plans for near- and long-term reductions in specific segments of your business
Transparency through public progress reports that create accountability and share valuable findings
3.REDUCE, REDUCE, REDUCE Once you’ve figured out your company’s emissions, it’s time to slash them as aggressively as possible. Your plan of action will depend partially on what you’re selling, but these measures are both significant and entirely under your control.
Switch your company fleet to electric vehicles. Move to 100-percent renewable energy. consider direct solar and wind installations in all buildings and/or power-purchase agreements with utilities.
Make your buildings as energy efficient as possible.
*SCIENCE-BASED TARGETS - Greenhouse gas-reduction goals that are in line with the latest climate science. They require cutting emissions in half by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. The Science-Based Targets initiative helps businesses make meaningful commitments.
take steps like installing LED lights and efficient appliances.
Commit to zero waste. enhance your recycling and composting programs.
Support sustainable employee commuting. provide incentives for biking and using public transportation, and/or expand workfrom-home policies.
4. Embrace Better Design Changing the way you design your products can make a big difference in your brand’s overall carbon footprint—and you can start today. Use the most sustainable raw materials possible. “If you can use the recycled equivalent of raw materials—nylon, polyester, aluminum—that can take out a big chunk of emissions,” says Michael Sadowski, a research consultant at the World Resources Institute (WRI) and for Outdoor Industry Association’s Climate Action Corps. Beyond recycled, look for biobased and regenerative material substitutions. Though some ingredients may cost more initially, a recent WRI report notes that greater demand will increase production and drive down prices.
Support the R&D of innovative green materials, like mushroom-based leather (as adidas is doing with Bolt Threads) or fabric made from recaptured waste-carbon emissions (a project lululemon and LanzaTech have partnered up on).
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Reduce or eliminate the need for textile dyeing and finishing. Many textile mills rely on coal-powered boilers to produce the heat necessary for fabric processing, but “there are plenty of design things you can do [to reduce emissions],” Sadowski says, including waterless dyeing, no dyeing at all, and minimal finishes. Eliminate single-use plastic packaging in favor of greener alternatives like reusable bags and compostable wrappings (see p. 28). WINTER 2022
5. Make Less, and Make it Last “Ultimately, even if we reduce emissions, we’re still creating
Yes, your CFO will immediately recoil at this idea. But conscientious consumers will pay more for higher-quality, lower-impact gear. And many brands are taking the climate crisis as a challenge to diversify their businesses. Some are streamlining their designs and operations to reduce costs (and carbon). Others are setting up rental programs, adding repair services, and adding used-gear sales to create new revenue streams (see p. 62).
7. Find Strength in Numbers And what if manufacturing partners don’t agree to switch? “If you’re a large brand and have a good portion of a facility’s production, you can go to the factory and say, ‘This is what we’d like,’” Sadowski says. Smaller brands with fewer orders don’t have that leverage. “That’s where multibrand collaboration becomes really important.” OIA’s two-year-old Climate Action Corps is working on just that kind of joint effort. Led by Amy Horton, senior director of sustainable business innovation, the initiative brings together brands to investigate the scaling of lower-carbon materials like recycled nylon within the industry’s supply chain; get more accurate carbon footprint data; and push factories to embrace renewable energy.
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6. Push Your Partners The more ambitious outdoor businesses are in their climate goals, the stronger the message they’ll send to manufacturers, materials producers, shipping partners, and providers of renewable energy: Business customers want zero-carbon options and expect the industry to rapidly accelerate its decarbonization efforts. Why is this so important? Because the number-one source of emissions for most manufacturers is the energy used to power the factories where our gear and apparel are made. This transition won’t be easy. Most manufacturing happens overseas, and therefore depends on each country’s supply of renewable energy. “You want to go to your manufacturer and work with them to install rooftop solar,” Sadowski says. “Historically, that’s a challenge because brands haven’t necessarily paid for it. But if we want to green the supply chain, we have to make investments.” The Clean Energy Investment Accelerator (CEIA), a public-private partnership, can help by turning company funds and purchase commitments into new renewable-energy projects. REI is now working with the CEIA on the clean-energy transition in Vietnam and Indonesia. “We think there’s a substantial opportunity to expand renewable energy access in those countries,” REI’s Thurston says, “and we want to make sure it’s clear that part of the value proposition for us working in the countries is that they are going to be progressing toward fully sustainable or fully renewable energy.”
Therein lies the stick, as opposed to the carrot: Let manufacturing partners know your business depends on their decarbonization.
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impacts,” says WRI’s Sadowski. “So we have to make less stuff in the beginning, and figure out a way to keep goods in life for longer. If you can make one jacket that lasts for 10 years versus making 10 jackets that last for one each, you’re going to dramatically reduce the impact of that jacket.”
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8. Ship Greener How products travel from factories to your stores and warehouses is a big source of Scope 3 emissions. Currently, annual maritime container shipping emits as much carbon as the entire national output of Germany—but cleaner fuels exist. The Aspen Institute’s Cargo Owners for Zero Emissions Vessels coalition brings together companies to push for decarbonization in their shipping partners. Members—including Patagonia, Brooks Running, and Frog Bikes—commit to ship only with vessels powered by zero-carbon fuels by 2040.
9. Speak Up Nick Sargent, president of Snowsports Industries America, says that advocating for strong climate policies is the most important thing the outdoor industry should be doing. “It’s great that our industry is reducing its own corporate emissions, but frankly, we’re not going to solve climate change if that’s all we do,” he says. “It’s vitally important that we use our voice to drive systemic change as part of a much broader climate strategy.” That means making noise in Congress to support climate-smart legislation, like the renewable energy and electric vehicle provisions in the recent infrastructure bill, and donating to candidates who support strong action. Money talks beyond Capitol Hill, too. Banks compete for big corporate accounts: By choosing to bank with institutions that don’t invest in fossil fuel development, companies can use their financial leverage to reduce emissions. “As businesses move funds away from the banks funding fossil fuel projects, executives, boards, and stockholders will begin to see financing fossil fuel projects as a liability to their bottom line,” says Mario Molina, executive director of Protect Our Winters.
*IPCC REPORTS - Periodic warnings about the accelerating risks of the climate crisis from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
10. Now, Forget Climate Neutrality We’ve been hammering the importance of climate neutrality for pages now, and the latest IPCC report* tells us to cut emissions in half by 2030 and be net zero by 2050. But let’s do one better. OIA’s Climate Action Corps has chosen more ambitious targets by focusing on a “climate positive” goal, Horton says. That means that companies shouldn’t just cut emissions—they should actively seek ways to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than they emit. “We need to ratchet down the timeline much earlier for this industry,” Horton says. The Corps seeks to get the entire outdoor industry to climate positive by 2030. A key part of that goal is investing in projects that use nature to sequester carbon (which, incidentally, may have dual benefits for recreation through better water quality and wildlife habitat). Examples: forest regeneration, soil carbon sequestration, regenerative agriculture.
11. Be Fearless At the end of the day, says Sadowski, what we need most is courageous and visionary leadership. “It takes bold leaders at companies to just put stakes in the ground and say, ‘This may cost us more, but we’re going to do this because it’s the right thing to do, and the economics will catch up.’” WINTER 2022
Not every carbon credit is created equal. By Nancy Averett
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The Problem With Offsets
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*COP26 GOALS - Emissions reduction targets set at the most recent Conference of Parties (COP) convention in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2021. (COP events are global meetings run by the United Nations to address climate change.) At COP26, nations pledged to limit warming to 1.5°C.
Simply planting trees won’t solve the climate crisis.
Christian Rawles, co-owner of the outdoor apparel company Ambler, is doing many of the things that a company executive who cares about fighting climate change should do. He’s eliminated wasteful packaging, uses a courier with electric vehicles, and shares a warehouse with other brands to reduce emissions. And when customers purchase one of Ambler’s products, they’ll find a tag that says the company has been certified by Climate Neutral, a nonprofit that works with brands to measure and offset their carbon footprints. But what does “offset” really mean? At a basic level, an offset is a reduction or removal of greenhouse gas emissions that a company or consumer pays for to compensate for the carbon dioxide equivalent produced during the manufacturing and distribution process. When Rawles works with Climate Neutral, he’s buying carbon credits that the nonprofit has carefully vetted and selected to fund forest conservation, hydropower, and other projects. Ambler is still generating emissions—his hand-knit beanies come from the Himalaya, which means transportation is a major impact—so Climate Neutral provides enough credits to remove a quantity of greenhouse gases equal to his products’ footprint. Not all offsets on the market get a careful vetting, though, and some are much better than others. So while the purchase of offsets is a popular way for companies to lower their impact, your business should do some homework before jumping on the bandwagon. One key problem is that some projects aren’t actually sequestering carbon to the extent the sellers claim. “[Offsets] are controversial, in terms of what should and shouldn’t be counted, and if people are really doing what they say they’re going to do with your money,” says Lisa Ellram, a professor of supply chain management at Miami University of Ohio who studies business sustainability. For instance, nearly 30 percent of offsets sold through California’s forest carbon offset program did not result in real climate benefits, according to a recent analysis by the nonprofit CarbonPlan. And hundreds of thousands of acres of trees that were planted and sold as offsets burned up in California and Oregon’s 2021 wildfires.
Both instances illustrate a concern that climate experts raise about permanency: A quality offset must result in a permanent reduction of greenhouse gases. Put simply: If you plant a tree, it will sequester carbon. But if it burns 10 years later, those gases will be released back into the atmosphere. Another concern is a concept called additionality. Experts say offset investments must be the catalyst for something that wasn’t going to happen anyway. For example, if a landowner was already planning to install windmills, he can’t turn around and sell offsets to pay for it. (There are other tripwires with offsets, including biodiversity and concerns that some projects benefit certain communities and harm others.) Climate Neutral addresses those concerns, according to CEO Austin Whitman, with an annual third-party review and verification of the projects it funds. Such verification is important for consumer trust, and it may soon be a necessary investment for many businesses in this industry. Earlier this year, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it will propose a rule requiring publicly traded companies to begin making climate disclosures. Michel Gelobter, CEO of Cooler, provides a different path to credible carbon neutrality. (Full disclosure: OBJ and our parent company, Outside Inc., use Cooler’s services to eliminate our own footprint. See p. 10.) Gelobter’s company helps its partners purchase carbon permits from regulated markets in states or regions where emissions are capped by law, such as California. Cooler attends the quarterly auctions where the permits are sold, competing directly with industrial polluters for the finite supply of permits.
“We are never going to make the COP26 goals unless we start polluting less.” –Lisa Ellram, miami university of ohio Cooler retires the permits it buys, thereby preventing polluters from using them, reducing emissions permanently, and driving up the cost of being a polluter. Bonus: The money collected from permit purchases is reinvested in renewable energy development and support for energy bills in low-income communities. Carefully selected offsets can be a powerful tool for climate action, but experts say that what’s most important is acting to reduce emissions. “We are never going to make the COP26 goal* unless we start polluting less,” Ellram says, emphasizing that purchasing offsets should be a step taken only after after brand officials do everything possible to cut emissions. Experts recommend starting with direct emissions—installing renewables at HQ, purchasing electric vehicles, and minimizing employee commuting. Then consider emissions created by suppliers and partners. Many companies will find that in the current global system, using today’s technology, they can’t eliminate every kilo of carbon. So, yes, offset what you can’t immediately cut—but remember that offsets aren’t an excuse to continue business as usual. WINTER 2022
All Due Respect
Offensive names and the climate crisis are both symptoms of a much deeper problem: our collective disconnection from the natural world. Last fall, two popular ski resorts announced name changes after decades of demands made by Indigenous women and their communities. The legendary Squaw Valley Ski Resort in California unveiled its rebranding in August, followed by Maine’s Big Squaw Mountain Ski Resort in December. The changes followed an overdue recognition among corporate and outdoor industry leaders about the deep links that exist between racism and the environment, including the climate crisis. The word squaw, a slur toward Native American women, is merely one example. Today, more than 1,000 offensive place names dot the nation’s public lands. They are emblems of the deeper historical and present-day inequities that people of color, including Indigenous people like me, have long faced: exclusion from the greater climate movement, sanitized versions of land theft, and the fact that we suffer disproportionate exposure to environmental health hazards, from risky oil pipelines to abandoned uranium mines. Prioritizing what’s in a name may seem trivial amid the greater goals of reducing emissions and advancing sustainability. But when we identify the climate crisis as one caused by a continuous breakdown of our relationships to the natural world—our kinship connection to life itself—correcting this crisis begins with reexamining the respect we have for the land, and ultimately, for each other. Drawing from Indigenous ways of knowing, “kin theory” embraces not just our human relationships, but the interwoven bonds we keep with the earth, including how we name and regard the land. The Wašiw (Washoe) Tribe of Nevada, who consider Tahoe the center of their world, emphasized kin theory in its advocacy about Squaw Valley. And ultimately, it was this thinking that got through to resort executives to change the name to Palisades Tahoe. But there is much more work to do, and America’s recreation industry plays an outsize role in responding to the wellness of our planet, beginning with repairing its entire relationship to the land and its original stewards. “Racism, like other concerning issues such as climate change, pandemics, violence, insurrection, mental illness, and addiction, 76 O U T S I D E B U S I N E S S J O U R N A L
is a symptom,” said the late Sagkeeng First Nations Elder Dr. Dave Courchene, referring to our broken kinship practices. And yes, fixing these essential relationships begins with changing names. In November, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, a tribal citizen of Laguna Pueblo, ordered the renaming of more than 650 federal land units bearing the word “squaw” because of its disparaging reference to the female genitalia. Meanwhile, an examination is underway of many rock climbing routes, such as Slavery Wall in Wyoming’s Ten Sleep Canyon, where the first ascensionist agreed to rename the wall and several of its routes after many climbers began pushing for a change. The recreation industry has an opportunity to take these correctional strides even further, particularly in the crowded marketplace of outdoor gear where everything from coolers and backpacks to fancy jackets bear our Indigenous names, legacies, and languages, as if we are not here to witness the appropriation. But our identities—Chilkat, Kuiu, Ignik, Cotopaxi—are not for sale. And for others to profit from them represents another oppressive act similar to branding a ski resort with the “S-word.” Companies everywhere should reevaluate whether the names they rely on perpetuate the cycle of colonial harm that has historically stoked the climate crisis. Scientifically, climate change is caused by an increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. But we must also acknowledge the human side of the problem. Generations of industrial activity and resource extraction have polluted ancestral Indigenous lands, leading to misery, dispossession, and genocide—all stemming from a clear disrespect for kinship. To continue at this pace, while also ignoring the harmful impacts that offensive names bear on our shared planet, including its original stewards, is to continue hurting the planet. Right now, what’s needed are intentional steps toward healing. — Jenni Monet is the author of the weekend newsletter Indigenously and a tribal citizen of Laguna Pueblo.
ILLUSTRATION BY ROBS; ILBUSCA, TONYBAGGETT, PIMPAY / ISTOCK GETTY IMAGES PLUS
By Jenni Monet
Matters of Justice Three advocates break down why–and how–businesses must make justice a key part of their climate strategies. 1. People working within the outdoor industry care a lot about climate change. However, the people who actually hold the power— who have a lot of knowledge about climate change and probably also do care—don’t act because they’re either 1. too worried to make mistakes; or 2. too worried about the bottom line. I mean, when is there even time to prioritize the greater good under capitalism? We need to make an industrywide shift to stop seeing profit as the only key performance indicator. Positive impact for people and planet is another critically essential KPI. What I see are individual people within brands taking stands and pushing a climate justice-first agenda, one that advocates for the planet and people. As they gain like-minded colleagues and momentum, corporate change starts to take shape. Would it be great if this was starting at the top? Yes. However, in most cases the change is being driven by motivated individuals rather than the C-suite. Two people making huge strides on climate action within the outdoor industry are Whitney Clapper at Patagonia and Martha Garcia of I Am Collective. Clapper is identifying other allies inside her workplace and using her power, privilege, and connections to advocate for what she cares about—Black Lives Matter, queer inclusion in the outdoors, and intersectional climate justice. Garcia is creating authentic partnerships among brands, advocates, and organizations from systematically excluded communities in the outdoors. I also see her caring deeply about relationships and the people on her teams.
2. Many in the outdoor industry, and those
3.When we look at climate change and the
who participate in frequent outdoor adventures in general, tend to have the privilege of relative wealth and often come from predominantly white communities that have blinders on regarding climate injustices. But we have the responsibility to use those privileges to make a positive change. One of the simplest ways to include climate and environmental justice in climate change plans is to center people, especially people on the frontlines of the climate and environmental crises. Instead of donating to a huge wildlife conservation organization, donate to small, grassroots environmental justice organizations who are often doing the most good with the least amount of resources and could do so much more if they were well-funded. Both Patagonia and REI seem to put people and the planet above profits and contribute to environmental justice initiatives and ecosystem restoration projects. They both advocate for better access to the outdoors for everyone. I also like how they promote repair, reuse, and resell over constant consumption of new products.
need for climate justice on a macro level, we need to also look at the factors that contribute to it on a micro level. By doing that, it becomes obvious that climate justice is only achievable through actionable change on intersectional issues like equity within the industry, outdoor recreation, outdoor education, and more. Transparency and accountability on these issues matter now more than ever, and consumers seem more likely to invest in brands that are investing back into us and our planet. Outdoor companies can make justice part of their plans to fight climate change by applying conservation initiatives internally, as much as they might already be doing so externally. For example, Parks Project’s mission to give back to our parks is at the core of the brand and goes beyond just its marketing campaigns. I’ve seen how it applies these standards internally and externally. The brand holds staff events and provides educational resources in the parks for its team, and it has even started a field crew to help bring volunteers to its stewardship events.
— Pattie Gonia,
— Philip Aiken,
— Ambika Rajyagor,
“queer environmentalist/drag queen” @pattiegonia
founding member of Intersectional Environmentalist @intersectionalenvironmentalist & @philthefixer
digital creative and activist @gangesgal
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PHOTOS BY (LEFT) DAYNA TURNBLOM; COURTESY (2)
As told to Keely Larson
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By Ryan Stuart
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PHOTO BY MASKOT VIA GETTY IMAGES
From weighing every binding to throwing ski club parties, here’s how the country’s top winter retailers rule the snowy season.
Build community. Hire passionate staff. Know your customer. Everyone understands that these are the keys to a successful specialty retail business.
2. Treat staff like gold Alpenglow Sports, Tahoe City, CA Top-selling winter brands: DPS, Black Diamond, Arc’teryx
But they’re also easier said than done. So when we called up some of the nation’s most successful shops, we didn’t just ask for their strategies for selling winter gear; we pressed them to di-
Key stat: The store’s speaker series has raised more than $1 million for local nonprofits.
vulge the details. Turns out, running a top winter store isn’t complicated—but it does require dedication, long-term strategy, and just plain being a good person. Read on for inspiration from nine leading retailers across the U.S.
1. Own a niche Outdoor Gear Exchange, Burlington, VT Top-selling winter brands: Salomon, Atomic, Rossignol Key stat: 50 staffers attended the shop’s employee ski demo day last year.
PHOTO BY COURTESY
PHOTO BY MASKOT VIA GETTY IMAGES
When Mike Donohue and Marc Sherman added winter gear to Outdoor Gear Exchange (OGE) in the late 1990s, they focused on their passion, telemark skiing. Twenty-five years later, the store has added 140 staff and expanded to just about every category of outdoor gear. Meanwhile, tele sales have plummeted—but Sherman and Donohue never abandoned the sport. “Telemark might be in decline, but there’s still a dedicated crew,” Donohue says. “They drive from states away to shop here. It’s an annual pilgrimage.” The draw is expertise. OGE stocks a large variety of telemark gear and employs staff who know the sport and how to service the equipment. The shop looks for staff with passion and knowledge for tele, and incentivizes them to learn more with demo days and peer-to-peer instruction. That way, the buyers know the best gear to carry, and sales staff can talk minutia with customers. “If you’re going to sell it, you have to have expertise in the niche,” Donohue says. “Otherwise, it’s wasted stock.”
Nobody wants a revolving door of employees, but figuring out how to retain good people can be a major challenge for retail. Store owner Brendan Madigan says the reason Alpenglow has such a low turnover—most employees stick around for several years, and the buying team averages 15 years of experience—is a combination of compensation, perks, and culture. “I want to buck the idea that you can’t make a career at a retail job,” he says. “I’ve always tried to run Alpenglow like a big business.” That starts with compensating staff at the generous end of the pay scale. Madigan pays as much as he can afford (he declined to share salary numbers), with raises coming at least once a year to keep up with inflation. “Staff don’t need to get rich, but they do need to get paid well,” he says. Perks for full-time employees include matching IRA contributions, flex days, paid vacations, a ski pass, and one annual hardgood product of their choice (he works with reps to offset the cost). Equally important is making employees feel like they’re part of a team. Everyone is a middle manager, he says, with the power to make customers happy on the fly. “Having responsibility leads to them feeling more invested in the business,” he says. “We give them room to grow and shine.” That’s backed up by veteran staff who are tasked with spreading the company culture to the next generation, which they do through staff ski trips and a speaker series. The payoff comes in the tough times. Seasoned buyers know which companies are only going to fulfill 60 percent of an order and can make the risky call to buy 140 percent to compensate, or find a comparable product to stock instead. “A lot of that is by feel,” Madigan says. “You never know if it’s going to work out, but you feel a lot better about it when it’s someone with 15-plus years of experience making [the call].”
3. Take customer service to the next level Cripple Creek Backcountry, CO/WA Top-selling winter brands: Salomon, Scarpa, Dynafit Key stat: 95 percent of gear-related appointments end in sales.
Well before Covid normalized shopping by appointment, Doug Stenclik had already seen the advantage of one-on-one experiences for customers, staff, and the bottom line. Starting in the fall of 2018, Stenclik, the co-owner and founder of Cripple Creek Backcountry, encouraged his staff to skip the classic “walk to the ski wall” sales style in favor of getting to know the customer first. At the company’s six shops in Colorado and Washington State, employees were trained to ask extensive questions about the customer’s motivations and interests before they even began to talk about gear. That evolved into a formalized list of questions, and then, shopping by appointment. Stenclik says he worried about customer and employee buy-in to this labor-intensive process at first, “but I knew if I could get everyone to commit, [one-on-one appointments were] going to provide the best experience for everybody.” Appointments became required at the onset of the pandemic.
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Today, the shops are happy to have people walk in off the street, but about 70 percent of customers still make an appointment and fill out a questionnaire beforehand, either online or over the phone. The questions ask for data like weight and height, but also dig deeper. For instance, people who want a boot for uphill or fitness skiing would provide their boot size and what other brands of boots they own, as well as attach pictures of their feet. The store then matches the customer with an employee who also likes to tour for exercise. Before the customer even sets foot in the store, the assigned salesperson has figured out their best two or three boot options. The process saves everyone time. Cripple Creek stores work together to share inventory, moving sizes and models around to where they’re needed. When the customer walks in, the salesperson is waiting with the preselected boots. The customer doesn’t have to wait for help because sales staff are busy or come back later because the right size wasn’t in stock. “We’re closing more sales,” Stenclik says. “If we just said, ‘Here are the only two boots for you to try,’ customers would want to shop around. But because we’re making specific recommendations, based on research, we win them over.” And though staffers were initially skeptical, Stenclik says, three years in, they’re realizing that investing time ahead of the appointment streamlines the overall process, as they don’t have to choose products on the fly, hunt for inventory, or make special orders. For all, Stenclik says, “the response has been really positive.”
PHOTOS COURTESY OF (LEFT) CRIPPLE CREEK BACKCOUNTRY; SCARPA
Cripple Creek Backcountry appointments guarantee one-on-one service.
4. sweat the details Skimo.co, Salt Lake City, Ut Top-selling winter brands: Dynafit, Scarpa, La Sportiva Key stat: In 2020, sales doubled over the previous year.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF (LEFT) CRIPPLE CREEK BACKCOUNTRY; SCARPA
Just based on its name, one might suspect Skimo.co is more than its single retail location. Scroll through the website, and you’ll also discover that it’s much more than an online store. The business’s goal is to educate customers, says James Roh, marketing and content manager. “Our mission statement is to be experts on the topic of backcountry skiing,” he says. “It boils down to getting people into the right gear so they have as much fun as we do.” That starts with stuffing the website with information. Staffers write blog articles and in-depth gear reviews. There are detailed descriptions of classic ski tours in 10 states from staff and customers. A fill-in form helps buyers sort through the confusion of matching boots and bindings. And an entire section compares packs, skis, poles, and more in data-rich charts. “We’re a bunch of gear nerds,” Roh says. “We weigh and measure everything that comes in the door.” All those resources play a role in attracting online customers, who make up about half of Skimo.co’s business. But they also drive in-person sales. “Many people come into the store for the first time after using our website as a resource for years,” Roh says. He often sees staff and customers referring to the website on the store floor, going over the different options and comparing specs. It’s a lot of work keeping the site up to date, but Roh says it’s key to their success. “Only a few customers are interested in that much detail,” he says. “But our attention to the details shows we’re a resource and the place to go for backcountry ski gear.”
5. Figure out what your community needs Bill Jackson’s Shop for Adventure, Tampa Bay, FL Top-selling winter brands: Obermeyer, Spyder, Salomon
This South Florida shop played a big part in building the area’s surprisingly large ski community. But co-owner Darry Jackson knows that nurturing that community requires more than a few movie nights—it means getting people to join the club, literally and figuratively. “You don’t need a ski club if you live in Denver,” says Jackson. “But it’s harder to go skiing from Florida, so clubs are huge here.” Tampa Bay is home to four ski and snowboard clubs, and the largest has more than 4,000 members. Cultivating relations with these clubs has been an essential part of the Jackson family’s business success. Jackson’s parents started the shop as an army surplus store after World War II and, when they noticed people coming in to buy jackets for skiing in the 1950s, they began carrying ski apparel. By 1970 they were stocking skis. Around the same time, a ski club president noted Jackson’s and his brother’s growing reputations as outdoor guides (they’d been leading scuba diving trips to the Caribbean). He asked Jackson to run a club trip to Buttermilk resort in Aspen, Colorado. It kicked off both Jackson’s passion for skiing and an ongoing relationship with the local ski clubs. Jackson started holding his pre-trip meetings in the store’s classroom, then offering space to other ski club leaders for planning sessions, annual parties, and board meetings. Although he doesn’t lead trips anymore, Jackson thinks it’s important for the store to stay involved. “I try to go to all of their meetings and parties,” he says. “As years go by, the leadership with any club keeps changing, and [the shop] must maintain a personal relationship with all of them.” Each club organizes up to 20 trips a year with around 20 people each, plus a couple of parties of 150 or more. Jackson extends store hours to accommodate the meetings. “Because everybody is too busy talking and socializing, we don’t sell as much as you’d expect with several hundred people in the shop,” he says. But he knows they’ll be back.
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PHOTO BY DON MILLER VIA ISTOCK / GETTY IMAGES PLUS
Key stat: Ski-related sales declined in 2021 by about 40 percent (because there were no ski club trips).
PHOTO BY DON MILLER VIA ISTOCK / GETTY IMAGES PLUS
6. Invest in vendor relationships Peace Surplus, Flagstaff, AZ Top-selling winter brands: Kühl, The North Face, Cotopaxi Key stat: The store sold 2 miles’ worth of toboggans in 2021.
Like just about every other outdoor store last winter, Peace Surplus struggled to keep up with the demand for items like gloves, goggles, and helmets. But when many others couldn’t restock shelves, founder Steve Chatinsky leaned on 40 years of goodwill. As a result, he was getting fresh orders all the way through the pandemic. “I had the right connections and relationships to find the products I needed,” Chatinsky says. Instead of calling his sales reps, he went right to the top, talking to national sales managers or even company presidents. They were willing to not only take his call, but also jump through hoops for him, searching inventory, scouring warehouses, and rushing shipping, because Chatinsky had been there for them. After he founded the shop in 1973, Chatinsky made sure he treated sales reps, suppliers, competitors, and the greater outdoor industry really well. He did the simple things, like pay his bills on time. But he also bought products that reps really wanted him to, even when he wasn’t that keen. “When you throw them a bone, they notice,” he says. He became a member of buying groups, like Grassroots Outdoor Alliance and Nation’s Best Sports, and supported them by joining committees and attending their seminars and shows. On his morning walks, he often stops by the other outdoor stores in Flagstaff to shoot the breeze. The local REI sends customers to Peace Surplus, he says. “The outdoor industry is a small industry,” he says. “People notice if you’re a good person.” Without all that time and effort, going over his sales reps’ heads last winter probably would have backfired. “If I was pushy and arrogant, I would have pissed people off and ended up at the bottom of the ladder,” Chatinsky says. “I was a good person, and last year, it paid off.” Last November, Chatinsky sold Peace Surplus but agreed to stay on to help the new owners get started. His first lesson: Investing in relationships has real value.
3 more secrets Sunlight Sports, Cody, WY KEEP NEWBIES WARM: If a rookie comes in looking to rent skis, staff will start by talking about the importance of good socks and gloves. “When you start with ‘This is how to be warm and comfortable,’ you’re ensuring they’re going to have a good time,” says co-owner Wes Allen. “That’s a known formula for success. They’re going to trust us and come back.”
Lahout’s, multiple locations, NH FOLLOW YOUR CUSTOMERS: This 102-year-old ski shop could have stuck with skis, but when the staff noticed more people coming to northern New England for yearround recreation, it added seven more locations that sell summer gear, too. “Now we see the same skier four or five times a year, instead of just in the winter,” says Anthony Lahout, co-owner and grandson of the founder.
Outside Brands, Multiple locations, GA USE TRIPS TO BOOST SALES: When customers book a guided kayak or boat trip through Outside Brands, they get an email with detailed info on how to dress for winter excursions and a 15-percent discount code to gear up in one of the shops. “The retail team is trained and knowledgeable about the experiences,” says CEO Mike Overton. “It helps build our clientele and has been really successful.”
KING OF TENTS Jake Lah may dislike camping—but his genius with aluminum has turned him into the wizard behind many of the world’s best tents. By Kelly Bastone
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PHOTO BY JOHN PARROT/STOCKTREK IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES (MODIFIDED BY ROBS)
DAC’s HQ feels more like a gallery than a factory.
PHOTO BY JAKE LAH
PHOTO BY JOHN PARROT/STOCKTREK IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES (MODIFIDED BY ROBS)
alking into Dongah Aluminum Corporation (DAC) feels like stepping inside the lobby of a grand hotel: The soaring two-story ceiling creates plenty of space around the large-scale paintings and sculptures in marble and bronze. It’s an art gallery, not the reception area you might expect in a factory that makes aluminum tubes and poles. And on all three floors, there are gardens filled with graceful bamboo, tranquil lilies, and apple trees that Jake Lah, DAC’s founder, planted in 1988 to commemorate his company’s launch. One garden even includes a koi pond with golden fish that shimmer in the sunlight, like DAC’s gleaming rods of anodized aluminum. Like the rest of the factory, located in Incheon, South Korea, these poles defy expectation, because they routinely solve problems that tent designers, including other manufacturers, once believed to be unsolvable. “I’m kind of a strange person,” admits the 67-year-old Lah, whose irresistible smile lights up his entire face. “My wife kept telling me, ‘You are not a normal person,’ and just this last year I said ‘Yes, maybe you are right.’ What I’ve been doing just doesn’t fit into the normal sense of things.” But if Lah had made a habit of embracing norms, the tent industry would look nothing like it does today. Lah’s proprietary aluminum alloy—TH72M, or “M” for short—made backpacking shelters lighter by allowing for thinner pole walls with no loss of strength. His aluminum pole hub revolutionized tent architecture and facilitated designs that have since become mainstays (see the REI Half Dome, to name just one). Lah also masterminded an array of other clips and attachment points that streamlined tents’ geometries and rewrote the rules for what aluminum scaffolding can do. “He’s been the man behind the curtain in our industry for something like three decades,” says tent designer David Mydans, who retired in 2017 after 28 years with REI. Lighter weights, bigger interior volumes, better ventilation—all of these defining improvements to outdoor
shelters have been fueled by Lah’s innovations, and still are. “Over the past 20 years, there’s nothing that’s happened in tents that hasn’t been heavily influenced by Jake,” says Michael Glavin, who’s designed tents for brands like Sierra Designs and GSI Outdoors since the late 1990s. Indeed, Lah is much more than an expert in aluminum alloys and tent pole manufacturing. He’s also a talented designer in his own right who has solved myriad structural problems for the tent brands that are his clients. Some of those brands use entire designs that Lah created from scratch. “He has far more tent IP than any of his customers,” says tent designer Mike Cecot-Scherer, who started with Kelty in 1985 and now produces his own MoonLight series of shelters.
Rising from the Ashes One sleepless night in 1990, Lah contemplated a high-stakes gamble. His father, who had funded DAC’s launch two years earlier, had died before the business had become self-sufficient. His mother, Oknah Kim Lah, urged him to abandon ship before it sank, taking him with it. “If you stop now, maybe you can salvage enough for the rest of your life,” Lah recalls her saying. She’d founded Korea’s branch of the Girl Scouts and devoted much of her life to volunteering, beginning during the Korean War. Lah valued her wisdom. Besides, business was new to him: He’d studied history in college, and although he’d completed an MBA at the University of Michigan, he wasn’t an aluminum specialist or even an outdoorsman. “It’s quite odd,” Lah admits. “There seems to be no connection between my past and aluminum.” But Lah is undaunted by foreign realms (after all, he completed his MBA not in Korean but in English, a language he barely understood when he began the program), and he saw a tantalizing opportunity in high-strength aluminum. He’d founded DAC because he’d learned (through his eldest brother, who worked in the sports industry as a distributor of baseball equipment) that there was just one major player, Easton, making tubing for outdoor applications such as camping and archery. After that night of reflection, Lah walked into his factory the next
robot; Lah/Sea to Summit’s Telos TR2
morning and realized that the 50-person team he’d assembled had become as important to him as his birth family. “I just couldn’t run away alone,” he recalls. “Relationships are my life. So I said okay, let’s die together.” He decided to invest all of his inheritance in the failing business. He resumed his dedication to making his poles stronger, lighter, and more versatile than competing options. Lah had found a materials mentor in Dr. Robert Sanders, a developer from the aluminum giant Alcoa, a man he calls “Yoda.” “He gave me my compass and map, and asked me to find a way,” says Lah, who’d wrestle for months with alloy conundrums that Yoda could’ve solved with one phone call. “I think he intentionally watched me get lost in the woods. I’d ask, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’” But Yoda knew not only aluminum, but also the personality of his young apprentice. “You learn by yourself,” Yoda replied. And so Lah tinkered through as many failures as successes with aluminum, copper, magnesium, and zinc, integrating occasional clues from his mentor until he finally struck upon the alloy that would establish DAC as an innovator in outdoor applications. Lah’s first breakthrough was DA17, a softer alloy that could replace steel in the cabin-style tents common at the time. DA17 appealed to Japanese tent brands, and later to REI, which used it in a 1994 model called the Olympus. His second alloy, TH72M, allowed backpacking tents to reach new weight-saving benchmarks. “Before M, the thinnest [pole walls] I could make were 1.62 millimeters, but with M we went to 1.6, then 1.55, and now, we’re at 1.4 millimeters,” Lah explains. DAC’s list of brand partners grew rapidly, as did Lah’s innovations. Around 1993, Lah developed an aluminum donut that revolutionized tent architecture. It wasn’t the first-ever pole hub (that credit goes to Bob Swanson, who developed a chunky plastic four-way connector for
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his Walrus tents) but Lah’s “uni-connector” was stronger, tidier, and more customizable. “You could choose the [pole] diameter and angle, so tent designers got a lot more freedom in building the frame,” says Lah. MSR ran with it on the Hubba Hubba, and “The rest is history,” says Glavin. “[That tent] redefined the space-to-weight relationship.”
Breaking Down Walls Hubs were just the beginning. More “toys” (as Lah calls his connectors) followed, including clips that don’t slide along the pole, allowing the fabric to contribute to the structure’s overall strength, and plastic “ballcaps” that replaced the bulky webbing pockets where a tent’s brow pole clipped into the fly. One plastic connector stabilized poles at the corners and resulted in a 53-percent improvement in structural strength, according to wind-tunnel testing. Sally McCoy, then at Sierra Designs, nicknamed it “Jake’s Foot” (it’s now patented as “Jake’s Corner”). It debuted in Sierra Designs’s Hercules tent, which survived 100-mph winds thanks to the cupped plastic corners that grip pole ends more tightly than an eyelet. Lah’s poles improved, too. DAC’s 1998 Featherlite innovation addressed the weakness at poles’ connection points by eliminating a bridge tube and instead, nesting pole-ends of varying diameters, stacking them as you might stack drinking cups. Featherlite NSL poles allow the diameter to vary along their length, so that softer sections create a rounder arc while stiffer segments stay straighter. As a result, one pole can achieve multiple curves. DAC’s brand partners quickly grew to include more than 45 companies, not only because Lah offered ingenious ways to push tents into new realms, but also because he scrupulously respected each company’s intellectual property, Mydans says. Thus Lah successfully walked a tightrope between serving all tent brands while protecting each brand’s innovations. Often, Lah himself is the one serving up the breakthroughs to tent
PHOTOS BY (CLOCKWISE FROM RIGHT) JAKE LAH; SEA TO SUMMIT; JAKE LAH
(Clockwise from top) Sketches; DAC’s first
"Jake has perfected the art of designing with aluminum tubes." -–David Mydans, former REI tent designer
PHOTOS COURTESY OF BIG AGNES
PHOTOS BY (CLOCKWISE FROM RIGHT) JAKE LAH; SEA TO SUMMIT; JAKE LAH
designers. The Copper Spur tent made by Big Agnes, for example, remained largely unchanged for five years while Lah mulled a way to improve on its minimalist design. Finally, he presented Big Agnes founder Bill Gamber with a solution to reduce the tent’s two hubs to just one, without sacrificing interior volume. “Almost every time I try new things, I feel like I’m pushing against a wall, and that there’s nothing I can do,” says Lah. “I try, try, try, and finally, I might find a crack in the wall, or a small hole, and oh! Maybe I can find a way out.” Such dogged persistence not only helped him to revise the Copper Spur, but also fueled his development of more sustainable manufacturing methods, such as Green Anodizing—the moonshot innovation that DAC unveiled in 2008. Anodizing uses acids and other noxious chemicals to remove the oxidative film left behind on heat-treated aluminum; the process also preps the aluminum for dyes and seals it against corrosion (plus, users appreciate anodizing’s glossy finish). But Lah hated that the process released harmful chemical gases into his factory and endangered his workers, so he spent eight years seeking an alternative. He knew that no chemical existed that could polish the aluminum in a nontoxic way (even Alcoa and Yoda used phosphoric acid, which releases toxic gases and creates hazardous waste materials). So Lah looked at mechanical processes, and finally, succeeded in developing a machine that physically polishes the film off the poles. Now, almost all DAC aluminum uses the Green Anodizing process. Lah rounds out that materials expertise with a knack for intuitive design and a passion for creating the best possible product. So brands that partner with him must share the driver’s seat. “He always oversteps,” Glavin says. “But you’re benefiting from the fact that he feels like [the project] is his. He would drive you crazy if he weren’t such a good, kind person at heart, because his intent is always positive.”
Lately, Lah has begun to step out from behind the curtain and claim space on the main stage. In 2018, he hired Glavin to help him start his own tent brand, and although the pandemic sidelined that effort for now, Lah continues to work on tent collaborations that credit him for his contributions. Sea to Summit’s ultralight backpacking tents, which hit the market to wide acclaim in spring 2021, advertise Lah’s role as codesigner with Sea To Summit founder Roland Tyson. He’s also creating his own visionary structures. One recent masterpiece is a massive, wedding-style tent supported not with buckets of cement, but graceful arches of thumb-thick aluminum. Another Lah creation is a solo tent on stilts—because Lah doesn’t particularly like camping, nor sleeping on the ground. “Tents right now are used for sleeping only, but I wonder, what if they could be shelters that can use furniture inside?” he muses. Glavin explains, “These shelters aren’t about filling a market need. He’s creating pieces of art, as a design expression.” If the outdoor industry maintained a museum, Lah’s avant-garde tents would deserve inclusion—along with his many best-selling hits. As Mydans puts it, “Jake has perfected the art of designing with aluminum tubes.” Retirement, however, isn’t in Lah’s 10-year plan. Before long, he says he’s likely to front-burner his plan to launch his own branded tents. He also plans to commit himself to lots of volunteering, particularly in disaster relief and nonprofit campaigns and events. (He inherited the passion for volunteerism from his mother, who passed away in August 2021 at the age of 103). And he continues to pursue more sustainable manufacturing: DAC completed the Higg Index to
Above: Lah with Big Agnes’s Wes Green (middle) and Bill Gamber
understand its environmental impact, and for NEMO’s 2021 tent line, it adopted a recycled-fabric alternative to the polybags that its poles had always shipped in. When Lah finally brings his own tents to market, he can test his creations in his very own wind tunnel, built in 2017. Much larger than the Kirsten Wind Tunnel at the University of Washington (the sole wind tunnel in the U.S. available to tent developers, it only accommodates small shelters), DAC’s version is designed specifically for tents. It’s an extravagant facility by any measure. Viewed from DAC’s parking lot, it looks like the space shuttle crashed into the side of the factory. Lah says he’s far from finished with his wizardry. He has plenty more time, assuming he inherits his mother’s longevity. Still, DAC’s gardens remind him that nature’s seasons never dally. When Lah sees the apples on the factory’s trees turn from green to red, the change never fails to catch him by surprise. “Already?” he’ll gasp. He must hurry to do all that’s yet undone. WINTER 2022
ACTIVISTS LAUNCH THE OUTDOORIST OATH TO PROMOTE SOCIAL JUSTICE ON THE TRAIL. BY KAELYN LYNCH MOST OUTDOOR ENTHUSIASTS have heard of Leave No Trace, the ubiquitous guidelines for minimizing environmental impact on the trail. Now, a group of adventure activists is seeking to achieve that same level of awareness about justice and inclusion by training a new generation of recreators. Launching in January 2022, The Outdoorist Oath is a community and educational tool designed by some household names in outdoor advocacy: Multidisciplinary creator Gabaccia Moreno will oversee the organization as executive director, alongside cofounders Wyn Wiley (known also for their drag persona, Pattie Gonia); José González, founder of Latino Outdoors; and Teresa Baker, who created the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge.
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The Oath is no simple list of directives. Rather, it will create a space to unite various outdoor movements and empower individuals to become allies for the planet, inclusion, and adventure. Unlike other initiatives that focus on providing guidance for institutions and companies, the Oath invites everyone—from casual hikers to CEOs—to participate. “The idea behind the Oath is that individual outdoorists have the power and privilege to shape the future,” Wiley says. “What we’ve realized as an outdoor community is that we need to solve these issues ourselves.” The cornerstone of the Oath is a free, two-hour workshop taught by the cofounders, where participants will unlearn problematic ideas ingrained in our culture (like racism, discrimination, and more),
PHOTOS BY (FROM LEFT) WONDERCAMP; ROBERTO FLORES BUCK; TIM DAVIS; WYN WILEY / PATTIE GONIA
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“WE WANT THIS TO BE PART OF OUTDOOR CLASSROOM CURRICULUMS EVERYWHERE: AT UNIVERSITIES, AS WELL AS THROUGH PROGRAMS LIKE NOLS, OUTWARD BOUND, AND THE BOY SCOUTS AND GIRL SCOUTS OF AMERICA.” — WYN WILEY, COFOUNDER Another key is collaboration. In addition to signing the Oath, workshop attendees will gain access to a supportive online community (in the form of a Facebook group) for continued learning and organizing collective action events. This will create a single container to unite previously siloed outdoor movements—those advocating for environmental action with others fighting for queer people, BIPOC, and other underrepresented groups in the outdoors—and encourage these disparate advocacy groups to work together to create a more inclusive future. “The potential for us to do amazing things is there, just as much if not more than our potential to do bad things,” González says. “We can build a better reality—and have fun doing it.”
GET INVOLVED: VISIT OUTDOORISTOATH.ORG to sign up for the first Oath workshop. For more information, email email@example.com and follow @outdooristoath on Instagram.
PHOTO BY WONDERCAMP / COURTESY OF THE OUTDOORIST OATH
identify potential solutions, and learn how to implement them in their daily lives. “Participants will learn the current trail map of our outdoor space and then develop their own unique action compass to navigate that landscape and create a path toward inclusion,” Wiley says. On top of building a sense of community and fostering broader concepts, such as our shared humanity and stake in this planet, the workshop will address practical realities, like how to react when encountering bias on the trail. Once participants complete the workshop, they will be invited to sign the Oath—a pledge to make the outdoors a safe space for all—and have their names publicly displayed on the organization’s website. The first virtual workshop will be held on February 7. In addition to workshops for individuals held throughout the year, organizations and businesses can hire the Oath to bring the training to their companies. “The idea is to empower educators to teach the workshop themselves,” Wiley says. “We want this to be part of outdoor classroom curriculums everywhere: at universities, as well as through programs like NOLS, Outward Bound, and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.” Brands can also support the Oath by donating, sponsoring a workshop, and amplifying the message through their own platforms. “The industry already holds the database of people who love nature and adventuring,” Moreno says. “There will be plenty of opportunities for brands to get behind the Oath and bring its message to employees and customers.” The primary focus of the Oath, however, is to empower the individual—it approaches large-scale industry change as an ecosystem with each person having a specific role to play. “The system [of normalized oppression] is designed to make you feel powerless and not have hope, because that allows the system to continue,” González says. “If we don’t have that agency, what we’re really saying is just let it continue.” The Oath will launch with some 40 outdoor industry insiders—such as Tommy Caldwell and Ron Griswell—as founding members. But Wiley stresses that the Oath is not only aimed at seasoned outdoor advocates, but also at anyone interested in creating inclusive outdoor spaces who may be afraid to take the first step. “So many people want to take action but are walking on eggshells because they’re afraid of messing up,” Wiley says. “We really want to create a space where people can accept where they are and recognize that we can all do better and work toward that, and failure can be a part of the process.”
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Neptune Mountaineering’s Wild Ride A look back at the inspiring history of one of the nation’s most iconic gear shops, on the eve of its 50th anniversary. By Micah Ling
A Wing, a Prayer, and a Barefooted Businessman The first thing anyone needs to know about Gary Neptune is that back when he founded his shop, he preferred to be barefoot as much as possible. In his younger years, the now 74-year-old mountaineer was the kind of guy who challenged himself by using minimal equipment on his climbing adventures—or none at all. Neptune’s climbing résumé, by any measure, is stacked. He’s stood on the summits of Everest, Makalu, and Gasherbrum II, as well as countless other peaks in the Himalaya, Andes, and the American West. This is important to understand because it tells you something about the early character of Neptune Mountaineering. Initially, the retailer was nothing more than a small boot- and climbing shoerepair operation—more a place for Neptune and his friends to tinker
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than anything else. The shop’s main clientele consisted of other elite climbers in the area. “I started the shop because there was another guy in town who repaired boots and sold a little climbing gear,” Neptune says. “But he was incredibly slow. It would pretty much take him all summer to fix your boots. A friend of mine convinced me that if we could buy some machinery, it would be a nice little niche [for us]. I liked handyman things, so I did it.” The whole store, including the machinery Neptune needed to get started, cost about $14,000, he says. For years, the shop didn’t even have a cash register, and saw little return on Neptune’s initial investment. “We squeaked through for a number of years with a gross curve that was so flat you couldn’t tell if it was up or down,” he says. Neptune discovered the hard way that growing a business for mountaineers meant giving up some of that mountaineering himself. One saving grace: The store’s location on the Front Range meant that he could at least climb locally on a daily basis. “That was why I located the store in Boulder and didn’t move away,” he says.
The Shop Hits its Stride After a full decade of barely making it, things finally started to pick up around 1983. This happened largely because, by then, the store had made a name for itself in the community. Talk to any climber who lived in Boulder during that time, and you’ll likely hear a Neptune Mountaineering story. Part of that name-making involved inviting climbers and adventurers to the store to expound on their lives, work, and travels—a common practice now, but groundbreaking for a retail shop half a century ago. The events were a huge hit with customers. “Gary was always thinking about the bigger picture of the community rather than filling the cash register,” says Rick Hatfield, a ranger at Boulder Open Space and
PHOTO COURTESY OF NEPTUNE MOUNTAINEERING
To walk into Boulder, Colorado’s Neptune Mountaineering—one of the nation’s most storied outdoor gear shops—is to step simultaneously into the past and the future. Founded in 1973 by accomplished climber Gary Neptune, the store is a monument to mountaineering, with a vast collection of historic artifacts on display beside shelves of new gear. It’s a museum, a state-of-the-art retail space, and a community gathering hub all in one. It’s also lucky to be around. Like many retailers, Neptune Mountaineering has struggled with profit margins and the bottom line over the years. It dodged a few close calls, changing hands and even surviving bankruptcy, but somehow, the store has managed to do more than hang on. It’s become an icon in both the community and the outdoor industry at large. In September 2021, the business traded hands for the fourth time in its five-decade history. With a new chapter beginning for Neptune, there’s no better time to look back at the wild ride the shop has navigated to get where it is today.
Disaster Comes Knocking
PHOTOS COURTESY OF GARY NEPTUNE
PHOTO COURTESY OF NEPTUNE MOUNTAINEERING
Mountain Parks, who often gave talks at the shop about nesting raptors and how the climbing community could help protect them. “In working with Gary, we all realized the value in collaborative efforts. Neptune has always been more than just a store.” It was during this time that Neptune also started building out his collection of climbing and mountaineering artifacts, an effort that would eventually become the store’s renowned Neptune Museum. Like so much else at the shop, the museum was a community effort. Though Neptune collected many of the pieces himself—including, famously, the disembodied, frostbitten toe of his friend and fellow climber Malcolm Daly—many items were donated from fans in Boulder and others around the world. (Today, you can trace the evolution of outdoor adventure equipment as you walk through the 17,000-squarefoot store. Although Neptune eventually sold the shop in 2013, he never let go of the museum, which he still owns and curates.) The museum helped the store become a true destination for adventurers embedded in Boulder’s outdoor community. Even if a customer was just stopping to drop off skis for a tune-up, it was easy to linger, wandering around and marveling at the artifacts. Neptune watched other stores in the area come and go over these years. Specialty shops that couldn’t harness Neptune’s magic cropped up here and there, lasted for a while, and then closed down. REI and other national outlets came to town as well. Through it all, Neptune kept a calm head and stuck to what he knew—offering expert advice and goods for serious mountaineers, and building community. “I’m not afraid of competition,” Neptune says. “I like competition as long as people are trying to be better in their own way. What I really don’t like is the race for the bottom—cheaper, cheaper, cheaper. That’s not good for anyone.”
Once Neptune hit its stride, there was little competitors could do to diminish its power in the Boulder community. The store moved several times, eventually landing at its current home—an expansive building tucked into a strip mall on the south side of town—in 1993. The space expanded with each move, as did the product mix. What once had been a shop for only the most serious mountaineers became more welcoming of newcomers and more accessible to first-time outdoorspeople. Neptune’s career fell into place, and after 40 years of running the show, he found himself ready to retire. In 2013, Neptune sold the business to Backwoods Retail, a Texas-based operation that, at the time, ran 10 specialty shops. Everything seemed in order; Neptune felt good about the future of his store and legacy.
Above left: Gary Neptune in the original shop, circa 1973. Above: The retail floor of Neptune Mountaineering today. Opposite page: A wall of climbing equipment displayed in the shop before Neptune’s $1 million remodel in 2017.
“I’m not afraid of competition,” Neptune says. “I like competition as long as people are trying to be better in their own way. What I really don’t like is the race for the bottom—cheaper, cheaper, cheaper. That’s not good for anyone.” But all was not peaceful and prosperous for long. According to Neptune, soon after the sale to Backwoods, communication became nearly impossible with the new owners. Sales dropped off. The community feel of the store began to evaporate. Just a few years after the sale, Neptune Mountaineering was in serious trouble. By 2016, Backwoods owed nearly $70,000 in back rent on the store’s lease and far more to suppliers. The business filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. Many in the community thought their beloved shop was about to disappear forever.
Back from the Brink If it weren’t for Shelley and Andrew Dunbar, the business would almost certainly be nothing more than a memory today. The Dunbars, Boulder locals who had made a name (and a formidable living) for themselves in the outdoor industry by distributing Australia-based Sea to Summit’s products in the U.S., were longtime patrons of Neptune Mountaineering. Unwilling to see their community shop die, they swooped in and bought the business out of bankruptcy in 2017. They invested more than $1 million to renovate the space, opening it up, adding lots of light, and installing cool features like a climbing wall. The shop needed a Hail Mary to save it. No idea was too bold. “Our personal motto was that you need to be a fearless retailer,” Shelley says. “That means you can’t be afraid to try new things. But it’s hard. Most retailers tend to take the safe path.” The Dunbars were willing to take the kinds of risks that paid off. “[Customers] want to see evolution,” Shelley says. “They need to get excited about things and discover things. We fell on our faces a couple of times betting on products that didn’t sell, but people came back to WINTER 2022
us because things were different. It’s not like you have to try ideas that go against your brand and your ethos. But taking a few chances is good.” One of the most important changes the Dunbars made was to the product mix. “We launched what we called the Neptune Lab,” Shelley says. “We found brands and products that were crowdfunded, mainly products that had been funded by Kickstarter. The reason that people use something like Kickstarter is because they can’t get into a retailer; they can’t get exposure.” The Dunbars were ready to take a chance on exactly those products. Some flopped, but some absolutely killed. “One example of a new category we tried was packrafting,” Shelley says. “We brought in a line of packrafts called Alpacka—a small Colorado company—and they were wildly successful.” The new products helped convince the Boulder community that Neptune Mountaineering was once again a place of forward-thinking expertise. The Dunbars understood instinctively what Backwoods hadn’t: that Neptune couldn’t survive without the deep community feel that had characterized its earliest days. That understanding led to the launch of Neptune’s café, which provided a place for locals to gather and get reacquainted with the store they thought they’d lost. Within a few years, Neptune Mountaineering had been rescued from the brink. “It was a lot of fun bringing Neptune back,” Shelley says. “We’re very proud of what we were able to do.”
An igloo constructed in the Neptune parking lot, circa 1993, with Gary atop it. The structure was built using a system invented by the Colorado-based “igloo tech” company Grand
The Dunbars will be the first to tell you that they never intended to run Neptune forever. Theirs was a rescue mission; the next chapter of leadership always belonged to someone else. It took them a while to discover exactly who that person would be. In September 2021, after more than a year of entertaining offers, the Dunbars sold the business to Maile Spung and her father, Bob Wade, owners of another legacy retailer, Ute Mountaineer in Aspen. Like the Dunbars, Spung and Wade are a family with deep ties to outdoor retail. Wade founded Ute Mountaineer in 1977, just four years after the launch of Neptune. The two shops grew up alongside each other, and in some ways it’s fitting they’re now playing for the same team. “Neptune has always had this sentimental place in people’s hearts in the outdoor industry,” Spung says. “There’s a feeling of responsibility to the Boulder community to make sure the shop they know and love continues to run the way they want it to.” For this reason, Spung is determined to maintain close ties to Gary Neptune, the business’s true beating heart. “Gary’s excited to bring some new pieces to the museum—a dogsled, some old backpacks and Nordic boots—and we want to focus on helping him keep that history alive,” Spung says. As for Neptune himself, he feels this changing of the guard is a step in the right direction. “Maile grew up doing this, and for some reason she enjoys it,” he says, laughing. “She knows how to do pretty much everything. I think she’s a little bit like me in that she doesn’t have her nose in a computer all the time, although I’m sure she’s better at all of that stuff than I am.” There’s a twinkle in his eye as he muses on the continuation of his life’s work. Any true adventurer would recognize it: the thrill, the challenge, the promise of unexplored territory. Neptune Mountaineering has wended its way through some tricky and beautiful terrain over the last 50 years, but the journey seems far from over. The best may be yet to come.
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Neptune Through the Years April 1973 Gary Neptune opens Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder’s Crossroads East Shopping Center.
1976-1983 Neptune moves out of its first home and down 30th Street, occupying two different locations as it grows.
1983-1992 The business moves to Boulder’s Table Mesa neighborhood, again occupying two more retail locations as it expands.
1993 Neptune Mountaineering moves into its current home at 633 S. Broadway.
December 2012 Gary Neptune sells the business to Backwoods Retail.
November 2016 The shop declares bankruptcy and closes its doors.
February 2017 Shelley and Andrew Dunbar purchase Neptune Mountaineering out of bankruptcy.
September 2021 The Dunbars sell the business to Maile Spung of Ute Mountaineer.
PHOTO COURTESY OF GARY NEPTUNE
The Story Continues
JANUARY NUARY 2022, BOZEMAN, ZEMAN, MT
TOUR INFO TICKETS AT
Chain Reactions A
The pandemic created—and exposed— broken links in the global supply chain. Here’s how Five outdoor brands navigated those hurdles. BY Amelia Arvesen
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Labor shortages, inventory delays, transportation bottlenecks: Much to the frustration of disgruntled consumers everywhere, these are the day-to-day struggles that outdoor brands of all sizes have faced since the pandemic began. Painful supply chain disruptions have piled up across the globe, with companies being forced to scale back or shut down entirely. And the turmoil can’t be traced to a single source because each hurdle is intimately intertwined with the next. A n a l ysts p re dict t h at t h e s e troubles could last into 2023. To survive, businesses must continue being patient, creative, and flexible. Here are five case studies in resourcefulness.
ILLUSTRATION BY BEST CONTENT PRODUCTION GROUP, ERHUI1979/ DIGITALVISION VECTORS/ISTOCK / GETTY IMAGES PLUS
Youer: Got the community invested in its business plans In 2020, Mallory Ottariano, founder of the Montana women’s activewear brand Youer, experienced five traumatic business events: First, personnel complications cut her team of four in half. Then she closed down her brand’s office in Montana, was dropped by her only factory in Oregon, forfeited seven months of inventory, and filed a lawsuit to fight a vendor’s six-figure misuse of material. She had no choice but to return to her home’s basement office for some serious reflection, which included considering bankruptcy. “I just hunkered down and figured out, how do I make it through this?” she says. “Do I make it through this? Do I want to make it through this?” The answer was yes—with reimagined operations. To streamline control over her business, Ottariano plans to open Montana’s first athletic apparel factory in 2022. To raise the capital, she launched a crowdfunding campaign in September and dubbed it Community Supported Apparel in a nod to the agricultural term Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA. In October, she surpassed her goal: Bring in $100,000 for a down payment on a building or property somewhere in the greater Missoula region. While she searches for the right spot, one that’s airy and bathed in natural light, she’s getting other details sorted, like employee roles and schedules. A Youer-owned
factory, especially one that’s in close proximity to the actual business operations, is the first step toward vertical integration, which will give the brand greater authority over materials, timetables, and hiring. Eventually, Ottariano plans to migrate production away from her current factory partners in California and Oregon to bring everything entirely in house. In the meantime, she’ll transition the lower-volume garments first. Finding partners solely in the U.S. has been a massive pain point for Youer and many other small, USA-made brands. Production has largely moved overseas over the past 50 years as brands capitalize on cheaper labor and materials. The domestic factories that have found a way to make it work are highly sought after, and therefore limited in capacity. Once Ottariano gets her location up and running, her vision includes becoming a resource for other local and women-led outdoor brands. Having her own factory will also allow her to pull back the curtain on the manufacturing process to educate customers—a process she started by sharing about Youer’s situation with her friends and followers on social media. After all, they helped fund the project. Which, Ottariano says, helped her see that her fans are invested in what goes on under the factory’s roof, especially now that they realize how the supply chain trickles all the way down to the consumer. “When I didn’t have anything to sell, I didn’t have any product to talk about; I just started telling stories about what I was going through and what the world was going through,” Ottariano says. “I realized that very few people understood how things ended up on their doorstep.” Ultimately, Ottariano shifted her perspective on the business. “I abandoned this idea of being a mega growth- and revenue-focused gazillionaire,” she says. “Instead, I want to be a small, profitable, locally made, well-made, vertically integrated company that has complete control.”
2/ Ortholite: created a risk-management plan early to avoid surprises When the pandemic hit, OrthoLite was ready. “They say hope for the best, plan for the worst,” says Chief Sales Officer CB Tuite. “We had always been planning for the worst.” Having been fully vertically integrated since 2008, the performance insole company began WINTER 2022
strategizing risk management long before Covid was a threat. For example, the company began expanding its footprint to control its means of production when global influences—geopolitical tensions or natural disasters—would impact the location and needs of its partners. By opening in the same countries as shoe brand producers that purchased from OrthoLite, the company was able to maintain a “local-for-local” chain and avoid delays that plagued other supplier relationships. As of fall 2021, the company owns and operates 10 factories, giving it the latitude and cushion to flex as Covid-related disruptions surface. When one location pauses, another location picks up the slack. The forethought to create a nimble, adaptable structure has led to unprecedented success for the ingredient brand, which supplied insoles to more than 550 million pairs of shoes in 2021. “We’re going to have a record-setting year on top of a record-setting prior year,” Tuite says, “which most companies can’t say.” OrthoLite’s locations in Europe, China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brazil, and elsewhere cover the entire supply chain, from the proprietary chemistry and foaming to the finished insole packages they provide to 400 partner brands. Outdoor companies like Arc’teryx, Eddie Bauer, Keen, L.L.Bean, and Merrell choose from hundreds of insole formulations to create customized footwear. They can either purchase sheets of foam to die-cut themselves or opt for entirely molded insoles. While production on OrthoLite’s end has been going smoothly, Tuite says the brand isn’t immune to supply chain curveballs when it comes to demand planning. For instance, gauging the right amount of chemical raw materials to fulfill insole orders and predicting timing becomes tricky when partner brands facing their own disruptions shift their order schedules and volumes. “The last thing we want is to have [a partner’s] production held up because an insole is late,” Tuite says. “It’s supercritical to not only deliver quality, but deliver on time.” Vertical integration and savvy absorption strategies help control those fluctuations. To wit: At any given time, each of OrthoLite’s factories intentionally operates at 50 t0 60 percent capacity, Tuite says, meaning they can double production depending on what their partners need and what’s going on in the world. Even though establishing manufacturing redundancies is capital intensive, OrthoLite’s astute risk planning ensures the financial stability and partner trust necessary to weather the pandemic. “When you own the means of production, you own your destiny,” Tuite says. “That way, we can protect the brands we work with.”
SylvanSport: made new friends while keeping old ones When SylvanSport began making trailers almost 20 years ago, founder Tom Dempsey started from scratch. To turn a sketch into reality, he and his team vetted component suppliers domestically and across the globe to source tires, wheels, glass, aluminum, steel, fabrics, molded plastics, electronics, and more ingredients for towables like the ultralight GO camping trailer and the GO EASY kayak trailer. In many ways, Dempsey says, the current supply chain challenges remind him of the business’s early years: His team is again sourcing ingredients from the ground up. On a weekly basis, engineers and developers are finding new substitutions and solutions to circumnavigate delays with their usual components. “We look at the last two years and say this is not nearly as hard as what we went through to get the company going,” he says. “But it’s different.”
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““When you own the means of production, you own your destiny.”’ — OrthoLite
chief sales officer CB Tuite
One of the brand’s guiding principles is to source as locally as possible within and around North Carolina. But some components, like tires, are simply not made in the U.S. So when its tire partner overseas couldn’t deliver supplies on time, SylvanSport started from scratch again. It found a replacement of equal quality from a seller online and asked a local tire shop to help mount the differently configured tires to trailers. It was one of many temporary solutions SylvanSport implemented to get campers delivered to customers on time. Notably, it never canceled its requests with the original partner. “We haven’t had some of those wheels and tires for most of a calendar year now, but we still have those open orders with our suppliers,” says Patrick Kennedy, SylvanSport’s vice president of operations. “We still talk to them every few weeks to see what the status is. It really isn’t our intention to drop those relationships.” Those relationships took decades to foster and maintain, he says, and switching cold turkey to a new permanent supplier wouldn’t fix the broken link anyway because any replacement supplier would likely be dealing with the same issues. SylvanSport also can’t buy products just anywhere. “[Our components] are highly customized, so it’s not the sort of thing that a new supplier can pick up easily,” Dempsey says. “Our volume is such that even if we tried to do that, the new supplier would probably say they’re too busy, too.” Meanwhile, Dempsey applied a few ideas to keep customers engaged despite the delays while SylvanSport sourced alternatives. The first is a loaning program, in which customers waiting for campers can use SylvanSport’s demo fleet on their vacations. Then, a buyback program: Owners can sell their trailers back to SylvanSport, which will return them to the factory for refurbishing and then sell them to customers in line at a discounted price. Ingenuity is at the core of the company, Dempsey says. That’s what has allowed the team to broaden its horizons and challenge current processes without burning bridges. Someday, its original supplier relationships will (in theory) rebound. The upshot: With a network of old and new suppliers, SylvanSport’s supply chain could be more robust and multilayered than ever.
PHOTO BY DUKAI PHOTOGRAPHER/MOMENT VIA GETTY IMAGES
““If you don’t know what’s going into your product, it’s really hard to think about potential disruptions and get in front of them.’’ cofounder Pete Girard
4/ nomad grills: Bet big on early inventory to clear waitlists Startups like NOMAD Grills navigate a unique path during supply chain turmoil. Having an overflowing waitlist is typically a good sign for a startup because it proves there’s demand. But while customers are usually forgiving and patient when it comes to new businesses, they’re also only willing to wait for so long. So when Cam Leggett and John Veatch debuted NOMAD Grills in mid-2020 and almost immediately found themselves buried in backorders, they worried that fans were already waiting months for their high-end portable grills. As grillers themselves, the duo had been working on the concept since 2016, when they became frustrated with cheap grills that rusted out, cracked, and fell apart halfway between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The two spent the next several years creating a prototype, but encountered a lack of availability and interest from potential partners in North America and Europe. After a multiyear search, they eventually partnered with one contract manufacturer and 11 suppliers, all based within close proximity right outside Hong Kong. The resulting 28-pound, anodized, portable grill and smoker retails for $600. With 425 square inches of cooking space and a specialized grate, one might call it a holy grail for grill geeks. “There’s nobody making grill parts with the same geometry,” Leggett says. With nothing like it on the market, avid grillers were understandably eager
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for their own—especially as attitudes around outdoor entertaining shifted during the pandemic, catapulting demand to unprecedented levels. “Everywhere we looked there were supply chain issues,” Leggett says. “We strategized, did some soul searching, looked at where our goals were for the business, and decided that we would satisfy demand as quickly as it was rising. We made a big bet.” Five months after launching, the entrepreneurs placed their second and largest order with their factory in China. While they wouldn’t share exact numbers, they said the order was 10 times the inventory they had at launch, a portion of which they expedited to their base in Dallas to clear backorders. Betting big is part of any startup, but their wager, with the help of investors, was above and beyond. Most startups work with lower volumes at first to mitigate loss and gradually expand over years. However, the current supply chain hang-ups mean that regularly paced orders are more vulnerable to delays. Veatch and Leggett preferred to head off that possibility from the get-go. In their case, taking the short-term margin hit guaranteed longterm prosperity for the brand—even though it surprised their investors, banker, manufacturer, and sourcing partners. “We’re now sitting here as one of the fortunate few flush with inventory,” Veatch says, noting the relief right before the holidays. It also cleared hundreds from the waitlist. Like any smart business, as NOMAD Grills grows its presence in the market, it’s diversifying its supply chain and ramping up production to meet sales forecasts for 2022. Gambling, after all, is rarely advisable long term. But for this fledgling strategy? Jackpot.
PHOTO BY (LEFT) KMATTA/MOMENT VIA GETTY IMAGES; ABSTRACT AERIAL ART/DIGITALVISION VIA GETTY IMAGES
Erem: Tracked weak links with specialized technology
PHOTOS BY TK
PHOTO BY (LEFT) KMATTA/MOMENT VIA GETTY IMAGES; ABSTRACT AERIAL ART/DIGITALVISION VIA GETTY IMAGES
5/ Noah Swartz wouldn’t settle for nylon thread. The founder of new desert boot brand Erem knew that with patience—and what ended up being a three-month delay in launching—he could teach a factory to use more sustainable linen thread on its outsoles. It was just one part of his pledge to make the startup as biocircular as possible by vetting every ingredient in its supply chain. In a time of extreme logistical challenges, it isn’t easy to find partners who are as committed to sustainability as Swartz is. So, he turned to Toxnot, a software company that identifies chemicals and materials of concern, to make Erem’s supply chain as transparent as possible. The technology works like a fact-checking intermediary: A company uploads a list of parts to Toxnot, and the system generates a questionnaire for suppliers to answer about parts’ chemicals. Next, Toxnot compares the chemicals to regulatory entities like the California Proposition 65 list to help both sides better understand what’s going into a shoe or jacket. Then, Toxnot culls that data into a report to automate the process for the next time a part is in question. An extension of the platform called Toxnot Exchange serves as a database of sorts that will allow suppliers to safely grant “materials passports” to partners requesting their data. “We’ve ruffled a few feathers by insisting we receive a complete ingredient list,” Swartz says. “But it’s a very important practice because there have been a few times where the top ingredients make the product seem supergreen and wonderful, but in reality, there is actually a pretty nasty ingredient that is buried and hiding in there.” That knowledge, in theory, can help spark the search for a supply chain substitution—like linen thread. Working with Toxnot also helped him approach manufacturers who were equally willing to invest time and energy into sustainable innovation and materials. Those partners were therefore more likely to prioritize Erem as a long-term relationship—not one that the factory would want to cut loose when times get challenging. Solidifying these partnerships for the long haul helps builds a line of defense against supply chain hiccups. The upshot is that Erem’s hiking boots are made with natural, fully biodegradable components, and Swartz knows exactly what goes into them. As much as he’s transparent with customers about those materials, he’s also open with other startups. If a brand asks, he’ll provide names of suppliers with sustainable options because the industry doesn’t make that knowledge easy to come by. “We’re all trying to pursue the same [sustainability] goals,” Swartz says. “How do we build a coalition of suppliers and brands all chasing this better supply chain reality?” Both Swartz and Toxnot cofounder Pete Girard imagine a cleaner, stronger manufacturing world that eliminates people’s exposure to hazardous materials at all stages, from the creation of the product in factories to its existence in homes to the end of its life in landfills. “The waste and use trajectory of products is set when we design them,” Girard says. “We must reorient our supply chains around more sustainable, more circular models.” And transparency, he says, is a crucial means of strengthening those chains: “If you don’t know what’s going into your product, it’s really hard to think about potential disruptions and get in front of them.” WINTER 2022
INFLUENCERS IN THE WILD
“It’s called live streaming, Boris.” Illustration by Shane McFalls
104 O U T S I D E B U S I N E S S J O U R N A L
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