If you’ve spent much time in the outdoors over the past twenty-plus years, you’ve certainly seen trends emerge and fade, fads take hold and then dissipate. One of the changes that has taken hold (and is here to stay) is the increase in diversity seen amongst participants in outdoor activities. There are a host of reasons as to why outdoor enthusiasts have tended to be predominantly white over the past several decades, but the most pronounced is simply demographics, and those are rapidly shifting. In 2010, 64% of the population was white, 17% Latino, 13% black, and 5% Asian. In 1970, those numbers were 84% white, 4% Latino, 11% black, and less than 1% Asian, according to analysis of U.S. Census data. Those trends are projected to continue, such that by 2060, the U.S.’s population will be 42% white, 31% Latino, 13% black, and 8% Asian.
While the increase in ethnic diversity in outdoor participation reflects greater population trends, that doesn’t tell the whole story. There certainly are greater numbers when it comes to people of color as a percentage of the population, but the demand hasn’t simply appeared organically. People exposed to the outdoors at a young age tend to spend time there as they grow older and expose their kids to more of the same. Given roughly 82% of the U.S. is living in urban areas, up from approximately 74% in 1970, a growing number of people don’t have ready access to the outdoors, which is disproportionately felt in minority communities as they tend to have higher concentrations in cities. What then, has been the catalyst to drive increased engagement between minorities and the outdoor industry? Happily, a number of trailblazers from minority communities have gained prominence across a slew of outdoor activities from climbing to skiing, surfing to hunting. Many of these early adopters have found ways to pass their enthusiasm on to their communities through organizations such as Outdoor Afro, whose tag line is ‘Where Black People & Nature Meet.’ Clubs such as Latino Outdoors and Asian Outdoors have similar missions for their respective communities. According to the L.A. Times, a 2016 survey found that among the 1 million people who began camping for the first time in the prior year, almost 20% were black and 11% were Latino, nearly twice the rate for those groups in 2014.
Outdoor and enthusiast companies have taken notice. Another minority group, female hunters grew a remarkable 83% over the last ten years. As a frequent and recent attendee of the Outdoor Retailer (OR) and SHOT shows, one can’t help but notice the abundance of booth signage consistent with this movement. Not only do minorities offer an attractive avenue of growth into under-penetrated markets, but the outdoor industry in general embraces the idea that the folks you see in the wild should mirror the population at large.
Marketing efforts often highlight minority influencers as brand ambassadors and emphasize inclusiveness. The stakes are high and attractive: black consumers controlled over $1.2 trillion in buying power in 2015, almost tripling from $320 billion 1990; Latinos garnered a further $1.3 trillion in buying power in 2015, according to MarketWatch. Outdoor apparel and gear companies can do well while doing good by better serving these growing markets.
Source: U.S. Census data