Since 2016, Brown Girls Climb (BGC) has been dedicated to increasing visibility of climbers of color. What started as an Instagram community grew into an organization that offers members perks like free intro to climbing classes, discounted or free gym day passes, and access to resources to connect with other communities. BGC also co-hosted Color the Crag, an event that celebrated diversity in climbing. Now the organization will tackle representation on the financial level with the Marketplace: a one-stop shopping site that uplifts BIPOC-owned companies and companies that advocate for their communities and the planet.
The Marketplace was born from discussions of representation. BGC’s Founding and National Leadership team sat down with National Leader Bethany Lebewitz in order to get to the heart of the issue: How could they create lasting change in representation?
“And so combined, we wanted to dig deeper. We can slap some photos on a brand and say it’s representative but it doesn’t solve the equity issue,” said Lebewitz. “There’s a lot more to unpack there including economic disparities that exist between our communities and within industry.”
Brands often have been doing just that, in an effort to increase their representation. Such brand investments in marketing were helpful for BGC—they provided a couple hundred dollars here and there—but ultimately these opportunities were “drenched with inequities” themselves, said Lebewitz. The problem of representation was bigger than an advertising campaign.
“You have representation in access issues on the climbing level, the outdoor recreational level—just folks wanting to experience the outdoors. Then you have access and representation issues on the instructor level, and guide level, the people that folks are typically learning from,” said Lebewitz. “Whether that’s indoors or outdoors, most of your instructors are going to be white males. And then it’s the same at the industry level, too.”
Hiring People of Color for a staff, front desk, or retail-level job doesn’t do much to fix the problem, either. Without representation on the executive level, a company is at best limited in how it can understand and support the problem, if not contributing to the problem. Black and Brown employees need to interact with the company’s budget in order to make effective change, said Lebewitz. Otherwise, buyers’ money will just continue to get funnelled to the same places, which isn’t back into our communities, and Lebewitz believes that money usually has less impact.
“There’s usually greater initiatives that Black and Brown and other minority (queer, veteran, disabled) owned businesses try to get involved with because they know the struggle of just getting to that point,” said Lebewitz. “So in a lot of ways, a dollar invested into a smaller business can do a lot more to help surrounding communities than large businesses.”
If they could disrupt that cycle of wealth, BGC could generate real change. By uplifting BIPOC-owned businesses and corporate partners investing in significant change, BGC could point the way to another route for people’s investments. Elevating BIPOC-owned businesses is a process that BGC began three years ago, when they would create the annual BGC Holiday Gift Guide. The team spent a lot of time researching businesses with products under food and beverage, gear, apparel, health and wellness, and art and accessories. Without knowing it, they were building the base of the Marketplace.
“A lot of folks look forward to our holiday gift guide and the brands we recommend to support because a lot of people don’t know these brands exist in the first place,” said Lebewitz.
The outdoor industry, as well, has been slow to realize there is a demand for a more inclusive shopping platform. But BGC has been responding to this demand by surveying its Instagram followers and using word of mouth to discover new companies.
BGC will launch a crowdfunding campaign for the site in June, and plans to have it ready to use by November. The crowdfunding is multi-purpose: to forge partnerships with outdoor brands, and to raise money for BGC, including a consulting fund to help guide the BGC Marketplace development. The consulting fund is for BGC to reach out to representatives of marginalized communities—like adaptive, Indigenous, plus size, and gender queer—to better understand what products or brands they support or recommend and to make sure the process is done as thoughtfully and ethically as possible.
The Marketplace will be centered around outdoor related products and services, but Lebewitz recognizes that the outdoors can mean different things for different people. Different communities, as well, may have different needs outside.
“We want to expand the list of understanding what the outdoor experience is for other communities,” said Lebewitz.
Lebewitz envisions having everything from technical climbing gear to self-care items such as balms and hair products. The Marketplace will also host vendors that provide services, like guiding, in addition to clothing and gear-based categories. For BIPOC, LGBTQIA2+, and marginalized gender owned brands, being on the site is free, and larger companies need to pay an annual rate to be on the Marketplace.
When a company joins the site they will fill out a partnership form, on which it can categorize itself and provide its values. For example, a company could be woman owned, Black owned, and sell plus size or gender-neutral clothing. BGC plans on reviewing the companies they host every year, to make sure they are consistent with their values.
Lebewitz recognizes that while companies are far from perfect, some give back to the community more than others.
“The values part is challenging. Kind of what I tell my team is there’s not really a good company out there,” said Lebewitz. “So this isn’t a tool for you to be like, oh is this a good company or a bad company? No. Companies are companies. But it is a tool to see how is this company using your dollars, and I believe that there’s, from our experience, there are good people in those companies and those people are who make choices which can tip the scales on how a company approaches corporate responsibility.”
Transparency is the goal. On each company’s page, there will be information on the company and any initiatives it is involved in. For example, on SCARPA’s page—which has been a longterm partner with BGC—the site will list its environmental certifications and social initiatives. There will also be a link to Glassdoor, so anyone interested in working at SCARPA can read reviews on the company and make better informed decisions on the companies they interact with. The site will have a filter system, as well, so shoppers can easily navigate and see which brands are tailored to their values.
“If you’re debating who you should buy your chalk bag from, we’d encourage you to purchase it from a brand like Kel-Tech-Gear, a brand owned by Kelsey Deer, an Indigenous woman that makes them by hand,” Lebewitz said.
Every dollar counts and every dollar is an investment, emphasized Lebewitz, whether it is five dollars or five hundred dollars. She hopes that the BGC Marketplace will at least raise consciousness around that fact.
“Your investment in your gear and everything you pay for, from your groceries to your light bill, can shape the future we hope to create,” said Lebewitz. “It’s these everyday and often mundane purchases that can often be as powerful, in my opinion, as our vote. Because private industry has a lot of influence in America, whether we like it or not. Collectively, though, we do have the power to change this. We have the power to redistribute wealth and disrupt the status quo, but it will take intentional steps at every level of our life to do so. I’m hopeful this tool will help make those steps a little bit easier for folks.”
A message from Brown Girls Climb
If you are a BIPOC, Queer, Woman or Non-Binary entrepeneur or small business and would like to be included in the marketplace, we would love to share your company on our page. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you provide mutual aid for recycled or used outdoor gear or apparel, we’d also love to share your work. Email: email@example.com
If you are a corporation or company that is creating products that meet a diverse audience or committed to social and environmental initiatives, annual rates to be featured on the marketplace are available. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org