Last August I wrote a post called 50 Shades of Plaid, featuring a photo gallery of the many plaid shirts that attendees of the Outdoor Retailer Show wore. The post garnered an inordinate amount of attention and, as Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2013 approached, several people asked what I was planning for a follow-up. This video, shot entirely on an iPhone 5, is the answer — a closer look into plaid, the unofficial uniform of the Outdoor Retailer Show and the outdoor industry.
New to the climbing scene, adidas Outdoor has recently made an interesting move to outfit climbing gym employees with adidas clothing and shoes. The first press release to this effect announced a partnership with the Brooklyn Boulders, the second a partnership with the new So iLL gym in St. Louis. The positioning in gyms indicates an interest in reaching a broad climbing audience and most likely the youth market, which seems to be the golden goose in the eyes of most companies. (Have you heard of any similar partnerships between gyms and adidas Outdoor or other outdoor-focused brands? I have not…)
If you’ve been following the trail of press releases you’ll know this is but one part in a larger adidas strategy to access a market dominated by brands like The North Face, Arc’Teryx, Patagonia, Columbia, etc. This is no doubt related to the fact that as the recession drags on, outdoor brands, with a focus on performance and durability rather than pure fashion, seem to be faring better than their “indoor” counterparts. Other marketing and outreach efforts from adidas include an iPad app: “With this app users can experience the fascinating stories of alpinists, climbers, kayakers, paraglider pilots and base-jumpers going ‘all in’ in digital form with plenty of exciting extras.” Adidas has also picked up a handful of climbing athletes for its team, including Sasha DiGiulian and Thomas Huber. But perhaps the clearest sign of their dedication to the outdoor, and particularly climbing, markets is their acquisition of Five Ten.
Certainly, Adidas has the war chest and the brand recognition to carve out a spot for itself in the outdoor niche. The question is, how will the core climbing and other “adventure sport” communities respond? I remember ten-odd years ago when Fila attempted to enter the core climbing market with a line of rock shoes. They sponsored climbers like Boone Speed and, if I recall correctly, even approached gyms to form footwear and apparel partnerships. In the end, the sales were not enough to warrant continued interest, though last year Fila did pick up boulderer Alex Puccio as an athlete to rock their Skele-Toes toe shoes (not climbing shoes, per se).
On a related note, hard goods manufacturer Black Diamond Equipment has announced an interest in entering the apparel market, and La Sportiva has introduced a new line of performance skiwear. It would seem that the siren song of apparel’s big margins is too attractive to pass up.
I’d love to hear what you think on this direction in the climbing and outdoor industries. Do you welcome new brands to the climbing marketplace, even big ones like adidas? Do you plan to buy adidas jackets, pants, and approach shoes? Do you fear Adidas will water down Five Ten’s technical shoe offering, or will their deep pockets allow for more exciting new technologies? How do all of the developments in the climbing and outdoor industries mentioned above sit with you? Do you see the future as bright, grim, or pretty much the same?
Brendan Leonard, writer and creator of the blog semi-rad.com, recently penned a very smart guest post on the Outdoor Research blog about the nature of sponsorship in the outdoor industry. His basic premise is that people passionate about the outdoors can be valuable as “influencers” and brand ambassadors, even if they are not totally rad at their activity of choice. In the article, he explains that Outdoor Research actually did make him a sponsored athlete — “The Least-Talented Sponsored Athlete in the Outdoor Industry,” as he puts it. Leonard’s article, like his blog, is well written and insightful, but there’s one very important thing he’s leaving out. He actually is rad, just not at the things that normally garner sponsored-athlete status.
First, it’s important to know that Leonard’s whole blog revolves around passionate people who do cool things that aren’t going to make the covers of “the mags” any time soon. The blog’s tagline is: “The Relentless Pursuit of the Everyman’s (and Everywoman’s) Adventure.” It’s as if Leonard looked at all the outdoor media, with all the faster/stronger/bolder pro-athlete profiles, and asked “What am I, chopped liver?” He isn’t the first person to feel that the things that inspire him about the outdoors aren’t the things he’s finding in the established media. But he is one of the few who are actually doing something about that disconnect. And he’s doing it well.
As a former magazine editor and current outdoor industry minion, I’ve fielded many article pitches and seen many sponsorship requests from people who are “semi-rad” (or even not-at-all-rad, which is something else entirely). The thing that makes one semi-rad person really exciting and another not, however, is storytelling. Can they write a paragraph, take a picture, or shoot a video that makes us feel the way they feel when their passions are up? That, for most people, is the missing ingredient. It’s easy to forget, but passions are like asses and elbows; everyone has ‘em. To inspire — now that’s another trick altogether.
So getting back to Leonard’s article, yes, the semi-rad can be worthy of attention and even some level of sponsorship, but not just because they have passion. What Leonard is omitting in his own modest self-appraisal is that he is rad, just not necessarily at climbing or skiing or biking or whatever. He is a fully rad writer whose stories make people feel his passion. He’s published a lot of work and is a Contributing Editor for the website Adventure Journal and the Media Editor for Mountain Gazette. A great example of his rad writing can be found here, in this very personal post about the value of climbing as a replacement for other, really dangerous lifestyles, like alcoholism.
The truth is, having passion is great if you’re the passionate one, but if you can’t share it with the rest of us, that value can only spread so far. Luckily, there’s Brendan Leonard — a rad writer making a strong case for the semi-rad climbers of the world.