Matt Niswonger
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Viva Los Funhogs

As I write this note we are putting the final touches on Issue # 107 while preparing to travel to the Outdoor Retailer (OR) trade show in Denver later this week. For many years, OR has been the place where big, influential outdoor companies like REI, Patagonia, The North Face, and Clif Bar gather under one roof. We go twice a year to catch up with friends, learn about industry developments, and most of all to get inspired.

What I admire the most about the outdoor industry is that the leading companies care as much about environmental sustainability as profitability. In contrast to almost every other industry, leading outdoor brands like Patagonia are about inspiring customers to live a life that is more in tune with nature. As a result, smaller companies follow their lead and a virtuous cycle ensues. Every time we go to OR I learn about more companies offering products that reduce, reuse, and/or recycle. We are proud to call this our tribe: the outdoor misfits who want to change the world for the better and make a living at the same time.

In my mind, the modern outdoor industry was created in 1968 by hippies who realized that climbing, skiing, and surfing were far from trivial pursuits, in fact they were ways to live your life in opposition to the violence and greed of the military industrial complex. That year some hippies who called themselves the “Funhogs” left Ventura and began traveling south, surfing and climbing their way to Argentina and a notorious mountain called Fitzroy. Their journey was described in an influential essay called Viva Los Funhogs by Yosemite climber Dick Dorworth.

Included in the odyssey were Funhogs Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins, the founders of Patagonia and The North Face. What they learned on this trip changed their lives forever, and as a result shaped the modern outdoor industry.

In 2012 Doug wrote: “The notions that people are in charge of nature, can effectively manage the earth solely for human ends, and can escape the ecological consequences of their own actions, are intellectually indefensible. Yet the entire collective human enterprise continues to be steered down these collective dead ends. Climate change, the extinction crisis, the depletion of resources of all kinds and resulting economic social crises can be seen as the inevitable products of our collective delusional thinking …”

I go to OR to recharge my batteries and remember what the outdoor industry stands for. The game we play is not “How do I make as much money as possible?” but “How do I make money while having fun and saving the world at the same time?”

Something we will be discussing while at OR is a partnership we are working on for 2019 and beyond. We are excited to announce that starting soon, we will be printing most (or all) of our trademarked Earn Your Beer shirts on fabric made with recycled materials. I have been running and mountain biking  in different recycled shirts to test their comfort and durability. So far the results are promising.

A few issues ago I wrote an essay called “Digital Apocalypse” about how much time everyone is spending on their phones and how it is harder for print publications relying on advertising to stay profitable in the age of Facebook and Instagram. After much soul searching and helpful feedback from readers, we are excited to expand our shirt business and begin selling Earn Your Beer shirts online, hopefully creating a second revenue stream so we don’t rely completely on ad revenue.

That said, how do we stay true to our hippy roots and sell shirts profitably while having fun and saving the planet at the same time? By choosing to sell shirts that are made from recycled threads, how do we compete in the online marketplace against cheaper shirts that are made in foreign sweatshops from ecologically dubious materials? How do we play the game of hippy capitalism well enough to actually make money?

Actually, here’s a better question: How to start this endeavor in the spirit of Yvon Chouinard, Doug Tompkins, Dick Dorworth, Chris Jones, and Lito Tejada-Flores, the original 1968 Funhogs? For example I can only guess how Yvon Chouinard would sell recycled shirts if he were in our shoes. That said, I’m sure it would be brilliant, simple and direct. After all, the man became a billionaire selling clothing designed to dismantle the military industrial complex one consumer at a time.

In the high tech industry people love to talk about “disruptive” technologies that change human behavior on a large scale. What a hollow achievement if you don’t also help humans thrive better on earth and become more in tune with nature. That’s why Chouinard will always be the true disrupter and Patagonia the true unicorn company.

If you have any words of wisdom or ideas please send me an email, I’d love to hear from you. How do we inspire people to buy shirts that are slightly more expensive but also inspire us all to change our habits?

—Matt Niswonger