REI Collaborates with Outdoor Afro Inc. on New Gear Collection
The product line aims to make the country’s largest outdoor retailer more inclusive
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REI and the California-based organization Outdoor Afro Inc. have collaborated on a new line of technical apparel designed to address gaps in the outdoor market and make gear more inclusive for all customers, both groups announced this week. The co-branded Outdoor Afro Inc. + REI line has been in the works for two years.
“Nature has been, and will continue to be, a place where Black people seek connection and respite,” said Rue Mapp, founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro Inc., a for-profit group that collaborates with companies on design, marketing, and sales efforts. The organization is distinct from the nonprofit Outdoor Afro, also founded by Mapp, which oversees a national network of volunteers in 60 cities to promote outdoor education, recreation, and conservation.
“Black people have always spent time outside across a variety of activities, but the community has always felt a gap in finding gear that fits, functions well, feels good, and represents their personal style,” Mapp said. “REI was the right partner to listen deeply and help us create a collection that would start to meet those needs.”
In an article posted to its website yesterday, REI wrote that building the line meant “considering the range of Black body shapes that the clothes will fit and respecting the culture’s interpretations of nature. It [meant] exploring a broader range of fit modeling, bold, celebratory colors, and materials that work with textured hairstyles.” The initial 22-piece collection includes leggings, fleeces, shells, and boots designed with input from Mapp and others at Outdoor Afro Inc. about color, style, and function.
“This collaboration with Outdoor Afro Inc. was not optional for us,” said Maureen Estep, REI deputy vice president of strategic brand partnerships. “This was not a question of ‘Should we?’ It was ‘How soon can we?’ It was a commitment to lean into a partnership through an inclusive approach, and it changed us. We turned on a truly inclusive design process. It defined how we worked and who we brought into the work.”
The collection uses technical lightweight and stretch materials that promote breathability and are easy to care for. REI wrote on its website that “the line is a mashup of iconic ’80s and ’90s silhouettes coupled with modern details inspired by the Black community: a play on throwback jackets, a riff on parachute pants, and items printed with a tribute to the historical places Black folks would gather for rest and fellowship.”
Mapp emphasized that, though the collection was designed with the Black community in mind, “it also solves universal needs. We’re creating a better outdoor product for everyone.”
To support the collection launch, Outdoor Afro Inc. and REI are debuting a new marketing campaign, We Are Nature.
“What I realized is that everyone wanted access to the Black market from a diversity, equity, and inclusion point of view,” Mapp said in summing up the effort, “but no one was truly creating accessible and stylish options that actually accommodated our body shapes. This fashion line is us,” she added. “We are also nature.”