“Each of us has a story—unique in its particulars but ubiquitous in its theme—about how we fell in love with the outdoors. The first time you went camping, your first job at a local outdoor retail shop, the piece of gear that saved or changed your life, the ‘aha’ moment when you realized that you were an outdoorist.” So begins the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) article on the #MyOutdoorStory campaign trying to collect and archive the unique stories and perspectives that create the industry’s soul.
During the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market January 5th-9th the OIA set up a mountain gondola in the middle of the expo floor for attendees to record their stories. Thanks to the Oregon MBA I was in attendance and while chatting with OIA employees was convinced to add my aspiring outdoor industry member’s voice to the mix (see the text version of my interview below).
I was also fortunate to chat with Todd Walton, the Marketing Communications Manager from the OIA and the brains behind #MyOutdoorStory, to get a little background on the initiative.
The idea for #MyOutdoorStory was strongly influenced by the StoryCorps movement because people like telling their stories and the outdoor industry is built on stories from iconic brands started on the tops of mountains, with the sole purpose to enable the founders to be outside more. We all know these stories, but what about the hundreds of others that make up the industry? #MyOutdoorStory was built to capture those stories, from retail employees, to CEOs. These stories bind us together as an industry, they are what makes the outdoor industry special. As Walton says, “You can never replicate the lessons learned being outside.”
Although Walton was concerned that the initiative might not be successful, the old gondola turned sound booth couldn’t help but draw people in. In all they averaged 20-30 interviews per day over the four days of the tradeshow and became a highlight of the expo floor.
The best thing about #MyOutdoorStory is that it isn’t going to end with the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market. OIA has plans for people to continue posting 1-2 minute sound clips on the website to continue to capture these stories. OIA hopes to grow #MyOutdoorStory beyond the outdoor industry because telling these stories crosses barriers and breaks people out of their shells. “In the gondola there were people who broke down in tears and plenty of roaring laughter,” Walton said. “No matter what the tone, every unique story captured a piece of the person telling it, their passion was palpable.”
Read on if you’re interested in a text version of my experience in the gondola and go to #MyOutdoorStory to check out sound clips of others.
Deborah Williams from the OIA and I stepped into the gondola, she handed me a mic and told me keep answers short but to have fun with the interview.
“What was your first experience with the outdoors?” she asked me.
“I was lucky to grow up along a greenbelt in Portland, Oregon and my youth is full of stories exploring this forest, building forts, climbing trees, and playing make believe. During the summers we would go camping at lakes in the Cascades and on the Oregon coast. I’ve always loved water. I would splash around and pretend I was a mermaid any chance I could.”
“What brought you to Outdoor Retailer?”
“I’m a Sustainable Business MBA student at the University
of Oregon getting ready to graduate. I was invited to attend the Sustainability Working Group meetings yesterday and was excited to come learn more about collaborative efforts like the HIGG Index and Responsible Down Standard, as well as meet people who are actually working on the tough environmental and social issues we study.”
“Do you have a moment you consider your ‘aha’ moment that you realized you were an outdoorist?” was the next question.
“You know, I would have to say the moment I connected with surfing.” I pause thinking of all the amazing surfing memories I’ve had. “Surfing to me is a way to connect with something bigger than myself. You have to become one with nature and the waves to be successful. You have to learn to understand the subtle nuances, read the ocean, make your best guess, and then just go for it. I’ve come close to extreme danger while surfing more times than my mom would like to know. But being in the ocean has taught me more than anything else in my life. It’s taught me patience and living in the moment, how to read subtle cues and changes in situations, how to just hold your breath and stop fighting, that in the end with a little faith, things usually turn out better than you imagine.”
The last question I really made me think. “Why are you a part of the Outdoor Industry?”
My first thought was that I wasn’t, I was just a student with aspirations, but over the past few days I had been accepted and included and my ideas were listened to just as much as anyone else. I realized to the professionals I respected I was a part of the outdoor industry. I answered, “The Outdoor Industry inspires me. I have met so many amazing, passionate people this week. People who are committed to preserving the outdoors so that everyone can have the experiences and the inspiration we have, as REI says, A life outdoors is a life well lived. And I see that manifested in companies like Patagonia, Keen, MEC, Hydroflask, prAna, REI, and in the people that make up this industry. But as Terry Tempest Williams said in her keynote this morning, we aren’t doing enough. I believe the outdoor industry needs to stand up for what it believes in, be more vocal, and demand change. I hope to get a job in the outdoor industry because the level of collaboration and passion is unparalleled. This industry is a vital piece in advancing the environmental movement both with consumers and policy makers and I want to be a part of that movement.”
Thank you to Todd Walton, Katie Boue, and Nikki Hodgson from the OIA. All photo credit to the Outdoor Industry Association.