A Black cyclist adjusting her helmet while riding at sunset.

Progressing an Inclusive Outdoor Industry

We believe that everyone belongs outside. The outdoors should be a place where everyone can feel welcome to be themselves, access opportunities, and connect with their community — no matter who they are, where they live, or what they love to do. Unfortunately, that’s not true for everyone today. To close this gap, we must do a better job as an industry and an outdoor community to reflect the various ways people find joy and meaning outside.

Working toward a future where everyone can experience the benefits of time outside is why we’re here. It’s why we’re taking a holistic approach to working together with our employees, members, and industry and community partners to equip and inspire every person with what they need to find joy and meaning outdoors. For REI, this means:

  • Ensuring we reflect the voices and perspectives of future co-op members through inclusive, community-centered approaches to developing products and experiences that reflect a broader spectrum of ways people experience the outdoors.

  • Creating a more relevant and inclusive industry through programs that support founders of color and aspiring product designers from historically excluded communities.

  • Leading and supporting efforts to drive more inclusive product development practices among outdoor brands.

  • Dismantling barriers to belonging that can show up in outdoor products, experiences and environments.

Community-centered design

At REI, we are committed to channeling the ethos of community-centered design in our practices and processes across the enterprise. We aim to design our offerings with and for historically excluded communities through intentional partnerships, customer insights and research, and integration of these voices upstream in the design processes. This approach applies to our marketing, products, experiences, environments, and more. Practices like focus groups, product testing, and multi-organizational brainstorms and hackathons have been instrumental levers as we commit to this direction. Ultimately, we adhere to the inclusive design principle of “solving for one, extending to many” as we seek to create offerings that both meet the needs of specific customers and are also better for the collective.

In 2022, we worked with Outdoor Afro, Inc. to co-create a hike collection to help solve unmet needs in outdoor apparel and celebrate Black joy in nature. For the first drop in the multilaunch collection, Outdoor Afro, Inc. and REI worked closely with members of the Black community to understand their outdoor product needs and begin developing a collection to inspire and ignite more Black joy in nature. The result is a 22-piece hike collection that includes apparel and accessories that bring more inclusive design to the forefront. The collection includes fit options that consider a wider range of body types, shapes, and sizes, and new colors and graphics that embrace a desire for personal expression.

Path Ahead Ventures

We believe the vibrancy of the outdoor industry depends on the economic mobility and contributions of diverse communities as customers and creators. Path Ahead Venturesoffers full-spectrum support to startups owned and led by Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian American and Pacific Islander founders. Our goal is to accelerate the success of these founders, whether they’re just getting started or growing their businesses, to ensure the outdoor industry reflects the true diversity of the people who love, protect, and share life outside.

We set bold goals for diversifying the co-op's supplier base to advance racial equity at REI and beyond, but discovered lack of representation was a broader industry issue. After hundreds of discussions with founders, investors, and industry and community leaders, we identified where REI could bring unique value and invest for lasting impact. We launched Path Ahead Ventures in October 2021.

The co-op has committed $30 million by 2030 to empower these founders of color. On top of this investment, by 2030 we aim to:

  • Advance REI’s commitment to adding 200+ brands owned and led by founders of color, representing 15% of all brands sold at REI.

  • Invest in and partner with 300 current and aspiring founders of color.

  • Build a network of partners and domain experts for founders to access.

  • Establish an industry-wide resource for fueling entrepreneurship, innovation, and job growth among underrepresented groups.

In 2022, Path Ahead Ventures partnered with 39 founders, launched three programs for founders, provided $370,000 in grants and invested $2.3 million in 11 companies. We also connected founders with more than 250 advocates, experts, and investors to enable engagement across the industry. We established an advisory board with respected outdoor industry professionals representing groups that align with the focus of Path Ahead Ventures.

Path Ahead Ventures includes three signature programs aimed to meet the needs of entrepreneurs at different stages in their journeys:

  • Embark brings more founders of color into the industry, providing $10,000 in equity-free grants plus guidance for founders launching their businesses.

  • Navigate accelerates existing brands, offering group and individualized programming, a peer network, mentoring, access to industry experts and capital investment opportunities including a $25,000 equity-free grant.

  • Investment Fund provides founder-friendly growth capital to businesses that seek a strategic partner in the next stage of their lifecycle.

Path Ahead Ventures focuses on putting founders first, engaging the individuals behind each business, and recognizing the unique challenges for founders of color in the outdoor space. We partnered with REI Co-op Studios to create a series of mini documentaries for our incredible founders to showcase their journeys in the outdoor industry.

FAAS Design Collab

In 2022, we collaborated with FAAS Design Collab to offer a free, six-week inclusive design certificate program to an inaugural cohort of aspiring product designers who are members of diverse communities that have faced barriers to access and belonging in the industry, such as Black, Indigenous and other people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and people living with disabilities . This 12-student cohort was selected by a diverse group of REI teams and community partners. They were challenged to take on some of the biggest inclusive design challenges and opportunities facing today’s consumer, such as gender, sizing, adaptive design and more. For their final projects, students worked in teams to deliver innovative solutions for unmet wants and needs in the outdoor industry, inspired by the stories of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) environmentalists, activists, and heroes such as Mary Fields and Fannie Lou Hamer.

Following the program, three students were selected to join the Co-op Brands design team for a paid, nine-month apprenticeship where they worked alongside REI employees to further their practice in gear and apparel design, while also driving progress and innovation through individual research and design projects. The apprentices focused on a range of topics from running gear and apparel, camp equipment, and inclusive helmet design.

Product Impact Standards

Advancing equity in the outdoor and retail industries means holding ourselves, our brand partners, and the broader industry accountable to advance responsible production and consumption. Every product the co-op brings to its members is an opportunity to promote better ways of doing business that shape a positive future for people and the outdoor places they love. It was in that spirit that we first launched REI Product Impact Standards in 2018, raising the bar on product sustainability across REI offerings.

Today, the standards set expectations for how REI and our 1,000+ brand partners address issues related to sustainability, climate change, and diversity, equity and inclusion. They set the path for a more sustainable future that includes those who have been historically left out of our industry. In establishing and evolving the Product Impact Standards, REI listens to feedback from our members and brand partners, as well as industry groups and nonprofit partners that have expertise on social and environmental sustainability and inclusion.

Our focus with diversity, equity and inclusion standards is on eliminating discrimination and other negative social impacts related to the products we sell, as well as the practices and policies used to create and market them. The standards today have a particular focus on inclusive color palettes and language; avoiding cultural appropriation; and driving more representation and inclusion in producing marketing campaigns and materials. These standards will help us deliver more relevant products that reflect the myriad ways communities find meaning outside.

As we monitor our own performance and that of our partner brands through an annual assessment, we’re staying transparent with our members and fellow partners. Part of this work includes a commitment to share goals and progress related to brand compliance with our standards. In 2021, we were pleased to see an average 12.5% improvement across all four inclusion-related expectations, and 2022 data will be available later this year.

The Product Impact Standards are just one of the many ways REI supports better ways of doing business. They give our members and customers confidence that when they make a purchase at REI, they’re investing in causes they care about and a better future for the people and places they love.

Continuous learning with our brand partner community

Since the addition of our diversity and inclusion Product Impact Standards in 2020, REI has continued to support brands and the broader retail ecosystem in education about inclusive product design. This education has included dynamic, live workshops, and panel discussions where brand partners can engage in content around topics such as inclusive sizing, inclusive marketing practices, and more. In addition, REI co-authored an inclusive design playbook with subject matter experts Equitably Designed that is available on-demand to any of our 1,000+ brand partners.

Alongside our scaled education practices, REI teams utilize a companywide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Product Triage process to empower employees across the enterprise to provide feedback on existing product. This feedback, coupled with ongoing research, has enabled REI to have one-on-one conversations with brand partners about opportunities to improve products and practices in terms of inclusivity. Results of these conversations have ranged from product renaming to brand partners revamping their design processes to putting the voices of community at the center.