(Image courtesy of Outdoor Industry Association)
It has been a busy and tumultuous couple of weeks for the outdoor industry. Back on Feb 3, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a resolution requesting that President Trump rescind the protected status of the Bears Ears National Monument setting off a firestorm of controversy over land conservation and his commitment to the outdoors. This prompted gear manufacturer Patagonia to withdraw from the Outdoor Retailer convention even as the organizers of that show announced that they would be seeking a new venue for future editions of the event, which is currently held in Salt Lake City twice annually. Since then, even more companies have announced that they will boycott OR, while industry leaders call for cooperation and unity.
The latest brand to announce its departure from Outdoor Retailer is Metolius, a company that makes premium climbing gear. It joins the likes of Polartec, Arc’teryx, Peak Design, Power Practical, and VOORMI, all of which have announced that they won’t attend the show either. In a statment released earlier today, Metolius global sales director Chip Miller said “Metolius Climbing was founded by climbers, for climbers, and places like the Bears Ears National Monument and the affected climbing areas of Indian Creek, Valley of the Gods, Arch Canyon, and Lockhart Basin, among others, are vital to our passion and livelihood.” He went on to add, “We look forward to rejoining Outdoor Retailer once a host state has been found that values our sport. We encourage other climbing companies to join us in protecting this precious and irreplaceable resource.”
Meanwhile, gear retailer REI called for unity within the industry as it announced its intention to continue attending the OR show. In a letter sent to the leaders of other outdoor brands, REI CEO Jerry Stritzke wrote:
“The Outdoor Retailer show plays a special role in the outdoor community. It is the one time and place that we come together across all elements of our industry. OIA plays host, and the show is attended by every outdoor brand ranging from those iconic outdoor brands that founded our industry to every emerging brand that loves the outdoors and has developed an innovative product that they hope will take off. Retailers from every walk of the outdoor industry can see in one place the future of the outdoor industry. And the key non-profits that advocate and protect our most sacred assets gather to share, plan and dream. At the show, we advance our values by looking at sustainability issues. We share stories, concerns and most importantly we are, for that week, a community.”
He wasn’t alone in sharing those sentiments. Both Ibex and The North Face have also reaffirmed their commitment to Outdoor Retailer as well, saying they will be on hand in Salt Lake City in July. TNF president Scott Baxter wrote an open letter of his own late last week showing his support for the Outdoor Industry Association, the show itself, and the small brands and nonprofits that rely on the event. In that letter, Baxter noted that his company has always been focused on conservation of public lands, but that he felt the best way to resolve the current situation to the benefit of everyone is to remain a part of OR for now, even as show organizers search for a host that is more aligned with the goals of those who attend.
For its part, the OIA also sent a note to its members last week urging them to stay united as well. That note had three suggestions on how the recipients could help, which included continuing to attend Outdoor Retailer, joining leaders at the Capitol Summit to share their views with allies and opponents alike, and contacting the OIA directly to discuss these important issues more fully.
Clearly the outdoor industry is at a crossroads at the moment, and not everyone is in agreement with how to proceed. The OR convention is under contract with the Salt Lake City convention center through the summer of 2018, which means three more events will be held there before it can move on. That gives Herbert time to either change his stance on protecting public lands, or the outdoor industry – which brings $45 million of direct spending to the state’s economy each year – will have no choice but to look elsewhere.