"Diversity breeds innovation."
In between cups of Kuju Coffee, CEO and co-founder of Outdoor Diversity Coalition, Jeff Wiguna, talks about how a healthier, larger outdoor industry benefits everyone, and no matter who you are, getting outside is the answer.
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Diversifying the outdoor industry is critical, says Jeff Wiguna—not only to sell more gear, but ultimately to expand the reach of its environmentally friendly, sustainable, and healthy-living philosophies. That’s the goal for Wiguna’s newly established Outdoor Diversity Coalition (ODC), which is aiming to get the topic into more conversations at events like Outdoor Retailer. If more people in the outdoor world talk about diversity, he argues, then the outdoors becomes part of a larger conversation worldwide. Wiguna, who also has his hands full running a portable instant coffee brand, Kuju Coffee, shares the first steps in getting the diversity conversation rolling and how instant coffee can teach us to slow down.
How did the Outdoor Diversity Coalition come about?
Jeff Wiguna: My brother and I had attended Outdoor Retailer before, but it wasn’t until the third time, last year, that we realized that not that many people looked like us. It wasn’t a big deal, but on a drive back to San Francisco from the show, the idea of a diversity coalition came about. It never stemmed from feeling any need to make a statement in a protesting fashion, but simply the belief that diversity breeds innovation and a healthier, larger industry, which benefits everyone. No matter who you are, getting outside and recreating leads to a healthier lifestyle. It should be a part of everyday life as much as our phones are. I would like to see the outdoor industry become bigger than the consumer electronics industry. As a whole for society, if that were true, we’d all be better off.
What are your first steps to achieving some of those goals? Who’s involved?
JW: The first goal of the Outdoor Diversity Coalition is pretty straightforward: to simply make diversity a topic to start with. Once we can establish that, we want to use the ODC platform to raise funds to make experiencing the outdoors possible for those for whom it is less accessible.
ODC is an organization conceptualized by Kuju Coffee and Misadventures magazine. It’s still a fledgling organization, but strong responses have pushed it pretty quickly from just a concept we floated with some contacts in the industry into the beginnings of what we hope will be an organization that provides a critical voice in the industry. Imagine the impact of having the CEOs of Clif Bar, YETI, REI, Bass Pro, and other awesome brands and retailers coming together to discuss this in detail. We’ll get there!
Are there any lessons to be taken from how the industry has worked to include more women in the outdoors?
JW: Definitely. We have a lot of respect for what organizations like Camber Outdoors have done. Overall, what I’ve learned from how and why the industry has evolved to cater more to women is that once the industry can see the purchasing power of another potential customer segment, it makes a lot of sense to start speaking to it. There is a huge swath of the U.S. market that is not represented or spoken to by the outdoor industry, which in general is a huge missed opportunity but also really exciting to think about in terms of our industry’s potential.
Let’s talk coffee. how do you set yourselves apart in a market that already has plenty of portable coffee options?
JW: At Kuju we’re very intentional about standing for our belief that “quality is never instant.” Everlasting joy and delight in life simply take time—and that’s a good thing. At the product level, it informs why we ethically source from a farm that employs more than 80 former victims of sex trafficking and why we donate 1 percent of sales to the National Park Foundation. It’s the most wonderful challenge, because at the end of the day what we’re really doing is working to inspire people to pursue quality in a world of instant.
What’s working for you so far when it comes to distribution and marketing?
JW: The product has been successful at all the retailers we work with (REI, Bass Pro, Backcountry.com, etc.), and did particularly well once we were on REI endcaps—which was really exciting considering we’ve been around for less than two years. We also have some very cool online things we’re working on, including a subscription model. Marketing-wise, we’re also going to focus more on content that we hope can have a cultural impact—which is to inspire people to redefine what true quality could look like in their lives and pursue it.
Our ambassadors have also always been really awesome, and they were the ones who helped get the word out. Our early ambassadors, including Mike Pham (@badassvietnamese), Nate and Steph Yarbough (@adventure_in_a_backpack), and Luke Webster (@lukewwebster), were people who just loved the brand and our products early on. We knew some brands pay to have ambassadors generate content and buzz for them, but for us it was really driven by working with people our products resonated with. Frankly it’s what you have to do when you’re just starting out and don’t have much budget to begin with.
This article originally appeared in The Daily, Day 3 (winter market 2018).