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PrAna issues apology over cave photo in Spring 2019 catalog

Cavers are upset about a photo of Chris Sharma climbing in an underground cave in Spain.

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Update at 4 p.m. MST Thursday: prAna has since updated the digital catolog on their website, removing the cave photo of Chris Sharma climbing and replacing it with a message from the brand’s president.

A page from prAna‘s Spring 2019 catalog has outraged cavers and conservationists around the world—enough that the sustainable-minded brand has admitted fault and issued an apology.

On Wednesday morning, cavers started sharing on Facebook a catalog page showing world-renowned climber and prAna ambassador Chris Sharma in flip flops scaling a delicate formation in Spain. The photo is captioned “pitch black, mallorcan cave.”

“Sure, prAna ambassador @Chris_Sharma could map new routes with his eyes closed,” the photo’s caption also reads. “But can he do it in the dark, in a cave, in flip-flops? Spoiler alert! Yes, he can.”

prAna's Spring 2019 catalogue
Page 52 of prAna’s Spring 2019 catalog. See the full catalog here.

A member of the National Speleological Society (NSS) Community’s public Facebook group called the photo “a piece of idiocy.” The post was also shared in the private outdoor industry Facebook group, Basecamp: Outdoor Jobs, by Milosz Pierwola, a humanitarian conservationists explorer. He, along with other cavers, urged members to reach out to prAna. One of their major concerns was that the catalog shows destructive behavior and that thousands of customers could believe that climbing such formations is acceptable.

“Caves are much more sensitive than they appear at first glance,” Pierwola wrote in a recap of the situation. “They are not subject to the elements in the same way rock climbing areas are; there is no wind, no precipitation, no day/night, and even temperature fluctuations are minimal. As a result, any physical changes such as a footprint or hand mark, may last hundreds or even thousands of years. In fact, some of our most meaningful prehistoric artifacts and paintings have been discovered in caves. The structure that Chris is hanging off took hundreds if not thousands of years to form and is both sensitive and will show the impact of his climbing well beyond our lifetimes.”

Can you spot the problems with this photo?Unfortunate IRresponsible marketing by prAna. Not only is Chris Sharma…

Posted by Adventure Milo on Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Sharma did not respond to a message seeking comment about the controversy. But nine hours after the initial Facebook post, Outside Business Journal received the following statement from Russ Hopcus, president of prAna:

In one of our Spring 2019 catalogs, a photographer that we hired took a photo of one of our ambassadors, Chris Sharma, climbing in Mallorca, Spain. Many cavers and conservationists understandably expressed outrage after seeing the photo, concerned about the impact on the formation pictured as well as the behavior modeled.

We know that responsible caving and care for fragile cave environments is critical to cave conservation. It was a mistake to shoot this photo and to share it in our catalog, and we deeply regret that this occurred. We are reaching out to cave conservationists to learn how we can make amends for our mistake and be part of the ongoing solution.

Moving forward, we will conduct a more detailed review of all of our creative processes to ensure that we tread lightly in delicate places during photo shoots, location scouting and other business activities to have a minimal impact on the environment. We will also partner closely with our ambassadors to ensure their practices align with our values.

We count on our customers to let us know if something is wrong with our products, our service, or the way we represent ourselves. We’re grateful that our customers freely share their tremendous depth of knowledge with us, and that we can learn and move forward in a positive, proactive way.

The NSS community, including President Geary Schindel, were pleased with the brand’s response. “I think we need to give them the benefit of the doubt and let them do the right thing,” Schindel wrote in a comment. He said this is an opportunity to educate even more people about cave conservation and safety.