We all know the outdoor industry is hardly as diverse as it needs to be. It's something we've discussed time and time again, yet there's so much more work that needs to be done.
Jeff Wiguna, co-founder of pocket pour-over brand Kuju Coffee, has been working on a way for outdoor companies to make tangible impacts in getting more young people of color outside. The new Outdoor Diversity Coalition was co-founded earlier this year by the Wiguna brothers and Zoe Balaconis and Sarah Connette from Misadventures Magazine, in an effort to raise money to get more kids outside. We asked Jeff Wiguna why it's necessary and how you can get involved.
What is the Outdoor Diversity Coalition?
The Outdoor Diversity Coalition came from our own experiences going to Outdoor Retailer. While working our booth, every once in a while we would see another Asian in the crowd and think to ourselves, “An Asian guy! (or gal!).” And then realize, “Hey, we’re Asians too!” Those experiences basically highlighted that we were a very real minority in the outdoor industry when frankly we didn’t completely realize it.
At the most recent Outdoor Retailer, we heard so much about women and the outdoors, and the Force of Nature Campaign, which as a father with a baby girl was really inspiring. But I think it goes beyond just women, and to the inclusion of people from all walks of life. It’s this idea that diversity is healthier for an industry, and the more backgrounds and perspectives we can bring into outdoor activities, the more we can help the outdoor industry become larger and more accessible to people from all walks of life.
It’s personal for us because we ourselves are minority business owners in the outdoor community and we probably experience things a bit differently than others. I think a lot of minority groups, Asians in particular, just aren’t as aware of how uplifting and fun being in the outdoors can be.
How will the Outdoor Diversity Coalition work toward this goal?
ODC’s mission is to broaden and diversify the outdoor industry and provide scholarships for people who want to get outdoors but don’t have the funds to do it. Sponsorship money from industry brands would go directly towards scholarships that would help people partake in things like a trip with REI Adventures for example. We’ve also received a lot of interest from the general public to become members to support the cause so we do plan on making a public membership possible.
At the end of the day, we just really want diversity in the outdoors to be as much a topic as women in the outdoors. For there to be panels on diversity at OR and for industry executives to speak on its importance, would just be so inspiring to so many other groups outside of the industry to start getting outside.
Why do you think the outdoor industry struggles with increasing diversity?
A lot of minority communities present in the U.S. don’t come from cultures of wealth. If you’re an immigrant to this country, you might be starting with nothing. And the idea of going somewhere to live in a tent for a few days and eat freeze-dried food or instant coffee just might not seem that appealing. I’ve heard some people say , “Going camping is like trying to have fun while being poor.” And it’s because it can be very difficult to gather the resources necessary that makes an outdoor experience more than just being poor. Frankly, nice equipment is expensive.
Justin and I are both Eagle Scouts, so the appreciation for the outdoors was well-cultivated for us. The scouts and a few other programs aside, you often either have to have money to appreciate being in nature, or have the time. If you’re working an hourly job to make ends meet, you might be much more excited about a 3-day vacation in a beautiful hotel than by living in a tent with less-than-stellar bathroom options.
Enjoying the outdoors also isn’t just something you know how to do, you have to learn it somehow: how to pitch a tent, prepare food and coffee and be safe while doing it. It’s one of the reasons Kuju Coffee decided to sponsor the CamelBak Pursuit Series, because of its educational focus. The accessibility to outdoor activities and knowledge of how to partake in them are things I think we in the outdoor industry often take for granted, myself and Justin included. We forget there are people out there who want to but just can’t muster the resources or time to join in.
What’s missing from the conversations that are already happening?
I once read an article commenting on an international women’s panel gathering to discuss women’s health where the caveat was there were no women on the panel. Efforts like these are great in theory, but obviously completely miss the point. In the same way, we think conversations about diversity in the outdoors is probably suffering from a similar oversight. Where are the people who look like Justin and myself?
Part of the motivation for ODC is that we feel we are in a unique position to make it a topic because we live in both worlds – both of us were born in the U.S. to immigrant parents who moved to the US when they were 9 and 13; as a result, we feel both the “majority” and “minority” experience at the same time, and simply figured we could use that unique viewpoint to do something positive for the industry.
I also think the topic really needs a face of credibility. Talk is easy, it’s simple, it creates buzz. But you really need literal, practical, action-oriented programming that will quantitatively get people making a difference. So maybe in 2018, we can fund three scholarships. That’s so small, but we can start talking about that at Outdoor Retailer, and grow. Then we’ll get 10. Then over time, that number will grow, and we’ll get 50 or 100. It’s very easy for an executive at a company to say “we care about this.” But it’s more effective to put $10,000 toward the Outdoor Diversity Coalition.