If I was business savvy I would open a boutique called Triple Crown Clothing with a tag that read: The High Class Hiker.
I have no desire to build a company at this point in my life so Triple Crown Clothing remains an idea. I live in Brooklyn, but work in Manhattan and commuting through New York City I often see people with expensive backpack brands like Osprey or Deuter. While it’s certainly nice to have quality backpacks with lifetime warranties, these warranties are made for the wear and tear that comes with hiking and city commuters would be fine with less niche companies like REI or Eastern Mountain Sports which provide products of similar quality, and often with similar warranties, for a lower price. Why go with the more expensive brands?
Previously I responded to a summit on diversity in the Environmental movement, but now I’d like to suggest that gear like backpacks, shoes, and other clothing associated with the outdoors are growing into class and status symbols. In the outdoor community clout is associated with doing more with less, yet outdoor companies continue pumping out new backpacks, for example, with all the bells and whistles. And while much of this product does work it’s way onto trails, another vast portion of it ends up in suburban and urban areas where people use them for their daily commutes.
One contributing factor to this luxury status is that outdoor brands are renowned for their customer service. If a strap on a backpack gets broken or a zipper gets jammed the customer can send it back and get a brand new one sent out to their home or their nearest outfitter. This is incredibly important for thru-hikers who burn through gear due to the intensity of terrain and duration of their trips, but who need the proper equipment in order to safely continue. However, what works well for hikers also translates well into society, as this policy is similar to the ones luxury brands such as Gucci or Coach maintain, stressing that if anything is wrong or blemished the item it can be returned at the consumer’s request for another. After all, what’s the point of a luxury item that isn’t luxurious?
Brands like Northface and Columbia which began as outdoor specific companies have transcended into popular clothing and in response to this market success, the smaller outdoor companies are becoming the equivalent of luxury clothing brands. If a person can afford to commute with a Marmot bag, it marks them at a certain income level. Or if they’re wearing water-proof Merrell shoes instead of traditional rain boots on a drizzly day then it proves they have a couple extra bucks to spend. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for supporting small businesses. And what’s better, is that many of these companies are American based, American made, and make an active effort to be environmental leaders in the business world. I’m just intrigued by the way American culture is turning it’s attention to the trails: from Media and movies to clothing and fashion trends. The country is looking more and more to the outdoors for inspiration.