MEC Changing the Narrative in Outdoor Gear Industry

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“We can’t move forward until we acknowledge our past.”

This was the first line in an open letter addressed to Canadians from David Labistour, CEO of Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), Canada’s go-to place for outdoor gear and know-how.

“Historically, the models we’ve used in our catalogues and campaigns and on mec.ca have been predominantly white,” Labistour wrote;  “And this imagery has perpetuated the vastly incorrect notion that people of colour in Canada don’t ski, hike, climb or camp. This letter is about recognizing the role we’ve played in underrepresenting people of colour in the outdoors and committing to change. It’s not OK.”

While discussions of a lack of diversity had been occurring internally within MEC boardrooms, in March of 2018, Judith Kasiama, an outdoor enthusiast in British Columbia, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, called MEC out on Instagram for its underrepresentation of people of colour. In response, MEC launched its diversity campaign, aimed at better reflecting the diversity of Canadians present in the outdoors. 

Kasiama’s concerns prompted the company to analyze which communities were being underrepresented in their advertising. Contrary to popular belief, a study commissioned by MEC found that people of colour actually spend more time and participate in more outdoor activities than white people. 

The study revealed that:

  • Incidences of participation in outdoor activities are 8% higher among people of colour than white people. 

  • People of colour on average spend three more hours per week partaking in outdoor activities when compared with white people. 

  • People of colour are more likely than white people to participate in climbing (23% vs. 10%) and snow sports (17% vs. 10%).  

  • 29% of people of colour jog or run compared to only 14% of white people.

  • For other activities such as road cycling, hiking and camping, the numbers show parity or near parity in participation among POC and white people.

To diversify their representation, Labistour signed the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge, committing the company to “advance representation for people of color across the industry.”  

Other tenants of the diversity campaign include an online and social media platform, documentaries profiling diverse Canadian athletes, ensuring MEC partners prioritize diversity initiatives, and internally diversifying MEC boardrooms through various HR practices. 

Sarah Speedie, regional community investment specialist for MEC, said that embracing and reflecting Canadian diversity is not limited to the diversity campaign. It’s a key value central to MEC’s vision. 

“Mountain Equipment Co-op’s purpose is to inspire all Canadians to get outside regardless of their background, and the diversity campaign is an extension of that purpose.”

Speedie said she hopes MEC’s initiatives generate a wider conversation about diversity and promote other outdoor retailers to internally and outwardly reflect the diversity present in the wider Canadian population. In doing so, diverse communities will face fewer barriers in enjoying the outdoors. 

CBSR celebrates stories like this one, which celebrate inclusion, purpose and collaboration. We especially like that MEC was able to involve their vocal critic Judith as their first MEC Outdoor Ambassador.

To learn more about MEC’s initiatives, visit the MEC website

TIME FOR A WAKE-UP CALL: In March 2018, a member called MEC out for underrepresenting people of colour. Here’s what happened next.

MYTH BUSTING: People of colour don’t even like skiing/climbing/hiking/camping/getting outside


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Tanya Camp