Gear for good
Brands see big traction with place-themed products that raise awareness—and funding—for public lands.
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In advance of the 2016 National Park Service Centennial, brands jumped at the opportunity to license NPS trademarks for special backpacks, water bottles, socks, shoes, and other gear. Many of those products were limited edition—or at least, intended to be. But it turned out that customers loved seeing parks on their gear, especially when there was a kickback to the National Park Foundation or other parks-related organizations that work to keep these places safe.
Some brands, like Crown Trails Headwear, donate a percentage of all wholesale purchases to designated public land organizations (Crown Trails gives 8 percent to several long trail and national park associations). Others donate a portion of proceeds from specific products—like Chaco’s limited-edition Bears Ears line, which benefits organizations that protect the monument. Still others, like YETI with its park-themed Rambler Colsters, support the parks by licensing logos and branding from the NPS.
No matter the details, customers can’t get enough.
“Our Glacier Stripe blanket is the number one in our entire line,” said Austin Blythe, PR and brand marketing assistant for Pendleton Woolen Mills. Glacier National Park commissioned Pendleton to make a blanket in its honor 101 years ago, and the brand has since added other parks to the line. In 2015, Pendleton partnered with the National Park Foundation to donate a portion of the sales of NPS-branded products, including collaboration pieces with Klean Kanteen, Subaru, Nike, Ugg, and Hurley.
In two years, Pendleton raised $600,000 to fund renovations of the Grand Canyon Train Station and Many Glacier Lodge. Customers take their Pendleton blankets everywhere—including camping and rafting—so it makes sense for the company to align with a nonprofit that enables those adventures, Blythe said.
ENO’s National Park Foundation hammock was intended to have a short run, said Amy Allison, marketing team manager, but “it was such a big hit with retailers, we kept it going.” For each NPF hammock ENO sells, they donate $10 to the foundation. It’s part of their Giving Back program, which includes similar promotions for the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, Pacific Crest Trail Association, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Leave No Trace, and European Outdoor Conservation Association.
ENO doesn’t have a huge budget to write large checks to these organizations outright, so turning consumer motivation to conserve the places they care about into donations enables the brand to give more. “People have connections to these places,” she said. “It gives them a way to show their love.”
Besides selling like hotcakes, these products also help raise awareness of parks in need, the National Park Foundation said Thursday. Its Centennial Campaign has raised nearly $470 million to date, 21 percent of which has come from brands with cause-marketing alliances like these.
“Thanks to partnerships across the outdoor industry, including REI, Chaco, The North Face, Osprey, and Hydro Flask, NPF is raising broader awareness about national parks among diverse audiences,” the Foundation wrote in a statement.
“It’s abundantly clear that as human beings, we thrive when we connect with nature,” said Marc Berejka, government and community affairs director for REI. The co-op donated nearly $5 million in cash and $5 million in promotions (like free classes designed to encourage participants to recreate in parks) around the Centennial, and continues to sell gear that supports parks, including Brooks footwear, Topo Designs products, and its own Flash Pack. REI will debut additional products this fall that will support the national parks and other public lands and trail organizations.
“Going back over 100 years, we recognize that there are some unbelievably spectacular natural places that need to be safeguarded for eternity, and we called those national parks,” Berejka said. “They also need to be stewarded continually. When the government isn’t fully funding or supporting national parks, those of us in the sector that care about these places have to step up and do our part.”
And if stepping up means picking up some sweet new gear, it’s a win for everyone.
This article originally published in Day 2 of The Daily (winter 2018).