Retailer REI launches programs to invest in startup founders of color selling outdoor gear

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REI has set a 2030 goal of adding at least 200 new brands to its lineup that are owned or led by people of color. (REI Photo)

In an effort to sell more goods from companies run by people of color, outdoor retailer REI is launching a program to support diverse entrepreneurs producing gear for camping, hiking, biking, skiing and related activities.

The Seattle company’s Path Ahead Ventures will invest $30 million into programs that help diverse founders create and grow their businesses in the hopes that they’ll be able to sell their items at REI.com or at one of the company’s 171 retail stores.

REI has set a 2030 goal of adding at least 200 new brands to its lineup that are owned or led by people of color. Achieving that benchmark would mean more than 15% of brands sold at REI were from from companies with racially and ethnically diverse leadership.

According to REI, only 1% of retail brands are owned by people of color. The outdoor industry is worth $459.8 billion.

The initiative has two focuses:

  • A program called Embark, which targets entrepreneurs with early stage ideas. It will provide founders with an equity-free grant and a three-month virtual course in best practices. The course is being developed in partnership with Founded Outdoors, a program supporting diverse founders across multiple industries. Embark is accepting applications for its first cohort through Nov. 28.
  • Its Navigate program will help entrepreneurs ready to scale their businesses. It will also provide funding as well as resources for production, distribution, publicity and networking. This effort will launch next year.

“Retailers, including REI, have sourced products in ways that have made it difficult for smaller, newer companies to compete — which has had a disproportionate impact on founders of color,” said Dan Kihanya, REI director of corporate development, in a statement.

Black, African American, Hispanic and Latinx people also participate in outdoor activities at lower rates than white Americans, according to recent research.