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Are Some Outdoor Retailers Becoming Too Commercialised?

In recent years, the outdoor retail industry has seen a significant transformation. Once dedicated solely to promoting exploration, environmental awareness, and adventure, some outdoor retailers seem to be veering towards a more commercialised path. One prime example of this shift is National Geographic, a brand that has been synonymous with exploration and conservation for over a century. However, in recent times, it has been increasingly compared to fashion brands rather than an institution fostering a love for nature and exploration.

National Geographic Store at Melbourne Central
National Geographic Store at Melbourne Central

National Geographic was once a nonprofit organisation until 2015 when the magazine was moved into the restructured, for-profit National Geographic Partners majority owned by 21st Century Fox (Walt Disney). It has had a rich legacy of promoting scientific discovery and environmental conservation with its iconic yellow-bordered magazine being a long-time staple for nature enthusiasts, offering breathtaking photographs and insightful articles that inspire a deeper understanding of the natural world. In the past, the National Geographic store primarily featured educational products, maps, and books that supported its mission.

One of the latest styles from Nat Geo,
One of the latest styles from Nat Geo,

However, in the pursuit of profit and market expansion, National Geographic has undergone a transformation that some critics argue compromises its original values. The retail arm of the brand has gradually shifted its focus towards trendy apparel lines, branded accessories, and even luxury travel experiences. While these products may appeal to a wider audience, they risk diluting the brand's identity as a champion for the planet.

The commercialisation of once-pure outdoor retailers is not an isolated phenomenon. Many companies in the industry have faced pressure to adapt to the fast-paced consumer market including Kathmandu, Arc'teryx and The North Face, often leading to compromises on their core values. This shift can be attributed to various factors, including the demand for increased profits, changing consumer preferences, and the influence of modern marketing strategies. Recent trends has seen outdoor wear turn into a fashion statement, with brands like Arc’terys now being home to some of the most sought after rain jackets on the market.

Despite these challenges, some outdoor retailers have managed to stay true to their values while remaining successful in the market. Patagonia is a standout example in this regard. Since its inception, Patagonia has been committed to environmental sustainability and responsible business practices. The company actively encourages its customers to buy only what they truly need, thereby promoting conscious consumerism. Moreover, Patagonia announced in 2022 that 100% of its profits would go to environmental causes and has undertaken various initiatives to reduce its ecological footprint within its stores and supply chain.

Statement made to customers after founder of Patagonia Yvon Chouinard gave it to fight climate change.
Statement made to customers after founder of Patagonia Yvon Chouinard gave it to fight climate change.

Patagonia's approach has resonated with a growing segment of environmentally-conscious consumers who prioritise ethical and sustainable products. By adhering to their core values, Patagonia has not only maintained a loyal customer base but has also attracted new customers seeking purpose-driven brands.

The contrast between National Geographic's commercialisation and Patagonia's commitment to its values raises essential questions about the direction of the outdoor retail industry. Can a company strike a balance between profitability and purpose? Can a brand succeed without compromising its mission and principles? The answer lies in the hands of both consumers and companies. Consumers have the power to influence the industry by supporting brands that prioritise sustainability, ethics, and environmental stewardship. By choosing to shop at businesses like Patagonia, consumers can send a message to the market that purpose-driven companies are not only desirable but profitable as well. On the other hand, companies must remain steadfast in their commitment to their core values. While there may be temptations to chase short-term profits and trends, maintaining authenticity and a strong sense of purpose can lead to long-term success and positive impact.

Ultimately, the increasing commercialisation of some outdoor retailers raises concerns about their commitment to the values they once embraced. As we move forward, it is crucial for us all to reflect on the role of outdoor retailers in promoting environmental consciousness and responsible consumption. Brands like Patagonia serve as shining examples, proving that it is possible to be profitable while staying true to one's mission and principles. However, the direction of the outdoor retail industry will be determined by the choices we make as consumers, and more importantly the actions of companies in how they want to achieve profit objectives in relation to their core values.

Written by Josh Welch


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