Life is a journey punctuated with special moments that make a profound impact on us with such seminal moments as milestones being a time for pause, reflection and celebration – of taking stock of just how far we’ve come and how much we’ve accomplished. This year, outdoor performance footwear giant, Merrell, celebrates their big 4-0, which through their unique lens can be summed up as four decades of removing barriers to enjoying the great outdoors with performance-lifestyle products adhering to four simple core values: comfort, durability, versatility and progressive design.
While there is certainly oodles to celebrate when it comes to Merrell’s trajectory from what began in the mountains of Utah with a custom cowboy bootmaker by the name of Randy Merrell – who, with like-minded outdoor and footwear enthusiasts, Clark Matis and John Schweizer, went on to revolutionise hiking and backpacking with the Merrell boot company’s inaugural Wilderness boot – for Merrell, this special milestone is quite clearly not a retrospective. Rather, their gaze is firmly fixed with laser focus on what’s to come over the next four decades for the brand and its following of outdoor enthusiasts of all backgrounds, aptly naming their 40th anniversary campaign, Future 40. “While we certainly respect the past, our eyes are looking at the next horizon and how we can make sure the next 40 years are better than the first 40,” says Merrell president Chris Hufnagel.
Of course, the engine that drives Merrell is footwear – and iconic ones at that. Alongside the original Wilderness legend in leather dubbed the “forever boot” by outdoor enthusiasts, take the equally enduring and ubiquitous designs inhabiting that juncture of fashion and function such as the ultimate, low-maintenance Jungle Moc, the easy-on, easy-off hiker in the Chameleon and the lightweight, uber-comfortable Moab hiking boot to name just a few of Merrell’s triumphs of their presence in the outdoor space.
Speaking of these iconic designs, Merrell followers and new inductees to the Merrell Universe alike, are in for a treat. To kickstart their 40th anniversary of breaking new ground both on and off the trail, Merrell is launching a limited-release collection of reimagined trail legends. And landing specially on our shores will be the 40th Anniversary Merrell Moab 2 Mid Waterproof boot, comprising a festive remix of past and present in an eye-catching Funfetti palette. Those already familiar with the magic of Merrell footwear, will know the world’s most popular unisex hiking boot features soft midsole foam delivering all-day comfort and a gold-standard Vibram rubber sole for the ultimate in traction.
But of course, the inner workings and nuances of all that is Merrell, stretches far beyond the mere physicality of a meticulously crafted lifestyle hiking boot. These enduring designs have been a vehicle to inspire the next generation of all those who recognise “outdoor” as a lifestyle, to experience the simple, irrefutable power of being outside. And more acutely of late, this focus on supporting and celebrating the next generation of outdoor-lovers of all hikes of life, has evolved to centre around meaningful and emotional dialogue regarding inclusivity, sustainability and empowerment. “We come to work every day to share the power of being outside and we want to do that no matter who you are, where you came from, who you love or how you move. The outdoors is a special place, and we want to make sure it is welcoming and inclusive for everybody. That message has never been more relevant than it is now, and we’re excited to tell that story in a meaningful way,” says Merrell president Chris Hufnagel.
Merrell’s conscientious brand approach has perhaps never been more pivotal than now in also being attuned to the fact that the pandemic-era has seen an increasing number of people looking to the outdoors for both physical and mental respite. Last year, Merrell’s awareness in communicating the mental and physical benefits of the trail gave rise to a new partnership with Jenny Bruso and @UnlikelyHikers, a diverse and inclusive “body-liberating” Instagram community that celebrates the traditionally underrepresented outdoors person in all that they do, and which saw the launch of a new hiking boot collaboration in the sneaker-like “hike as you are” Zion Mid Waterproof X Unlikely Hikers boot
And we can be assured that Merrell is most certainly not stopping there, in setting the wheels in motion for the brighter future they envision over the next 40 years with a year-long Future 40 campaign punctuated with some significant key brand moments – moments that continue to support and highlight those voices in the outdoor community that are breaking down barriers and championing movements that speak up for justice, diversity, inclusion and equity.
Critical to these brand moments are partnerships with organisations that welcome diverse nature-lovers, including, alongside Unlikely Hikers, Big Brothers Big Sisters, which strives to instill a love for the great outdoors within all the young people they serve in promoting access to the outside for those who might not ordinarily have that opportunity. Merrell also continues to partner with We Hike To Heal and Outdoor Journal Tour, an organisation that harnesses the benefits of mindfulness and hiking through beautiful landscapes to help women dive deeper into their personal development and growth.
A big part of Merrell’s quest to ensure the next four decades are better than the last, is to be witnessed in their 40 Under 40 initiative currently activated out of the United States and Canada. Merrell, in collaboration with VICE, have been on the search for 40 changemakers under 40 whose commonality is in rising to the occasion to share their unique passion for building a more inclusive and sustainable outdoor environment for all.
It is also of no surprise that intrinsic to Merrell’s holistic approach is a steadfast commitment to protecting the trail – enhancing the outdoor spaces that are close to home and encouraging everyone to get out and “Hike Your Turf”. Working initially alongside the National Recreation and Parks Association in the United States to support national organisations in preserving and protecting natural spaces, this has come with a pledge to clean up 40 trails around the globe. New Zealanders will also benefit from this initiative on the basis of Merrell working to further their partnership with the Department of Conservation, as well as the Banks Peninsula Conservation Trust, to facilitate trail maintenance and other local projects centred around conservation.
Merrell’s Future 40 campaign is just as much a celebration of a phenomenally successful hiking boot blueprint, as a poignant inflection point for the brand with an unwavering focus on evolution, of engaging in more meaningful conversations with the community and driving for positive impact on underrepresented communities.“The future is here. It’s asking us to be ready, to think bigger. To embrace the trail ahead and bring everyone with us along the way,” says Merrell president Chris Hufnagel. “Today, we celebrate our first 40 years by looking forward to the next.”