Seattle-based outdoor retailer REI is taking a stance for gender equality with a new campaign entitled “Force of Nature” that supports the female explorers that are never represented in the media, entertainment or literature.

About REI

Recreational Equipment specializes in retailing outdoor equipment. The company also organizes trips. REI’s Outdoor School is run by professionally-trained, expert-instructors who teach all comers, starting from beginner-level and ending with advanced-level courses.

“At Recreational Equipment, we love to get outside and play, and we know first-hand the importance of quality outdoor gear. We stand behind all our products with a 100% satisfaction guarantee, and we design our own line of award-winning REI brand gear and clothing”.

About Force of Nature

The campaign is a public-facing effort that builds on nearly eight decades of REI work to create more access to the outdoors for women. The project’s leadership team is balanced with more than 40 percent of women, boarding the company.

The company’s research involved a survey or more than 2,000 women. Jerry Stritzke, REI President and CEO, says they talked with women, who has passion about the outdoors. “We started by listening to the women who are already making the outdoors the center of their life,” he says. “They had some powerful things in common—namely greater confidence and fulfillment across their personal and professional lives. We conducted a national survey and heard the same things. That made our path very clear.”

 

The aim of Force of Nature is changing attitude about women and challenge gender norms. Starting on May 6 with the launch of 1,000 events designed for women and girls, REI will conduct Outdoor School classes, trips and retreats.

“Today we proudly launch a public effort called Force of Nature. It is a disruption of the status quo”, – Jerry Stritzke shares. “It claims the outdoors as a place to opt out of cultural pressures to conform—the “supposed-tos” and “shoulds” that underpin outdated stereotypes—especially for women. To create real change right now we are putting women—of all ages, races, sizes, gender expressions—front and center in all we do.”

REI also created a video to support the campaign that includes portraits of women and images of active female, runners, climbers, cyclists and swimmers in their element, interspersed with words that people often think women shouldn’t or should act.

Strong women leaders have helped REI thrive since 1938. Force of Nature is rooted in that proud heritage”, – REI senior vice president of merchandising Susan Viscon explains. “We’re taking an even harder run at ensuring women have access to the same high-end gear men do, which I’m particularly proud of. That’s been a consistent part of my mission here at the co-op ever since I joined 20 years ago, and it’s inspiring to see how our vendor partners have stepped up.”

 

Idea and aim

“REI can help inspire and enable more women to make the outdoors a part of their lives,” – says CEO Jerry Stritzke. “Through ‘Force of Nature,’ women will be front and center in our brand and storytelling spaces, but our commitment goes way beyond a ‘brand’ discussion.”

REI has already opened registration to hundreds of REI Outdoor School classes and experiences across the country designed for women. On May 6 there will be the first day, when Outdoor School’s expert instructors and community partners will share their experience. The campaign will continue throughout the summer, with more than 1,000 events.

 

In his open letter Stritzke highlighted the main idea of the project: “At REI, we believe a life outdoors is a life well lived for all. That means we support equality from the backcountry to the boardroom. As a man and a CEO, I believe it is important for every leader in an organization, regardless of gender, to champion equality and we are doing the hard work here at REI to make that happen. This isn’t about elevating one group above another or pivoting REI to serve one gender over another. This is about ensuring women are just as inspired and equipped as men to embrace life outside. Everyone should expect to get the same level of expert service, gear and experiences, and we need to get better as an industry at doing that.”

 

Future of Force of Nature

Even though the new initiative is pegged as a 2017-specific campaign, the CEO says it won’t end in December. “This year we are swinging the pendulum to focus on women, but this effort has been in the works years internally, and this is just the start of the external push,” says Stritzke. “For example, our merchandising team, led by [Viscon], has been working for more than a decade to address how we create better gear for women that helps them perform at their absolute best.  We’ve made a ton of progress and plan to keep working. So yes, you’ll see more of this type of work from us in the future.”

 

As part of its annual commitment, the company will invest over $1 million in organizations that create opportunities for women and girls to get outside in 2017. $500,000 will support projects such as Camber Outdoors, GirlTrek and the YMCA’s BOLD/GOLD initiative. REI also established a new $500,000 fund, available for organizations that give opportunity to women and girls in the outdoors. Up to$300,000 of this fund will be fueled by a custom-designed bandana, a collaborative T-shirt and member-exclusive REI Flash pack

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