Outdoors For All
Quick — which group of people spends more than most outdoor shoppers on gear?
Nope, it’s not the Anker family or the Mancusos or the Reese-Hamiltons. It’s Latinos. They dish out $592 per person, per year on outdoor apparel, footwear, electronics and gear, such as parkas, boots, backpacks and GPS devices, compared with the $465 the average outdoor consumer spends, according to OIA ConsumerVue research. “They are spending an average of 22 hours per week outside, which reflects the amount of time spent by many core outdoor enthusiasts,” says Lorna Caputo, OIA’s market insights manager. “[Latinos] are an important demographic to the recreation economy.”
And yet they’re vastly misunderstood by most people in the outdoor industry, according to a panel of outdoor change-agents who are highlighting the power and importance of having diverse voices at the table when advocating for recreation policy. A group of long-overlooked outdoorists—including Rue Mapp, founder of the award-winning Outdoor Afro blog and recently appointed commissioner to the California Department of Parks and Recreation and Mark Magaña, founding president and CEO of Green Latinos—are taking leadership roles in the fight to preserve America’s wild places and to ensure access to and for all Americans.
“There’s a history of investing in a certain type of recreation user—primarily older, white men,” says Camilla Simon, the program director at Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and Outdoors (HECHO). “But Latinos have been using the lands for generations. If conservation groups want to increase diversity, it’s not just about checking off a box. It’s about having a real change and a real shift, so that we’re authentically diversifying.”
In 2015, efforts to make minorities a priority in outdoor recreation and environmental protection are as diverse as the populations they represent. Efforts range from replacing ubiquitous blue-eyed, blonde models with more diverse ones in product catalogs to redefining what it means to be an outdoorist and recognizing that many people enjoy the outdoors in many different ways—as a connection to their heritage, as a nod to the future, for solace, for adventure, etc.
“I go to Outdoor Retailer every season and can count a handful of people—out of thousands who go to the show—who look like me,” says Mapp. “We need to think more expansively about what outdoor values are.” She adds that there are countless “outdoor” activities and enthusiasts that our industry has traditionally overlooked or underestimated.
An Oakland Raider fan, Mapp sees all sorts of opportunities for the outdoor industry at tailgate gatherings, for example—hey, the sun shines and the rain falls everywhere. Sporting fans need good all-weather gear as much as expedition types, she notes. Spectating is an outdoor activity, after all.
Mapp and José González (see below and right) will be speaking specifically about the multicultural outdoor enthusiast at this year’s Rendezvous experience in Seattle as part of the Consumer Track (Wednesday, October 7, 10:00 a.m. breakout session). Learn more here.
Magaña, meanwhile, points to urban parks and urban camping as long-overlooked segments of the outdoor industry by both retailers and consumers. “Most people would be shocked to learn how near they are to an outdoor facility of some sort,” he says, hoping to reverse the mentality of ‘If I can’t get to Yosemite, I’m not camping.’
“There’s a history of investing in a certain type of recreation user—primarily older, white men. But Latinos have been using the lands for generations. If conservation groups want to increase diversity, it’s not just about checking off a box. It’s about having a real change and a real shift, so that we’re authentically diversifying.”— Camilla Simon, the program director at Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and Outdoors (HECHO). “
It starts with investing in communities, says Simon. “Talk to people about what their needs and wants and worries are, not just whether the color schemes are right,” she says. “We need to start at the grassroots level and speak about attitudes, engagement and commitment.”
And while the legislature is slowly but surely tackling issues such as more-inclusive policies for carbon-emission standards, land conservation and natural resource protection, our environmental outdoor evangelists give kudos to a few outdoor retailers that are putting access issues on the fast track. “REI has really been a standout when it comes to thinking about who is getting outdoors and also being responsive in how they prioritize their giving and their products,” says Mapp.”
Dollars and cents? Sure. But more meaningful and lasting is the common sense of making adventure accessible to all, giving every individual the sense that the outside comes from the inside. “We’re working on framing the narrative of this work,” says José González, the founder and director of Latino Outdoors, who points to two of the organization’s recent success stories. One is Ronald Quintero, whose June 15, 2015, blog post outlined his entry into mountaineering at Mount Shasta. The other is Victoria Serna, a Latino Outdoors ambassador from Texas whose outdoor high came not at trail’s end, but at the end of her driveway. “Something amazing came in the mail the other day,” she wrote in a letter to González. It was a postcard from REI notifying Serna about her membership benefits, but that’s not what excited her. “The girls in the photo were brown,” she exclaimed in her letter. “They looked like me. It was amazing. I was yelling across the house to Russell: ‘REI listened! They really listened! They’re brown!’”