Outdoor Brands Boycott Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Protest

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Liz Haas
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The Outdoor Retailer Trade Show is currently held twice a year at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo: Jingles the Pirate/Flickr; CC BY-ND 2.0

The Outdoor Retailer Trade Show is currently held twice a year at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo: Jingles the Pirate/Flickr; CC BY-ND 2.0

Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a resolution on February 3 urging President Trump to rescind the newly protected Bears Ears National Monument, putting access to outdoor recreation, including climbing at Indian Creek, Valley of the Gods, Arch Canyon, and Lockhart Basin, in question. Four days later, Patagonia CEO and President Rose Marcario announced that the company would no longer be attending the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show (OR) in Salt Lake City in protest and invited the rest of the outdoor industry to join in the effort to move the show to a new state. Metolius, Arc’teryx, and Polartec have since joined the boycott. Metolius is urging other climbing brands to do so as well.

“Outdoor recreation is vital to our existence, and public lands conservation is essential,” said Gary Smith, Polartec CEO. “That’s why we’re proud to join with those willing to invest in doing the right thing, in standing up for the unique and finite resource that is our public lands.”

Arc’teryx announced that it will reallocate the funds it would have spent attending the show to the Conservation Alliance’s Public Lands Defense Fund. They will also increase overall funding to the Conservation Alliance by $150,000 over the next three years. The company plans to send representatives to meet with elected officials in Washington, D.C., in March to voice its support of protecting important lands and waterways.

Peak Design, a camera bag company, said that it would lead the boycott for smaller outdoor businesses, “because if we all band together, it's actually going to sting.”

However, many industry leaders disagree that a boycott is the most effective way to fight back.

“Leaving OR would mean throwing hurdles in the way of important work that non-government organizations and non-profits are doing for the very causes we’re fighting for,” Scott Baxter, Group President of The North Face, said in a letter to outdoor industry stakeholders Friday. “Leaving OR would also mean removing ourselves from the coalitions and partnerships that focus real time and money on pushing new standards in sustainability, materials development, manufacturing, and other initiatives that make us all better businesses and corporate citizens.”

REI, Ibex, Cotopaxi, Vasque, and the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) itself also released statements urging companies to unite at OR to continue the discussion and initiate change by networking and strengthening community relationships.

“[OR] plays a special role in the outdoor community,” REI Co-op CEO Jerry Stritzke wrote in a letter to industry leaders Friday. “It is the one time and place that we come together across all elements of our industry, [and] the key non-profits that advocate and protect our most sacred assets gather to share, plan, and dream. I hope that even those companies that have had the courage to make a statement by indicating a willingness to walk away from Utah might consider making a trip to OR this July.”

“We must be louder and stronger than our opposition and that means everyone coming together," Baxter wrote. "We can’t do that if we leave the OIA to fight on our own—with fewer resources.”

Ibex is taking a middle ground, saying they will attend OR, but with fewer representatives, a smaller budget, and plans to both spend as little money as possible at the show and boycott outdoor recreation while in the state.

The OIA wrote a letter warning companies that a boycott would hurt the voice and credibility the industry has worked to build, while proving detrimental to smaller brands, specialty retailers, and non-profits who rely on the business, connections, and inspiration OR provides them.

The OIA encouraged industry colleagues to both attend OR to maintain valuable inter-company relationships and attend Capitol Summit to speak directly with public land issues supporters and opponents in Washington, D.C., in April. 

In addition to voicing their opinion in Washington, the OIA released a statement today saying that its executive director, Amy Roberts, and key leaders from outdoor industry companies will speak with Governor Herbert on February 16 to ask him "to stop all efforts to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument through executive order, to stop efforts to gut the Antiquities Act, and to support keeping our public lands public for all Americans to enjoy."

“Our aim is to amplify our collective voice,” Eric Artz wrote on behalf of the OIA Board of Directors. He encouraged companies to contact the OIA to continue the conversation, and said that the Alliance was currently working to “select a more appropriate venue for future shows.”

"As a sponsor of the annual OIA Capitol Summit in Washington, D.C., for the last four years, we’ve seen how pivotal the OIA has been in driving the protection of the Bears Ears, as well as many other issues," Vasque vice president George Curleigh said in a press release. "We will continue to stand with the OIA and industry as whole in order to have the largest possible impact.”

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