3.09.2007

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There is a disturbance in the outdoor space. A fissure to some, but more likely, it’s nothing more than an inevitable ripple of the widespread and contagious greening of the industry. It’s a result of folks connecting the dots to figure out what all this means, and where all this heads.

The equation leading to this sum is something like this – manufacturing is getting greener, energy savings means greener manufacturing, less energy is even greener, less products means less energy, and no energy and no products are the greenest of all.

So, if you’re keeping score at home, green is good. But nothing’s greener than nothing.

A few years ago, I had the remarkable opportunity to meet Rev. Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping. He’s an awesome guy, but I don’t think that the outdoor industry is ready to convert to Billy’s faith, nor do I think it should.

To flinch now would be to surrender all the progress that we’ve made. Sure it’s tempting to think of the guilt-free bliss of going back to being baristas in Jackson Hole and burrito makers in Hood River, and we’ve all thought about it. Some of us more than others.

But take a look around. The outdoor lifestyle is not the only option out there. Far from it. There are single corporations that do more business than the entire Outdoor Retailer show combined, and man would they love it if we all starting waffling and self-doubting and hand-wringing and worrying about the fact that we’re doing too well, and selling too much product, and encouraging people to acquire, acquire, acquire. They’d love to co-opt our genuine spirit as their own, and take over a solid foundation that’s been built nice and square.

Well. Here’s the thing. We are doing well as a whole. And we should be proud of it. Not because it’s unrepentant consumerism, but because we’re creating products with an engaged conscience. We actually think about our jobs, our factories, about the amount of fuel it takes to get our products to market, and whether or not our products are built to last as long as possible.

It’s convenient to imagine that our products are so totally unique and different that people are buying them in addition to their other stuff. But, for the most part, that’s not the case. People don't just buy products, they buy perspective. And that is a real opportunity for the outdoor world.

There’s so much crap out there right now. Take a spin through the Brand X store of your choice and you’ll find chemically treated jackets that look great on the rack and after two washings have disintegrated and shrunk and are ready to be thrown out. Tents and sleeping bags that cost less than a case of beer are designed to be set up once then thrown in the nearest Dumpster. Shoes that are allegedly built for dirt will rupture irreparably after a single skip to my lou. Bikes that are so bad they'll make you hate biking forever. It goes on and on ... and the companies that own them could really, truly give a shit what we say or think about it. There’s no accountability. There’s no warranty. There’s no guarantee. There’s just a sale rack.

And then, there’s the outdoor world, a place where CEOs and company founders go by their first name and actually think about whether product is necessary, about whether or not the product is made well enough, and … increasingly … about whether or not the methods for manufacturing are green enough.

Imagine the consequence of giving up now. The big would get bigger. The bigger would become the biggest of all, and we’d all be working back at the bagel shop just for the health benefits.

Now, imagine the consequence of unmitigated, unrepentant success. Imagine if the performance standards for gear in the outdoor world became the expected standard for products in the rest of the world. Imagine if social and environmental consciousness became the norm. Imagine if a healthy perspective actually spread.

That wouldn’t be a bad thing. That would be a fantastic thing.

If you are squeamish about your success, if you wonder if the outdoor industry is encouraging rampant consumerism, then you are exactly the person that the outdoor industry needs, because for every company that makes up the soulful, spirited and truly unique outdoor industry, there are a hundred false brands waiting and eager to take their place. They’ll make the stuff cheaper, in brighter colors, and ready made with a special sale price. It’ll be crap, of course, made in crappy factories, and meant to be chucked out within 48 hours of purchase or one good use, whichever comes first.

That’s not the future I want to see. And I don’t think it’s the future you want to see either.

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