Brands

Meet the disruptors

We asked 16 brands how they will shake things up (or not) this year.


Oh, 2017 you were a wild one. The outdoor industry made a loud, cohesive stand for public lands, our trade show landscape got a major shakeup, women raised their voices on gender issues, and retailers across the country struggled to stay relevant in a world where consumers are making more and more purchases by clicking.    

It got us to thinking, is it important for brands to be “disruptive” and what sort of big moves will we see in 2018?

We reached out to 16 brand leaders to hear their take on the notion of being disruptive, and what they have cooking for 2018.

Rose Marcario, President and CEO of Patagonia.
Tommaso Mei

Rose Marcario, President and CEO of Patagonia

Telling the truth is disruptive, and standing up for protection and defense of wilderness is why we are in business. Caring for the planet is not in conflict with running a successful business. If all companies committed to a triple bottom line – financial, environmental, and social good – instead of only trying to make investors rich, then what we do at Patagonia wouldn’t be “disruptive.” It’d be the norm. And we’d all see a better return.

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John Connelly, President and founder of Oboz

Disruptive – no Oboz doesn’t plan to be. The word has a negative connotation. Like the world around us, our industry seems to be going crazy. Having spent 46 years in this industry, I feel we’re losing our “soul” and the passionate, entrepreneurial independents who built the industry. A growing number of big brands are helping to push out the independent retailers by selling direct to consumers, opening brand stores, not even adhering to their own MAP policies, and over distributing. At Oboz, we’ve followed the same strategy for 10 years, and we will continue to focus on quality, fit, service, integrity, authenticity, specialty, controlled distribution and putting our purpose, our people and our customers first. We’ve had enough disruption.

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Shelley Dunbar, Co-owner of Sea to Summit North America

Absolutely. We are disruptive by not subjecting our retailers to the standard “pre-season” ordering cycle. Order what you need, when you need it, and let us bear the risk of guessing about future demand. As vendors, we should be doing everything we can to ensure retailers can be responsive in this changing landscape. In 2018, what I’d really like to disrupt is the trade show paradigm. Could there be a less expensive, less time intensive, and more environmentally friendly way to do business? I’d start by having a single Outdoor Retailer show in summer like they do in Europe.

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Kim Miller, CEO of SCARPA

Yes! Disruption is critical to the long-term survival and well-being of individuals, brands and cultures. Evolution is disruption. Things got very real in 2017. Personally, I called bullshit and I’m still calling it. So, now what? 2018 is the year of “action for positive change.” It is a mission now. We will strategically focus our voice, efforts, and time to promote positive change through the power of collective voices and actions. 2018 is the Year of the Dog according to Chinese zodiac. In Chinese legend invincible Gods used wolfhounds to help capture monsters. Could come in handy in 2018!

Davis Smith, Cotopaxi
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Davis Smith, Founder & CEO of Cotopaxi

In a space as crowded as the outdoor industry, being disruptive isn’t optional if you want to stay relevant. The day we turned on our website in 2014, we also held our first Questival, a 24-hour adventure race where thousands of people lived our brand values of adventure, service, community, and fun. We’ve since held nearly 100 Questivals around the U.S. and Canada. In 2018, Cotopaxi’s objective is to continue to find ways to meaningfully connect with customers through our impact work, our events, and through innovative product. 

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Anders Haglund, Co-founder & CEO of reDew

In 2018, we will make denim from trees, without the impact of cotton farming, which will take us one step closer to our goals. Being disruptive is important in any business no matter who or where you are. For reDEW it starts with the very core of our philosophy. The reason we do what we do is because the traditional business model of make, use, dispose is unsustainable. Every decision, from fiber development to “never on sale” and giving back 25 percent of profits to protect endangered wildlife, drives our development towards circularity and sustainability.

Deanne Buck in black sleeveless dress with greenery in background
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Deanne Buck, Executive director of Camber Outdoors

Camber Outdoors’ foundation is divergent thinking that leads to disruption. We aspire to understand what is working and duplicate versus solve for a particular problem. Another way to frame this thinking is the “Nudge Theory” (2017 Nobel Prize Winner). With that in mind, in 2018 we will disrupt the current national framework on how to solve for the “problem” of lack of women leaders. The outdoor industry, through the Camber CEO Pledge, is on the leading edge of a paradigm shift that will become the model for change for the entire country.

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Peter Sachs, General manager of LOWA Boots

2017 was a great year for distraction with show schedule upheaval, a challenging political climate, and a continued retail evolution. As we turn the corner into 2018, LOWA is focused on continuing to create great consumer brand awareness, meaningful in-store display and sales programs with our retailers, using data to work with retailers for realistic buying/selling and delivering orders based on that information through one of a few methods (whichever the retailer is most comfortable with). Staff training clinics, dealer and consumer demos, and event participation will also be a big part of creating customers and sell through.

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Merle O’Brien, Founder of O Loves M

I consider my company to be a “disruptive innovation.” We make bags using unconventional materials. In 2018, we plan on using wool, jersey and cashmere. upcycled items as well as patches with inspirational words and symbols with our classic yoga mat bags. We’re also letting customers and buyers donate 1 percent of their purchase price to charity via Tisbest.com

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Bill Gamber, Founder of Big Agnes

Big Agnes has been disruptive since we started, and we enter 2018 kicking and screaming. We believe innovation is born out of chaos and adversity, so we thrive on short timelines, testing gear hard, and following our gut. We only develop product that we want to use ourselves and from our first integrated bag and pad sleeve system to award-winning air chamber pads to ultralight light tents we’ve shaken up the industry. How we manage our brand and product channels, retailer relationships, pricing and terms is uniquely Big Agnes. We figure, disruption has worked this long, why change it?

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Kelly Nester, CEO at Nester Hosiery

We view our dedication to responsible U.S. manufacturing with a transparent supply chain as disruptive. It clearly stands out. Simultaneously, it runs parallel to our commitment to public lands. These commitments are core to the Farm to Feet brand and that will continue to be. We don’t set out to be intentionally disruptive. We create programs that we feel are smart and will help move our mission and business forward. The outcomes are often disruptive. As far as our ’18 plans go, stay tuned.

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Mike Arbeiter, President of Fisher + Baker

As a young brand that is focused on delivering premium menswear, we are offering extensive in-store support to assist our retail partners in enhancing their brand and bottom-line. When everyone is jumping ship on retail, we are investing in brick-and-mortar partners because we believe it’s more than a passing trend. Consumers want more than an online “UX”. We are bucking a predominant trend with noted success, and I think people are going to take notice. Oh, and we’re bringing baby goats to Outdoor Retailer – that will be disruptive!

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Sue Rechner, President of Merrell

Consumers want to understand brands as people – what they believe in, what they celebrate and where they struggle. So brands need to have a point of view and a willingness to share it. To me, disruption as a marketing tactic misses the point. In fact, just trying to be provocative can have the opposite effect. At Merrell, we believe in the trail. We just want to help people get away from the noise and reconnect with the natural world. How we push that agenda forward may or may not get disruptive. But we won’t stop pushing it regardless.

Mountain Hardwear announces new president

Joe Vernachio, President of Mountain Hardwear

We are a Brand for Climbers, not a Climbing Brand. If you read that statement quickly you might miss the subtle difference. A climber is a person with depth and dimension. Climbing is a sport, which is nothing without people. Climbers are spending more time in gyms. Gym climbing is moving the sport both demographically and geographically. For me, it’s irrelevant where people climb. The real insight is that the sport is moving into trend-setting city centers. As a result, climbing is being influenced by music, art, food and politics like never before. We will enable the climber and I predict we will go somewhere unexpected.

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Brian Thompson, VP of Design & Product Development for Newell Brands Technical Apparel

So much of the dialog this past year has been focused on the shift of business from brick and mortar to online retail. This is certainly a critical evolution of retail, and brands and retailers must navigate and evolve their strategies to ensure continued success. I believe the more important evolution here is the shift from brands and retailers controlling the message, to consumers owning the conversation. Consumers demand unfiltered access to information and want to connect with authentic brands. Brands and retailers that understand this and evolve their communications and activations strategies will have a faster track to success.

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Nathan Dopp, President of Fjällräven North America

Our focus is less about being disruptive and more about breaking through. We use our creative to drive home a moment of pause and to break the chain of consumer behavior without having to be aggressive in tone or style. Disruption doesn’t have to be the loudest voice, sometimes to be disruptive you just have to think differently. For us that is impactful moments in major cities that show who we are and what we are good at: making great products that last a lifetime.