Interview: REI on Relevancy in the Outdoors

Recently, Outdoor Afro founder Rue Mapp, had a chance to chat with Laura Swapp who leads the Diversity and Inclusion efforts of REI out of their Kent, Washington corporate campus. She shares steps REI has taken to help the outdoors be more relevant and inclusive. Read more:


Rue Mapp: So Laura, it’s so great to connect with you again! Can you tell us how was your role imagined – this is a completely new role at REI right?
Laura Swapp: Yes it is a new role, and the position was born from the question posed internally, “What does diversity and inclusion mean to REI?” And in the process of answering that question the organization recognized they could better develop the internal capacity to define what is relevant for what the outdoors meant for the field and for REI now and in the future.

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RM: What is a key value that informs the philosophy on relevancy?
LS: We believe employees are customers first – so we focus on diversity and inclusion with our employees, and we make sure to also recognize the organizations and individuals who get out and represent America’s diversity such as Black Girls Run, the NOLS Denali 2013 team, and of course, Outdoor Afro!
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We especially want more people to know that REI is a great place to work so we can continue to grow and support our diversity from within.

RM: How will you get the word out?

LS: Just recently, we launched a new microsite, it can be found at It is a portal to target the conversation for a diverse audience, as well as a network where people can join and get a behind-the-scenes view of REI. The site is intentional in that it is working to connect to new audiences in new ways.
We now have an easier way for people to navigate our opportunities, and tell stories through images that we feel cater to a younger, more racially diverse audience. One might think of it as a magazine that delivers content, context and images that are most relevant to the reader.
We don’t think of diversity in terms of philanthropy, but as smart business strategy. Our challenge is not that there’s not a younger, more racially diverse market, it’s that they’re not necessarily gravitating toward the brands of the outdoor industry. So now we are thinking of an expanded definition of the outdoors – meeting people where they are.
RM: Yes! And this is also what Outdoor Afro believes! Please say more about this.
LS: We want people to know they don’t have to climb a mountain to work here. Sure, some of us do, but others might want to chill in the park or bike in the city with the friends.
REI hopes the industry as a whole can be inspired to engage with more audiences in a new way. The biggest outcome is to cultivate innovation and an infusion of co-creators of our brand. We want to create synergy versus dictate – and we are open to change at a point in time where we feel anything is possible.
REI is a proud sponsor of Outdoor Afro, and our official national outdoor retail co-op. Are you a member?