During the summer of 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement activated American consumers in a very specific way. Despite pandemic restrictions keeping people at home and hindering businesses, Google Trends data showed a 300 percent spike in searches for “How to find Black-owned businesses in your area” in the US.
These consumer activists were aiming to put their dollars to work where they could make a difference. Where we spend, invest, and deposit our money matters, especially when you realize just two percent of employer businesses are Black-owned in this country. And federal data shows they are twice as likely to be turned down for loans than white businesses.
Those inequities are particularly pronounced in the outdoor industry. Googling “Black-owned outdoor businesses nearby” will not yield many results in most places. Even in Chicago, when a Black-owned running shop opened last year, it made national headlines.
Things are changing thanks to BIPOC outdoor enthusiasts and community-spirited entrepreneurs. We talked to three entrepreneurs at the forefront of that change about how they recognized opportunities, overcame obstacles, and created community-building companies.
Seirus Innovation Invests In a More Equitable World
Creative thinking and a commitment to sustainability drives Mike Carey, an avid skier and co-founder of Seirus Innovation. An inventor with eight patents for ski apparel to his credit, Carey makes cold-weather gear like ski and snowboarding gloves, face protection, and other accessories. The goal for his Southern California-based brand? Keep people warm and comfortable.
“We try to take the stress out of being outdoors,” Carey says. “Without that barrier, people can be their best selves and can appreciate the world.”
Part of Carey’s life mission is to use his skills to shape a more equitable world. “Our company is so intentional about bringing Black Americans into winter sports,” he says. “I’m heavily involved with organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of America and other educational bodies to show children of color that this is an option for them.”
Just nine percent of Black Americans participate in winter sports, according to the Snowsports Industries America Participation Study 2019-2020. Seirus Innovation hopes community investment will help change those numbers.
Carey also hopes that with increased participation in winter sports, environmental conscientiousness will increase as well.
“If they can respect the space, they’re more likely to want to protect it,” he says. Carey certainly does. He aims to be as environmentally responsible as possible with his supply chain choices.
The way to begin investing in community, Carey says, is for business owners to widen their perspective beyond the current consumer. “Our philosophy is that we are here for each other,” he says. “That means those who buy our product, who spend time in the same environment that we do, and those who share the world with us.”
Hard Knox Bikes Empowers Their Community
Binky Brown is the bike mechanic and brains behind the bike sales, repair, and workshop business Hard Knox Bikes in Oakland, California. Brown began cycling in 2012, and as she participated in rides around her city, she saw a need for a safe, nonjudgmental space where people could learn about their rides.
“My idea was to create access for those marginalized communities and those who might not feel comfortable coming into a traditional cycling store,” she says. Many shops have been criticized for having elitist attitudes, which can turn off cyclists like Brown. In an effort to build a more inclusive community, she markets her services towards those who identify as women, people of color, trans individuals, as well as allies of these communities.
In an area notorious for high rents, Brown got creative: her shop, which repairs bicycles and teaches cycling workshops, is mobile. It means she can go to customers when they can’t come to her. “I go where I’m needed,” she explains.
When she isn’t repairing bikes, she’s hosting workshops and clinics on topics like bike safety and maintenance. She teaches cyclists about their hardware to combat the “use and throw away” mentality. Her motto is to “recycle what we can and replace what we must.” To that end, Brown aims to expand access to repair resources, like tools and parts, so everyone has the chance to extend the life of their products, which is one key to sustainability.
Brown’s advice for weathering the current moment: Figure out what consumers can learn from you.
“I could operate as just a bike mechanic. But leading workshops and showing folx how to fix bikes leads to a reduction in both financial and environmental costs in my community,” she says. “It promotes the empowerment of people—now they have the knowledge to care for their equipment.”
Intrinsic Provisions Builds Advocacy Into the Business
In 2017, Mark Boles founded Intrinsic Provisions in Hingham, Massachusetts. A mountain biker, skier, and swimmer, Boles long dreamed of owning an outdoor gear shop. He envisioned the type of place where people could gather ahead of adventures and purchase things that would make their time in the great outdoors more comfortable.
After 25 years as a marketing executive, Boles started his venture with two major goals: “I wanted to create a place that fostered community and allowed those in the region to pick up products that they knew were involved in supporting their environment instead of damaging it.”
Like many other sustainability-conscious outdoor businesses, Boles understood the connection between environmental advocacy and success.
“We’re in the business of helping people get outdoors,” he says. “That means the health of our business is inextricably tied to natural resources and the environment.”
The outdoor clothing and accessories shop handpicks practical, small brands invested in sustainability, equality, and philanthropy. Boles also reserves a section of the shop’s floor space for a dedicated pop-up shop. Small brands come in and test their goods with consumers, which allows them to incorporate user feedback into future products. It also gives dedicated customers a good reason to stop by to see what’s new.
Boles’s advice for small business owners: Don’t be afraid to get personal. Make sure the products and services you offer say something about who you are. “I understand that advocating for equality the way we do means we might be leaving money on the table,” Boles says. “But I live for the moments when someone comes into the shop and talks about a social media post that resonated with them.”
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Where Your Money Goes Matters
There are various ways to help build a more inclusive world. You can donate to nonprofits, volunteer with community organizations, get involved politically, and consider where you spend your money. In a country where more than 13 percent of the population is Black and just 2 percent of businesses are Black-owned, learning about and supporting Black-owned businesses is a meaningful way to help build a more equitable society.