Inclusivity in the Outdoors

Photo credit: REI

I got an unusual newsletter this week that caught my eye. Perhaps you received it, too. It was from REI with the subject line “Body Shape Shouldn’t Determine Adventure Size” and full of photos of normal-sized women (what? those exist?) promoting the Co-op’s apparel line made for “active bodies” of “all shapes and sizes.” Well, shit. How about that?

REI’s made an effort lately to be more inclusive. I say that simply as a consumer who’s taken notice. But since I wanted to write about the topic, I, like any dutiful reporter would, took to the Internet to see if my hypothesis rang true or if I was merely tricked by modern day marketing magic.

Lots of brands—especially beyond the outdoors community—have made a point to be more inclusive in recent years. And it goes beyond women and beyond women of certain body types, of course. The great outdoors (slash world) is full of people of all ages, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations and any other way you can define or categorize people. As the fight for equality increasingly becomes part of the current political and social conversation, brands’ marketing strategies have changed before our eyes. And more than that, the products they make and services they offer are changing. I don’t think it’s a trick. I think it’s awesome.

It is so important that organizations large and small stand up and make their support known (ex: REI). They have a voice and massive influence and can help foster a real shift. It’s even better when they’re able to get involved and want to help make a bigger impact. In my research, here’s what I learned about REI’s contribution:

In April 2017, REI launched the Force of Nature campaign focusing on gender equality in the outdoors hoping to “level the playing field.” They dubbed 2017 “The Year of the Woman” and started paying attention to more females in the industry (athletes, photographers, etc.) and hosting several women-only events. I remember Outside magazine doing a decidedly female focused issue around this same time. Trusty Google confirmed – it was May 2017, in partnership with REI, timed with that magazine’s 40th anniversary. Another part of REI’s promise was to close the gear gap, which it seems they’re making an effort to fulfill, especially with this line of plus size clothing options.

With its new Force of Nature Fund, REI started supporting organizations that create opportunities for women in the outdoors. One nonprofit they’ve supported through this investment is Latino Outdoors, which works with Latinx communities specifically. Because we all know females aren’t the only minority in the outdoors.

It seems REI has also been at the forefront of supporting the LGBTQI community. They’ve created Pride Month campaigns and last year, alongside other top companies like The North Face, Patagonia, the Sierra Club, the National Park Service and more, sponsored the first ever LGBTQ Outdoor Summit.

I’m grateful there are brands like REI and countless others that aren’t afraid to get involved and dedicate resources to changing perceptions and increasing possibilities for people in the world — indoors and out.

*Disclaimer: I am not sponsored by REI in any way, shape or form, nor have I ever even had the pleasure of speaking to their marketing or PR department  (despite a few efforts to connect). I just happen to like the brand, spending far too much time and money there (member since 2012!), and what can I say, I was really moved by that newsletter. 

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