Blackout Tuesday and Outdoor Brands – 1 Year Later

This past week, I was working with a friend picking out a wider ski to sit alongside her Volkl Yumis, and it came down to 2 options that were essentially the same ski for the same customer persona. One was a touch better in crud, the other had better edgehold and groomer performance. I was trying to find something to serve as a tie breaker, and decided it was the perfect opportunity to dig into corporate values.

It wasn’t much of a tie breaker – one was a brand that didn’t have anything to say about a global pandemic and worldwide social justice conversation. The other had a simple black square post with a vow to do better followed by a yearlong feed of White faces and opportunities for unpaid internships.

I know it’s a total White girl move to be surprised and disappointed. Marginalized communities warned us this would happen. But it seemed like the ski industry was addressing a lot of these issues differently for the first time. Sure, there’s the annual article in a ski publication about how the US is diversifying and how the market will need to appeal to more than just White people to succeed in North America. But for once, brands, businesses, and taste makers in the industry were just now signaling that they were engaged. And the bar for progress is so low. It costs no money to include underrepresented skiers in your focus groups for product names. It costs no money to say “sorry skiing has appropriated from other cultures in the most offensive way, and we’ve got processes in place to make sure we never put a geisha on a pair of Chopsticks ever again.”

So I decided to check in and see which brands were responsive and who’s holding true to their promises. I want to clarify that I’m not looking to make any judgments whether any brands are doing better than others or to say if any of them are doing enough. Other than my gender, I belong to largely privileged communities so it’s not my space. Further, every brand is a different size, has different resources, started at a different place before June 2020, and had their own level of risk to balance during the pandemic and slow consumer spending. Some brands were in Europe, which had protests on a smaller scale, but also tend to fall behind us when it comes to consumer spending trends and haven’t experienced the quite the same pressure for corporate social responsibility and corporate social justice that’s here in full force in the US. I make a few comments about changes that I’m hoping to see, and I’m speaking for myself as a consumer and a person with an apparel background who has seen the how size inclusivity impacts racial, age, gender, and disability status inclusion. But the asks from underrepresented communities themselves is more important. This list is also lacking non-profits. Given my background in ecommerce, I know where to look to find where brands share this information, and non-profit communication works a little differently. But there were lots of reader requests for non-profits and it’s definitely on the to-do list.

And lastly, if you happen to be from a brand and feel like you haven’t done enough over the past year to make the outdoor industry and ski community a more welcoming place, I urge you to get in touch with Edge Outdoors, run by Black PSIA instructor Annette Diggs. She’s running a scholarship program for BIPOC women and doing it in a way that’s so much more impactful than a one-time on-snow experience. Recipients get multiple lessons, 2 group affinity rides to find friends and mentors for post-program riding, and a 50% off Epic pass for the following season. But there are still other barriers to participation and Annette could absolutely do more with your partnership.

Armada: Donated $20k to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, then another $10k in conjunction with their athletes. No signs of anything since.

Atomic: A black square and a caption that they must do more. In an unsurprising turn of events, they did not do more.

Arcteryx: Set up a 5 year plan including ramping up DEI education for employees. Setting metrics and accountability for executives, based on GDIB and with 5 year goal metrics. They’ve worked to increase the number of BIPOC athletes and ambassadors they support (although unlike a lot of other brands, they weren’t starting from zero last summer). They’ve sponsored BIPOC events / scholarships since before 2020, continue to speak when discrimination makes the national news (like the rise in Asian hate crimes and the mass graves at residential schools for Indigenous children). Their feed has diverse bodies – and not just as hired models showcasing the gear or wearing it casually, and it includes adaptive athletes too. Really hoping they can layer body diversity on to that (they’ve confirmed size extensions in this comment section), as well as more age diversity. And now that they’re a year out from their initial statement, it’d be super rad for them to share more about their goals and progress so far.

Black Crows: Another black square.

Black Diamond: Pledged to donate $250k. A chairman of their parent corporation sold off another part of his portfolio that made tear gas after facing intense public pressure. On 6/25, they released a statement saying they’ve established a JEDI committee, reviewed hiring practices, and are rolling out JEDI education to all employees. Signed the Outdoor CEO Pledge, starting a paid internship program with HBCUs Outside, launched an AMGA SPI scholarship for 20 participants that includes a gear and travel stipend and mentorship to ensure recipients can pass course requirements. They’re funding several grassroots movements (Memphis Rox Climbing Gym, HBCUs Outside, Black Outside Inc., and Climbing for Change). They’ve made updates since their initial pledge in June, showing that it’s not something they forgot about once social discourse switched back to COVID cases, but it doesn’t always show since their social feed remains fairly white.

Blizzard – Tecnica: One time, they gave a W2W scholarship to a Black woman.

Burton: Donated $100k to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. In September, they issued a statement. Some of it’s a little cringey, like emphasizing that it’s time for them as a brand to “grow up,” playing into the concept that racism is conflated with youth & innocence, and something people grow out of. That narrative protects a lot of young people when they’re called out for racism, and it doesn’t acknowledge the fact that racism was invented by smart, powerful, influential adults. You don’t accidentally steal people, carry them across an ocean, and sell them because you’re young and naïve. Semantics aside, here’s what’s going down. They’re working with 3rd party JEDI consultants to review who they’re hiring, how they’re paying them, and how they’re investing in employee development to assess fairness and equality from a workplace perspective. They’re investing more in the Chill Foundation, a non-profit started by the Burton family in 1995 that works with social services, mental health agencies, foster care programs, schools, and juvenile justice programs to get at-risk youth involved with the snowboard, skateboard, paddleboard, and surf communities at no cost to them. The program will expand to Europe, and they’re adding additional support past the 6 week program. They’re increasing representation in their marketing materials, and they’ve also pledged to look at their product line through a JEDI lens. As an apparel person, I really like this since the lack of plus sizes, petite sizes, and brands offering a curvier/more exaggerated hourglass fit shape disproportionately impacts whether women of color are able to dress for the outdoors. They also took ownership and apologized for instances where they or their former subsidiaries where called out for racism. This all layers on top of social justice-minded initiatives like ensuring their goods are made with legal and ethical labor, that their employment practices were fair across gender lines, and adjusting their supply chains to reduce the carbon footprint of their gear. Like Arcteryx, I’d love to hear an update since it’s been a full year.

Coalition Snow: It’s a lot better than it sounds, but nothing has changed. They’re a small brand that is founded entirely on dissatisfaction with the status quo in the ski industry and telling the stories of people who are rarely acknowledged by the snowsports community. They’re a tiny team, and the owner was very forthcoming about the uncertainty of whether the brand would survive the pandemic, so it feels unfair to expect a 6 figure donation to the NAACP or the hiring of JEDI consultants, but they remain the most vocal about inequality both within and outside the snowsports industry.

Columbia – Mountain Hardwear – Prana: One of the earlier brands to make a statement. They made a donation to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Marshall Project, and they double matched employee donations to any nonprofit that addresses racism. Columbia was an interesting brand to look at, since most make it easy to pinpoint when they started thinking about inclusivity. There are rows of diverse faces, 1 or 2 minimalist statements made in black and white, and then a sea of White, thin, young, conventionally attractive bodies. Columbia was different. Models got more diverse starting in 2017. They spoke out on political issues starting in 2019, first condemning the government shutdown that limited public lands access in January, and then in defense of AOC and “the squad” after Trump told them to “go back home.” They paid retail employees when stores shut down, have a pre-2020 partnership with GirlTrek and sponsored their mobilization efforts for Black women voters. In recent months, they’ve sponsored Ebony Anglers, spoken out against Asian hate crimes, and funded gear scholarships for The Venture Out Project as part of Pride Month. I shouldn’t be surprised since they’re a large company with the resources to keep up with customer expectations, but I also wasn’t expecting this from the brand that also sponsors Nascar and country music stars.

Dakine: A really vague statement about ohana and having conversations in the community. Because if we’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that the way to fix racism and inequality in your organization and industry is to totally avoid talking about it. They do the occasional pride and vote posts, and give an undisclosed amount of money to a few nonprofits, but they largely have to do with cancer or the environment.

Dalbello – Marker – Volkl: Nothing.

Deuter – Ortovox: Pledged to be more inclusive with their athlete, ambassador, and product imagery models. They weren’t particularly terrible about being whitewashed before 2020, but have noticeably ramped up efforts.

DPS: Nothing. And they don’t even have the excuse of being headquartered overseas.

Dynafit: Nothing.

Elan: Nothing.

Evo: Evo made a promise to make diversity a more important component of their hiring practices and marketing features. They also gave an undisclosed amount of money to The Minnesota Freedom Fund, Black Visions Collective, and Social Justice Fund NW. They had existing partnerships with The Service Board, Brown Girls Surf, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. Their marketing definitely changed right after the protests started. Their September private label drop was shot exclusively on POC models and the marketing read “MADE TO BE INCLUSIVE.” They’ve hosted more web events on JEDI topics, supplied gear for an Outdoor Afro and Level One project to get Black Outdoor Afro participants out on the slopes, and funded a film project about BIWOC’s reclamation of the outdoors. Does a lot of this give off major try-hard vibes? Probably. But they’ve also started making changes that are less for clout, like adding people’s pronouns and moderating their comment section on their most recent pride post. The most annoying thing though, is how heavily they market the “invitation” part of their core values, without showing up at all for extended sizes. They already have relationships with plus-inclusive brands, and with most of their sales online / a small store footprint, they could easily run a test online and/or in store with an extremely small investment. It’s a million times easier than getting into extended sizing as a brand, and all their main competitors have started serving this customer for while now. And I’ll repeat it again, you can’t get diversity across age, race, socioeconomic status, and disability status without carrying diverse sizes.

Faction: One of the few European brands that made any statement last summer. They donated an undisclosed amount to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union. They also brought Vasu Sojitra onto their athlete team after he was an ambassador for DPS. He’s an adaptive athlete POC known as “your friendly neighborhood disrupter.” A brand would need to be deeply committed to combatting the status quo for that partnership to work out well and reflect well on the brand, so I’m intrigued whether there will be more to come from Faction.

Fischer: Another black square.

Flylow: Made a vague statement about putting love over hate, donated an undisclosed amount to the ACLU, and promised to take a few days to simply listen. They turned off comments, so no idea what they were listening to. Their brand remains exclusively White.

Full Tilt – K2 – Line:  More black squares. It doesn’t seem like they’ve stepped up any DEI initiatives, but they had already been a sponsor for the SheJumps Snowpack Scholarship, which gives full or partial tuition scholarships for AIARE 1 classes and prioritizes women of color. The monetary donation is likely fairly small, since there are 30 spots, roughly $400 a piece, for a total cost of $12,000. They’re splitting that with Fremont Brewing, NWAC, and private donations through SheJumps, so I’d be curious how much they’re actually spending on the program. Other brands donated $20k-200k in June, so it feels a little small coming from a major brand family. They’ve also done a special edition Mindbender ski with a Black artist.

G3: Nothing.

Gregory: Expanded an existing partnership with Big City Mountaineers. Their feed has also gotten more diverse since last summer. But most importantly, they made the first set of plus size backpacks in conjunction with the folks at Unlikely Hikers. It’s hard for a brand to single-handedly shift an entire industry, with a little gear R&D, they just made their brand and community accessible and comfortable for a huge cohort of people.

Icelantic: Black square post and pro-voting campaign.

La Sportiva: Made a statement in early June and has made a point to give their Black athletes a platform and amplify their voices, like Favia Dubyk, Adeline Wright, and Nate Pierce.

Lib Tech: Posted a black square. Feed is primarily White outside of some AAPI representation in surf content.

Liberty: Another black square post. They made a point to emphasize that they support *peaceful* protest (because a bunch of White ski bros definitely knows best when it comes to resistance movements). They said they were committed to listening, learning, and having a role in changing the industry, yet somehow still found it appropriate to hire a bunch of unpaid interns this summer.

Mammut: Made a statement in June. Brought on JEDI consultant Amil Reddy to create social media content and drive conversations about inclusivity on their social pages. Their feed got more diverse, and they had a short stint of adding pronouns and a longer one adding land acknowledgement, but both eventually petered out. They gave POC ambassadors a platform to talk about how race impacted their experiences in the outdoors and also did a series for Mental Health Awareness Month in May, which is definitely a departure from industry norms.

Marmot: Made a pledge in June to work with DEI consultants to evaluate and address where they were falling short as a business and brand. They gave an undisclosed cash donation to the NAACP and promised to engage more with outdoor affinity groups. Their feed is pretty diverse since they predominately feature content from their large, diverse ambassador cohort. They’ve got a few statements on their webpage as well, confirming their commitment to fair labor and supplier audits (including no prison labor), their employee match program, and donations in response to natural disasters.

Nordica: Nothing

ON3P: Nothing

Osprey: Gave money to the NAACP and Color of Change. They also pledged to continue relationships with BIPOC-focused outdoor groups, Outdoor Afro, Navajo Yes, and Latino Outdoors. They have a DEI committee with a three-year roadmap in place that includes employee and manager training, department reviews, updated hiring practices, policy and procedure analysis, and employee feedback surveys. Outside of BIPOC inclusion, they also have partnerships with the Venture Out Project and Veterans Expeditions.

Outdoor Research: OR made a statement and went on strike alongside the silent march and general strike on June 12. They diversified their models in their marketing and on their ambassador team (although many aren’t listed on their website). They’ve started sourcing patterns from Roots Studio, an organization that combats cultural appropriation by helping indigenous artists digitize their art and patterns and license them to apparel companies. They’re generating demand for traditional arts and allowing brands to create their desired aesthetic in a way that gets consent and compensation to the communities who came up with the original designs. They also announced extended sizing to launch in fall 2021.   

Patagonia: Donated $100k to the NAACP and issued a statement pledging to become an anti-racist company. They donated a million dollars to combat restrictive voting legislation in Georgia. They also pledged to come out with DEI goals and progress plans, but their site makes finding any update on their goals and progress pretty difficult to find and follow up on.

Petzl: Nothing.

REI: Made a contribution to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the National Urban League, and highlighted existing partnerships with Black Girls Do Bike, Black Girls RUN!, GirlTrek, Inclusive Woods & Us, Outdoor Afro, Refuge Outdoor Festival, Soul Trak Outdoors, and Outdoor Journal Tour. In July, they pledged to work with an external DEI agency, create a compensated advisory council, advance efforts to hire, train, and retain diverse talent, provide DEI education for employees, and audit their hiring and development practices and processes. They made a commitment to efforts to rename racist, misogynistic, and homophobic climbing route names. The last initiative, though, struck a cord. Melissa Utomo approached REI (as owners of Mountain Project) about offensive route names in January 2020, and Mountain Project implemented her idea without acknowledgement or compensation. In Dec. 2020, they made updates sharing their hired consultancy groups, established new marketing asset standards to ensure diversity across race, age, gender identity, body size, and disability status. They also implemented strategies to prevent culturally appropriated products from being carried from their vendor brands. They’re bringing in more shades of “nude” for skin tone colored items. They are overdue for reporting a breakdown of employment data by race and gender that was promised for Spring 2021, and have not made any comment or gesture to Melissa Utomo while working with Mountain Project.

Rossignol: Nothing.

Salomon: Posted a statement and diversified their ambassador team.

Scarpa: Made DEI education a standing part of employee training and development, and this year they expanded it to cover sales reps and their athlete team. They have created partnerships with outdoor affinity groups, like Brown Girls Climb, Colorado Outward Bound School Diversity Scholarship Fund, Environmental Learning for Kids and Camber Outdoors. They have also created an employee match program for JEDI-related causes. In addition, the CEO (and one of the rare POC leaders in the outdoor industry) Kim Miller came up with their Athlete Mentorship Initiative, where their athletes are paired with up-and-coming athletes from marginalized communities and there to be a resource as they tackle climbing and business objectives alike. All mentor athletes go through DEI training and are expected to be available and in touch with mentees – ideally connecting every other week. Scarpa also provides 1 pair of shoes or boots to every mentee and gives them access to their pro discounts.

Smartwool: They issues $25k donations to Outdoor Afro and Environmental Learning for Kids. They also set 5 and 10 year goals with a roadmap. Within 5 years, they plan to have 25% BIPOC representation both in total employees and within their leadership team. They’ve added inclusivity training for their management team. Recruiters are forming connections with diverse talent sources. They’re collaborating with advocacy partners to share job and internship information with BIPOC youth. They have a scholarship fund for HBCU students. They aim to have 50% BIPOC representation in their marketing and social media images, and same for their ambassador program. They’re also selecting ambassadors for more LGBTQ+, women, disabled, and plus size representation. And they’re continuing to invest in advocacy and affinity groups so that more people feel safe and comfortable exploring the outdoors.

Smith: Made a post with a commitment to change, but no additional concrete information.

Strafe: Nothing.

Stio: They formed a DEI community and benchmarked the company with current and goal metrics to improve. They donated $800k retail value to Good360 (assuming they have the typical apparel markups of 60-80%, this would be $160-320k of total value). They also gave $10k and 250 ski jackets to Coombs Outdoor, which provides outdoor recreation opportunities to youth without access in their home community of Jackson Hole. They made a commitment to 50/50 BIPOC representation in their studio photography (which, note, is not their editorial/on-location shots, nor their social feed), and added 3 ambassadors to their team, bringing BIPOC representation to 9%. They have pledged to onboard 4-6 more ambassadors to bring the total to 20%.

The North Face: Donated $50k to the ACLU, and $25 to long term partners Outdoor Afro and PGM ONE. In October, they launched the Explore Fund Council. After 10 years of running their Explore Fund that gives money to community organizations, they’ve created a council of 10 BIPOC leaders that will share what “exploration” means from BIPOC perspectives, and lead selection of organizations led by and serving people of color. Overall, the Explore Fund will also focus entirely on addressing barriers to safe and accessible exploration.

One thought on “Blackout Tuesday and Outdoor Brands – 1 Year Later

  1. Great research, really insightful and just shows how easy it is for things to drift either intentionally or unintentionally, accidentally or cynically. Would also be interesting to hear what the outdoor industry media has done/nor done.

    Liked by 1 person

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