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Visiting with partners old and new at Outdoor Retailer

by Dup Crosson, Development Director

Every summer I make a rare trip out of state for CalWild, attending the Outdoor Retailer (OR) trade show where hundreds of brands, manufacturers, and nonprofits converge to talk shop about the outdoor gear industry. The event, held in Salt Lake City or Denver over the last 30 years, is huge, and is a great chance for us to meet many existing and prospective partners in person – a rare thing in this digital age, and a nice reprieve from the remote work my colleagues and I are used to.

Like last summer, this year’s show in Denver was still noticeably smaller than a typical OR (thanks to pandemic anxiety– and a forthcoming boycott around the show’s return to Salt Lake City in 2023). However, I was still able to meet with dozens of brands that are interested – or already committed – to public lands conservation in the west. We tend to focus on brands that meet at least one of three factors:

  1. they are interested in public lands/conservation
  2. they call California home
  3. sustainability is built-in to their business ethos

Talking conservation during a product-heavy trade show is a balancing act; many of the people who staff the brand tables are sales reps that often have little idea of their brand’s philanthropy or partnership capacity. But sales reps often have a firm grasp on their products, and if I can’t find the brand’s Marketing or Philanthropy contact, I use these interactions as a chance to see how these brands are committed to sustainable design. Are they using recycled, renewable, or plant/mineral-based materials? Are they Bluesign or Climate Neutral certified? Are they members of our partners 1% for the Planet or The Conservation Alliance?

As I weaved circles around the show floor for a few days, I found brands like Falcon Guides who see ways they could feature our work in their California guidebooks, or Chico-based Klean Kanteen, who are specifically interested in wildfire issues since a huge number of their staff lost homes as a result of the Camp Fire. My colleagues and I talked about doing a “Taste a River” event with one of the water purification or container brands like Sawyer, Lifestraw, and Camelbak (I admitted the Middle Fork Kings River might have recently overtaken the Smith as my favorite tasting river in the CA).

Kinjaro is a newer brand I’m interested in learning more about – they make camping products with a good eye towards recycled materials. Their competitor GSI Outdoors continues to lean into eco-friendly materials for their camping gear, as well, transitioning to all recycled plastic by 2025.

It was also nice to meet some of the folks over at Pacific Crest Trail Association and Latino Outdoors, who were perusing the floor like I was in hopes of future collaborations for their good work. It was only through our happy hour event that I discovered Luis Villa, the Executive Director of Latino Outdoors, lives right in Fresno. Our team has a lot of ideas about focusing more of our work in the Central Valley (see our Public Lands Equity and Resilience Program), so it was nice to connect the dots with someone my colleagues regularly work with.

The show is also a chance for us to catch up with our supporters and showcase our existing partnerships. I saw Marian from Watershed Dry Bags, who recently sponsored our Toast to the Central Coast event in Ojai. We also did a happy hour event with Bridget and Matt over at Allett (CalWild Group Members for several years running); we traded newsletter sign-ups for Allett wallets and CalWild bandanas or sunglasses, and drank beer as the day’s madness was coming to a close.

As per usual, each day’s jam-packed schedule generally leaked into the evening, with mini film festivals, more happy hours than one can handle, and PR firms like our partners (and Group Members) Exact Change doing rooftop events. And be it Folkloric dance happening down the street, slamming jazz at Nocturne in the RiNo District, or art openings aplenty, Denver never ceases to be a hub of culture, arts, and opportunities to connect.

Looking forward to next year, I see that the theme of conservation at OR will likely change dramatically.  The Conservation Alliance‘s boycott, which stemmed from Utah politicians’ support of President Trump’s Bears Ears antics, currently includes 40+ brands (like Patagonia, The North Face, and REI). The absence of these brands – many of which are leaders for conservation partnerships – will mean the trade show might not be as appealing to nonprofits like us. Our attendance in 2023 will depend on a lot of things that will happen between now and then, but we’re hopeful as always that the conversation about public lands doesn’t stop.

In the meanwhile, CalWild’s partner list is growing in a big way, and this is part of why our staff is starting to grow. If your brand is interested in working with us, please visit our Partners page and consider becoming a Group Member today to help us sustain our growth and showcase your dedication to conservation. Get in touch with me anytime at dcrosson@calwild.org.