Today REI, one of the leading outdoor companies, has decided to close it’s stores, asking its customers and employees to venture outside instead. On their website a letter from their CEO Jerry Stritzke reads:
“For 76 years, our co-op has been dedicated to one thing and one thing only: a life outdoors. We believe that being outside makes our lives better. And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth.
We’re a different kind of company—and while the rest of the world is fighting it out in the aisles, we’ll be spending our day a little differently. We’re choosing to opt outside, and want you to come with us.”
While this statement seems common sense for many Americans who already spend the day trying to walk off yesterday’s Thanksgiving feast rather than waiting (or camping out as the phrase goes) in lines for sales, on Black Friday millions of Americans all over the country rush to their nearest mall and go buck wild. And for a store such as REI that is starting to reach outside their niche market to other,more mainstream, consumers this is admittedly a brave move. Their example has lead many smaller outdoor companies to do the same
successfully turning this Black Friday into an eco-minded, anti-consumer culture, rallying cry with #optoutside trending on Twitter.
#Optoutside calls attention to a growing problem in the shopping habits of American consumers. And, quite frankly, an unsustainable shopping habit, as the sales on Black Friday encourage people to buy things they already have, it’s an opportunity for people who want two televisions in their home rather than one, or a new laptop because they haven’t installed updates on their old one, it’s a day that invites waste through excess. And even some parks and historic sites, places that can most benefit from, have tweeted in support of, and are a part of #optoutside are jumping on the Black Friday craze. Anyone want a Teddy Roosevelt bust?
The fact remains that outdoor activities have become increasingly commodified and while today is certainly a nice a gesture and adventurous marketing move (side note, credit where credit’s due: the pun of opt out(side) is a brilliant and catchy hashtag!) that fits REI’s brand identity, it doesn’t remove them from a culture of credit and spending that drives them and every other clothing and accessory brand in the country. Furthermore, their site is still up and running, so if someone opts outside then wants to go shopping they can buy REI gear at full price, however they could be banking on Cyber Monday to post up deals.
But Black Friday has a genuine purpose #optoutside is ignoring, it helps people who can’t afford to buy products at their usual prices purchase them at a more affordable rate. In that way it puts power in the hands of the average, and often below-average, income shopper. While it’s true that physically being outside is free, and that parks have begun participating in the day by waiving admission fees, the kind of gear required to safely go on long hikes, climbs, or other serious ventures have become increasingly expensive over the years, making the outdoors more and more unattainable for Americans below a certain income and, subsequently, a more exclusive experience.
So today, after exploring an NYC Park or two ( because I do want to #optoutside in some way), I’ll pop my head into Eastern Mountain Sport or an outdoor store that’s open to pick up a nice sleeping bag, a new piece of gear I’m desperately in need of since mine is getting threadbare, for a price that’s within my budget. And I won’t go into that store feeling like a bad hiker, environmentalist, or that I’ve had to pick one side of issue
but rather as an informed, environmentally conscious, consumer who’s been saving up for this expensive item and is choosing this sale to capitalize on an investment.