Eddie Bauer has officially joined the outdoor industry’s Century Club. Like Orvis, L.L.Bean, Helly Hansen, and about three dozen others, the legacy retailer has stuck around long enough to celebrate its 100th birthday. From a tiny shop in Seattle that repaired wooden tennis rackets to the global presence it has become, Eddie Bauer is a company that has long relied on forward thinking and adaptability to survive.
It’s fitting, then, that to honor a century of doing business the brand has launched a new program to address one of the biggest challenges facing the industry today: a lack of diversity in the outdoor space. All Outside—part advocacy group, part event series—will collaborate with community activists to bring outdoor recreation to groups who have traditionally felt unwelcome, unsupported, or unrepresented in the space.
“The concept of guiding has been a long-running one with our brand,” said Kristen Elliott, Eddie Bauer's VP of Marketing. “Over the years, we’ve talked about the definition of ‘guide.’ If Eddie Bauer can be the guide brand, then how many ways can we define who guides people toward outdoor experience? For this program, we looked for people who are actively breaking down barriers, people providing opportunities for underrepresented groups, and leaders who can have a deep relationship with our brand.”
All Outside currently partners with four community leaders: Perry Cohen of The Venture Out Project; Jenny Bruso of Unlikely Hikers; Trevor Kennison, a pro skier; and Nailah Blades, founder of Color Outside, an organization that helps women of color create “unapologetically joy-filled lives” through outdoor adventure by hosting free meetups, workshops, retreats, and more.
“There’s something really powerful about taking up space in a place where you’re not traditionally supposed to be,” Blades told SNEWS. “For women of color, that often is the outdoors.”
Blades founded Color Outside after moving to Salt Lake City from California with her family. She felt intimidated, she said, by the difficulty of breaking into the outdoor community in her new home.
“It started as a free meetup group. It was the community I needed at the time. But I couldn’t find it in Salt Lake City. So I created it.”
After a few years of building her organization, Eddie Bauer took notice. The company reached out to Blades about partnering on a 2019 campaign called Why I Hike, an effort to bring awareness to the diversity of individual motivations that bring people outside, from health to relaxation to inner healing. Collaboration begat collaboration; less than a year later, the company reached out again to invite Blades and to join All Outside as an official community leader.
“We just kicked it off this month,” said Blades. “We all went up to the Seattle headquarters and got a deep dive into Eddie Bauer. We had the opportunity to talk to different teams—creative, product, even people working at the store level. What we’re doing right now is figuring out what the future of the outdoor industry looks like and how Eddie Bauer can lead the charge in making everyone feel comfortable in the outdoors.”
As the program progresses, Eddie Bauer will hold store events, workshops, speaker series, product and marketing initiatives, and even adventure outings like group campouts in support of the cause. It's also seeking ideas directly from Blades and her fellow leaders on ways to improve inclusion across the industry.
“I’m really excited about doing more at the store level, whether that means educational events or even in-store fittings. A lot of the women in my community might be looking for plus sizes or extended sizes, and they don’t always feel that brands are focused on that," said Blades.
Eddie Bauer is actively in conversation with more potential partners to add to the program.
“We’re going to build on this over time. We have 30 or so folks on our guide team right now and four on the All Outside team. Eventually, we’d like to have more of an even balance," Elliott said.
Eddie Bauer’s hope for the program, as well as Blades’, is that it will help dismantle some of the social and cultural barriers that prevent people from getting outside, as well as promote collaboration in unexpected places.
“We’re going to be pairing the All Outside crew with our guides on shared adventures,” said Elliott. “For instance, we might pair Nailah up with someone on our guide team to go have an adventure of Nailah’s choice. Nailah gets to learn something about a particular adventure, and in turn the guide gets to learn about Color Outside as a means of raising awareness and growing our perspective.”
For the future of the program and the industry's broader focus on inclusion in the outdoor space, Blades is nothing but hopeful:
“This space belongs to us. It belongs to all of us, and we have a right to be here in whatever way makes sense for ourselves. Seek out the other people—organizations and communities and individuals—who are excited about getting more people out there. And start jumping in.”