Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
It is 2022 and people of color are less than 1% of businesses in the outdoor industry. A nearly $900 billion industry.
I sit here as one business. The second of three Black-owned outdoor stores in the United States. Of some 4,717 (2022), give or take. In Massachusetts Black-owned businesses are less than 3% of businesses in the state.
When I started this business back in 2019, my intent was to create a quiet, progressive unique outdoor lifestyle boutique and fly well below the radar. You see my intent was to avoid the elephant in the room. I had two things working against me. One was that I was an industry outsider. The industry whether it likes to admit it or not is fairly insular. And I have a perceived credibility gap. There aren’t a lot of brown faces in the things I like to do.
The irony is that people of color have the longest standing relationship to the outdoors. Period.
Yet that relationship has been robbed in large part due to colonization. As Selema Masekela recently pointed out, the outdoors effectively became the last safe space for white people.
There’s without a doubt a financial incentive to embrace inclusion. However, there are moral reasons as well. As a country and as a world we are learning how to reconcile difference. We are better at the hands of diverse people, perspective and thought. That’s not hyperbole, it’s a fact. Scientifically proven time and time again.
The esteemed consulting company, McKinsey “found that the greater the representation, the higher the likelihood of outperformance. Companies with more than 30 percent women executives were more likely to outperform companies where this percentage ranged from 10 to 30, and in turn these companies were more likely to outperform those with even fewer women executives, or none at all. A substantial differential likelihood of outperformance—48 percent—separates the most from the least gender-diverse companies.
In the case of ethnic and cultural diversity, our business-case findings are equally compelling: in 2019, top-quartile companies outperformed those in the fourth one by 36 percent in profitability, slightly up from 33 percent in 2017 and 35 percent in 2014. As we have previously found, the likelihood of outperformance continues to be higher for diversity in ethnicity than for gender.”
I had a deep seeded fear of recognizing my blackness as it relates to building this business. I am by no means solely defined by my blackness. I’m defined by a lifetime of experiences and exposure to people and things. I was so blessed to have access to the outdoors. I have an aesthetic curated from a rich and unique cultural DNA. I have a career history of marketing, communications, consumer insights and brand strategy. Also a part of my DNA is a belief in inclusion and social justice. It’s literally hard wired.
I knew that I always wanted to have conscientious company but I was challenged to see if I could make social impact a core part of my business, to represent companies that aligned with my values. What can we do as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion, the environment, access, health, wellness and more. How can we help uplift brands that are working to do good and leave this place better than we found it.
My maternal grandfather was a Civil Rights leader in the 1960s and a business advisor asked me if I could find a quote from him as we were working on investor materials. I grabbed one of his books and flipped it open and landed on this… “What I’m saying is not that we can change the practice of conformity or status-seeking in this country. I’m simply suggesting that we can change the norms to which people conform and the status symbols. Instead of conforming to exclusiveness, people ought to conform to inclusiveness.” – Whitney M. Young Jr., To be Equal, 1964
And boom there it was. My why.
Over the coming months, I’ll be talking about why we’ve chosen the companies to be our brand partners. I look forward to having you all along for the ride.