Are Gear Prices Rising? Yes, And…

So are environmental, social, innovation, durability and sustainability standards. We think those are improvements worth paying for.

By Nikki Hodgson November 29, 2017

In a recent Adventure Journal essay titled “Since When Do You Have to Be Stylish on the Trail?,” the author opined that new outdoor gear is too expensive and often unnecessary.

Reminiscing about past adventures, he makes the point that the increased cost of outdoor gear over the years is a barrier to entry and discourages many from getting out to experience the outdoors.

He makes some important points and certainly raises topics that need to be discussed (and are being discussed) around accessibility. As someone who currently sports some sweet patches on her favorite down jacket and still backpacks in her dad’s old Pendleton wool shirt, I found myself nodding in agreement that some of what is marketed as “must-haves” are not crucial to a positive outdoor experience.

But, as a sustainability professional in the outdoor industry, I feel he missed one important point.

Inflation aside, yes, prices have gone up. But it’s not just the prices of outdoor gear that have risen. Environmental and social standards and practices around manufacturing have also improved, and the outdoor industry is at the forefront of that.

But it’s not just the prices of outdoor gear that have risen. Environmental and social standards and practices around manufacturing have also improved, and the outdoor industry is at the forefront of that.

For more than 10 years, outdoor industry companies have been working together to ask tough questions around our supply chains, identifying the best environmental and social practices in the process, and collaborating to scale these practices both inside and outside of our industry. Because companies like The North Face, Patagonia, Burton, Stanley, Klean Kanteen, REI, and MEC (to name a few among many) have been willing to sit at a table together—as collaborators first and competitors second—to ensure that our products are being made in accordance with the values we espouse, the whole pond has risen (and, yes, the prices, too).

 

Not many industries have a formal group like the OIA Sustainability Working Group dedicated to working collaboratively on sustainability topics. We’re unique, and we’ve seen some incredible innovation because of it. The outdoor industry is responsible for the earliest development of the Higg Index, now the leading industry supply chain sustainability tool (managed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and used by companies like Target and H&M).

We’ve worked with universities and NGOs to better understand environmental and health concerns around emerging issues like the use of flame retardants in tents and the increasing presence of microfibers in our oceans and waterways. We’ve worked to phase out C8 chemistries and find greener alternatives that perform as well (because performance in outdoor gear is crucial. If your rain jacket doesn’t work, that’s a problem).

We evaluate the carbon emissions of transportation and manufacturing and are actively working to mitigate our carbon footprints. There are outdoor industry companies looking at setting a carbon price and those committed to science-based targets to support international climate agreement goals.

We’ve worked with organizations like Textile Exchange and NSF to develop and scale standards around sustainable agriculture and animal welfare. For example, the outdoor industry uses less than 1 percent of the total global down supply and yet it is responsible for developing the two primary ethical down standards.

We’ve argued for the inclusion of durability as a key factor when assessing the environmental impact of products and materials. We’ve worked with companies like The Renewal Workshop and Rainy Pass Repair, developed programs like The Worn Wear Tour and the REI Garage Sale (both now online and expanding) to encourage repair, reuse and repurpose.

Outdoor industry companies like Patagonia, REI and MEC may have higher price points, but they also have high environmental and social standards for their vendors and products. Is it fair to compare products that had little to no environmental and social standards in place to products and designs that are now beginning to incorporate the environmental cost associated with manufacturing? Those higher prices also account for fair treatment of workers, environmental responsibility, durability, textile innovation, warranty and product repair services.

My days are spent on the phone and in meetings with devoted supply chain and sustainability professionals from outdoor industry companies working tirelessly to identify and scale the best environmental and social responsibility practices in our shared supply chains. Do we have it all figured out? No. But are we actively working on it? Yes. As such, I struggle when consumers express frustration about the price point, but in the same breath expect the best environmental and social responsibility practices.

My days are spent on the phone and in meetings with devoted supply chain and sustainability professionals from outdoor industry companies working tirelessly to identify and scale the best environmental and social responsibility practices in our shared supply chains. Do we have it all figured out? No. But are we actively working on it? Yes.

I’ve spent the past 15 years in the outdoor industry and, in my experience, our margins—both as manufacturers and retailers—are not especially robust. We don’t have any intention of padding our lightweight tents at the expense of those with shallower pockets than our own, on either side of the supply chain. And maybe that’s the point missed in this piece. There are people at both ends of the supply chain to consider and, too often, only the end user is considered. That’s not good enough for us.

 There are people at both ends of the supply chain to consider and, too often, only the end user is considered. That’s not good enough for us.

This piece raises some important points about accessibility, and we need to find ways to address them but not at the expense of improving our environmental and social standards and raising our sustainability game. You don’t have to be stylish on the trail, but you do need to be responsible. You need to ensure that the gear you are using in our beloved outdoor spaces is not coming at the expense of them nor at the expense of people involved in sourcing and manufacturing that gear.

You don’t have to be stylish on the trail, but you do need to be responsible. You need to ensure that the gear you are using in our beloved outdoor spaces is not coming at the expense of them nor at the expense of people involved in sourcing and manufacturing that gear.