Simms CEO Casey Sheahan reflects on fishing, environmental threats, and the outdoor industry
After a long and successful career—including years spent as CEO of Patagonia and president of KEEN—Sheahan knows a thing or two about celebrating and protecting the outdoors
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Few industry leaders can lay claim to a resume like Casey Sheahan’s. The longtime veteran’s positions have included CEO of Patagonia, President of KEEN, President of Kelty, and now CEO of Simms in Bozeman, Montana. Over a four-decade career, Sheahan has modeled empathetic, efficient, and effective leadership like few other figures in our field.
Following the announcement of Simms’ new Fish It Well campaign, a digital media effort that tells the stories of fishermen and women all over the world, we caught up with Sheahan to ask about his life’s work, the healing benefits of fishing, the threat of climate change, and more.
The Fish It Well campaign is all about getting people outside to experience the sport. Aside from the obvious benefit to Simms as a company, why should more people fish?
We’re hopeful that if people enjoy fishing, and enjoy the environment they’re fishing in, they’ll want to protect those resources for the long haul. Beyond that, there’s obviously a lot of health and wellness benefits to fishing. It’s relaxing, it’s meditative, and it’s social. With Fish It Well, that’s our higher purpose for the brand: We want to help everyone, including people with different health challenges. For people recovering from breast cancer, or wounded warriors, or people with PTSD, fishing can be very therapeutic. Those kinds of things are the benefits of fishing that far supersede just how many trout or salmon or bonefish one catches. Fish It Well is just the beginning. It’s the precursor, we hope, to a strong movement to get people fishing and enjoying the benefits of the outdoors.
We’re learning more every day about the harmful effects of our planet’s addiction to single-use plastics—particularly on our oceans and rivers. Does this scare you as a fish eater, a fish lover, and the leader of a brand that depends on fishing?
Even beyond plastics, the flood of environmental threats we’re facing today is very alarming. Most of the changes that are happening in our climate are man-made, and they’re proceeding at an exponential rate and scale that’s far beyond what we envisioned as little as 10 or 15 years ago. Climate change is a serious threat, not only to the fishing business, but to the overall outdoor business. And we see evidence of it in everything, from warming waters to shorter ski seasons. Glaciers are melting, meaning the cold waters that sustained many fish populations are going to be compromised in the coming years and decades.
With regard to microplastics, they are largely an outdoor industry apparel issue. And we at Simms are a small part of that. We don’t have a lot of fleece in our product line, but we do have polyesters and other plastics that, through the washing process, end up in aquifers, rivers, lakes, and ultimately in the ocean. This is a downward-flowing cycle of pollution that is a problem, and it’s just now starting to be understood.
So yes, it scares me. I am a fish lover and a fish eater. I think leading brands have an obligation to be part of the solution, not just to continue to harvest business from the resources that their customers enjoy. We have a part to play, and it starts with finding better practices. In our manufacturing, our short-term solution is to build high-quality products that can be repaired, rather than disposable products with a short lifespan. To have people say, “I’ve had these Simms waders for 20 years and they’re still working great”—that’s part of the solution. It’s not the complete solution, but we’re trying to contribute on that level.
In your four-decade career in the outdoor industry, you’ve touched a lot of brands, big and small. What’s changed the most about the industry in that time?
It’s still such a fantastic industry. Given my longevity and track record, I’m able to say that consumers are participating in different ways than in years past, and that’s very exciting. The brands succeeding in the outdoor space today are the ones making activities more convenient, easier to participate in, less arcane, less snobby, more enjoyable for everyone. Because of that, I think the industry will continue to grow. It’s on a very healthy track.
As for bigger changes, climate change is a major impactor, as I said. Longer droughts, incredibly powerful rainstorms, bigger waves—all these things have an effect on the business. The abundance of information is another. There’s so much information available now about what to do, where to go, and what you’ll encounter when you go there. The information explosion has, in some ways, taken some of the wilderness out of the outdoor experience, but it has also made things much more accessible.