11.07.2008

True colors

I didn't expect the world to change overnight, and I don't think other people did either. But there's been a crescendo of soberness to the last couple days, like waking up in the morning and slowly, eventually, finally realizing that it's only 4:45 a.m.

The frantic pace of the last year has taken us all for a ride. The urgency of peak oil, the inconvenient argument and an agent for change easily dominated the frontal lobes. And while it did, we welcomed the chance to push back the important: an uncomfortable, unenjoyable, unenviable business reality.

For the outdoor industry, the other shoe has not dropped yet. Yes, there have been layoffs. Yes, budget meetings are a drag (aren't they always?). And yes, people are actually happy, for once, to have a good chunk of their liveliehood tied to winter weather.

But the roof has not caved in, the floor is still sturdy, the metaphors are still functional ... and, aside from a black October, some outdoor brands and retailers are actually having a pretty sweet fall.

Some say it's because outdoor businesses generally fly so low to the ground that it's not very far to fall. Others argue that it's because outdoor leisure-time recreation is generally recession-proof. Personally, I'm happy to delude myself either way.

So it's possible that the sky won't break into little chunks of blue and white Schoeller soft shell and fall on our heads ... which would obviously be great ... but even if it doesn't, things will soon be very different.

The momentum of progress and publicity created by small, eco-conscious brands in the outdoor world (and beyond) is slowing. Press releases on magic bamboo pixie dust and organic knotweed construction have been replaced by "hey, we're still here" business updates. Media curiousity on the topic is drying up as well, as so-called innovations are seeming an awful lot like last year's news. And fueling it all, consumers are passing up green opportunities for a chance to save a little green.

The echo of this moment will have a huge impact on what gets built in the next few seasons. Green sales initiatives were based on a "let the consumer decide" strategy, meaning if it doesn't get bought, it dies on the vine. And when Sierra Trading Post starts overflowing with organic cotton mukluks, we'll know that polyester is coming back.

From a company perspective, it was already a hugely expensive proposition to do something as seemingly direct as switching to green materials. Some likened it to betting the farm, so to speak, on a better world. And with the pressure of battered consumer confidence ... well, you can do the math.

For those of us in the outdoor industry and even those who aren't, it's time to show our true colors.

If we really are as green as we'd like others to believe, now's the time to prove it.

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