Do Something: An Open Letter to Outdoor Brands

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Via ferrata in Telluride, CO by Marisa Jarae, the diversity dilemma in outdoor media

Photo by Marisa Jarae.

Original piece: “Why Don’t They Look Like Me? The Diversity Dilemma in Outdoor Media”

Dear Outdoor Brands,

Are you offended? Are you angry? Do you think you were unfairly called out or linked to? I’m glad I struck a note. You should do something about it, if you think I’m in the wrong. But by do something about it, I don’t mean aggressively emailing me to take my links down because it’s driving negative traffic to your site.

Instead of telling me that you’re a diverse, minority-owned company, and we’re fighting the same fight, and that I’m wrong, you should prove me wrong. I posted an opinion piece. In my opinion, what you’re presenting doesn’t seem that diverse. Is it my place to tell people whether or not something is diverse? Of course not, I am not the diversity police. I linked to you because I wanted people to be able to form their own opinion. So prove me wrong. Prove the traffic wrong. Give those link clickers a reason to say “Hey Company, what is wrong with this blogger? She’s clearly wrong.” Give me a reason to say I’m wrong.

Instead of sending me aggressive emails and commenting on my Facebook posts, you should do something. And by do something, I don’t mean more emails or comments. Look at where you are in this space. Look at the number of followers, customers or users that you have. Look at the people beating down your door to work with you. Look at all the people you know. That’s how many people you can reach. You’re in a position to actually drive change. You have the power to create solutions. You can write a new narrative, one that truly includes everyone. You know tons of photographers. You have a diverse array of users and customers and those championing your cause. Use them and their network. (Bonus: those inclusion points make them more likely to champion you forever.)

Instead of stomping your feet and trying to shut me down, how about working together? In my piece, I offer several solutions, like trying to diversify your ambassadors, explorers, and storytellers, or making the rules and putting a conscious effort to recognize that people come in all sorts of colors, shapes and sizes in the imagery that you put out. I even told you that I’m happy to work together, discuss more, or collaborate on driving some local impact. You dismissed me and basically told me, “That’s nice, just take our link down.” If you don’t want to work with me, that’s ok. I can, at the very least, point you in the direction of other people who are far more eloquent and poised than I.

Instead of judging my character and telling me about your disappointment, take a moment and think about your actions and how they reflect upon you and your business. You’re a company. You’re in it for the long haul. You want to stand the test of time. What are you doing focusing your efforts on a small-time blogger? I don’t do this full time. I’m not going to be around forever. My blog is a hobby. I don’t monetize. I’m not trying to go global. If I, or my words, disappeared, nobody would ever know. You have the power to create something long lasting for generations to come. But right now, you’re clearly more focused on removing the negative traffic that’s coming to your site, than affecting change. If we’re supposedly fighting the same fight that you espouse to be supporting, rather than take offense, take it as constructive criticism. If not that, use it as fire to rally around your cause and the message you are trying to convey.

Instead of taking offense, take my words as a call to action, a challenge. Rise up to it. How can you do better? How can the industry do better? Raise the bar. Be the example that others strive to be.

Backpacking Granite Lake in Emigrant Wilderness by Blair Lockhart
Photo by Blair Lockhart.

9 comments

  1. Heck ya.

    Good on calling this out for sure.

  2. You’re amazing!

  3. Having just read Sarah Kendziors incredible essays in “The View from Flyover Country,” I now have new ideas about how most the upper echelon of the outdoor industry works. It works like any other American industry. I have a background in the cycling industry, and have been a solo backpacker for the past three years, putting in well over 4000 miles on foot. I’ve always wondered why people who actually use the product the most — bootstrapped hand-to-mouth adventurers (i.e. poor dirtbags) — aren’t really represented. When they are represented, they’re generally replaced with fancy, polished models. The real customers are absolutely diverse, much more diverse than the people who OWN the companies.

    Start to think about who is hobnobbing with these owners/executives at their meetings, conferences, house parties, personal adventures, etc. etc., and you will see why certain people get the jobs representing these companies as “ambassadors” and sponsored athletes, photographers, etc. It’s because they’re privileged enough to be able to hob nob in the first place. In other words, they’re generally affluent white men.

    The rest of us are trying to make a living enough to afford this shit. The only way to really break through this inequity is to just stop buying this shit.

    MYOG! MYOG! MYOG!

  4. Come to think of it… I was just reading more of your writing about this and remember a particular incident where the PR of a huge cycling wear company came down on me like MANSPLAINING THUNDER when I suggested there gender inequities in local bike race prizes & primes. I felt like if there was a problem in Portland, Oregon, the problem must be worse in most the rest of the country. Women earned smaller prizes due to smaller turnout, and so didn’t have the same incentive to race, so… logically we’d expect continued smaller turnout along people who cared about money or surface fairness. I encouraged them, as a major race sponsor, to redistribute prizes to encourage women to race more, and they suggested that it was filthy of me to suggest that people only raced for money. Actually, well, some people *do* race for money. Other people just hear subtle and unintended messages (like disparate prizes for men and women) loud and clear. But they were right, most people didn’t care. But I cared. Ultimately, I was hugely turned off from the whole issue by being scolded like a stupid little girl. I didn’t want to make too big a wave and lose my community, so I backed down. I’m proud of you for standing your ground and calling them out for trying to intimidate you.

  5. YES!! Your original opinion piece was spot on and so is this response. I’m a mixed race asian/white woman and have REALLY started to notice the lack of representation of any sort of diversity in outdoor adventuring companies (I, like you, have started building up/upgrading my collection of outdoor gear post-graduating).

    I think the problem is bigger than advertising, though. From my experiences, there’s still a long way to go in terms of inclusion and acceptance of PoC/women in the outdoor adventuring communities in general.

    Anyway, just found your blog while looking for gear reviews and I’m glad I did!

  6. I’m bummed you had to write this; but so glad you did. Well done. Hopefully there will be even another follow up about the brands that contact you and take you suggestions!?!!

  7. Can’t believe I missed this one, but I fucking love it. All brands talk the talk, but when it comes to walking the walk, not everyone is down. It’s becoming very clear as consumer and influencer demand rises who is and who isn’t actually invested in diversity.

  8. I am totally late to this blog post but HELL YES! I’m behind on life and podcasts and just listened to your She Explores episode with Gale Straub.

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