REI Co-op Rolling Out $30 Million Initiative To Invest In Founders of Color In The Outdoor Industry

Through its Path Ahead Ventures initiative, REI reports it will leverage its network, capability, and community to partner with Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian American Pacific Islander entrepreneurs to build their businesses faster.

Seattle-based REI describes itself as a growing community that is the nation’s largest consumer co-op with over 20 million members. It has 171 locations in 39 states and the District of Columbia.

Its fresh drive comes as founders of color have historically been overlooked and under-resourced in the business. Though the outdoor industry is nearly a $460 billion sector, only about 1% of retail brands are owned or led by people of color.

“We know 30 percent of people who recreate in the outdoors are people of color, and that 40 percent of the U.S. population identifies as a person of color, so the dramatic drop off of people of color being one percent of our suppliers was such a wake-up call,” Susan Viscon, REI senior vice president of corporate development and investment, told The Plug. 

“We thought, ‘We’ll scout more founders of color into our shelves.’ It was at that point that we realized there weren’t really as many diverse founders in the outdoor space.”

Retailers, including REI, have sourced products in ways that have made it hard for smaller, newer companies to compete, disproportionately impacting founders of color.

REI has pledged to add at least at least 200 new brands owned or led by people of color to its assortment by 2030, generating $1 billion in cumulative sales and representing over 15% of brands sold at REI. It plans to achieve that by creating pathways for newer, smaller brands to access and navigate the co-op’s buying process and growing representation of diverse entrepreneurs industrywide via Path Ahead Ventures.

Path Ahead Ventures will work with diverse founders via Embark program, a three-month accelerator program with a $10,000 non-equity grant to develop their business, The Plug reported. Another program,  Navigate, will provide a $25,000 non-equity grant, and offer existing founders resources to scale up.

Check out more details on the effort here. 

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