The Path to Inclusivity – Merrell x Unlikely Hikers
The outdoors industry has no shortage of money shots sporting the stereotypical embodiment of an “adventurer” – athletic weekend warriors at one with their hands-free hydration packs, standing on rocky outcrops looking positively fresh post knocking out of the park some gnarly endurance trail.
That is all well and good, though if you dig a little deeper, this image and its ilk, while at best projected as aspirational in the eyes of the outdoor industry and social media in the main, is in reality a rather narrow definition of just who is “outdoorsy” and not particularly representative of most of us.
For that matter, there is also an equally narrow portrayal of how we might go about inhabiting the wilderness space – most commonly for setting and smashing those fitness goals and perfecting one’s already pretty impressive physique. When in fact for most people taking to the outdoors, it’s a fair bet that they utilise the wilderness first and foremost to heal from trauma and to find purpose in their life’s path.
This is where it would be pertinent to bring in global leader in active outdoor footwear, Merrell, who couldn’t put the purpose of their very existence more succinctly: “to share the simple power of being outside”. And as far as their famous footwear goes, that simple mandate to empower all people to confidently explore has been successfully realised from the get-go in the likes of their iconic Moab and Jungle Moc designs, melding performance, styling and comfort into one. “At Merrell, we believe in the simple power of getting outside and that the outdoors is for everyone,” says Erika Derylo, Merrell Performance Marketing Manager.
It is perhaps not surprising then, that Merrell has teamed up with @UnlikelyHikers founder, Jenny Bruso, who saw the need for more diversity represented in the outdoors and that representation and inclusion must necessarily go beyond media. With 125K followers and counting, her “body-liberating” outdoor community of hikers and adventurers of all shapes, sizes and abilities has served as a unifying source of inspiration and representation for people of all hikes of life.
Bruso explains, of the pivotal moment from which Unlikely Hikers came about while rediscovering on the trail “the wonder and inherent sense of place” she knew as a child, “I went 30 years of my life not thinking about things like hiking or camping, most likely because it had never been something posed to me as something to do. I didn’t see people like me in those narratives, so it simply didn’t occur to me.
“As I began to explore this new love of hiking and rediscover that inherent joy and sense of place, I finally found joyful movement – the freedom to move my body in ways that make me feel good and embodied without the harmful messaging and expectations imposed on me from the dominant culture about what my body should look like or move like. This was life-changing and I deeply wanted to share what I was finding with everyone who hadn’t yet found it for themselves. I wanted to build a community with everyone who didn’t fit the outdoorsy status quo.”
Bruso has since sealed her Merrell x Unlikely Hikers partnership with an eye-catching hiking boot collaboration out of the United States, which is a redesign and update of one of Merrell’s most versatile shoes, Zion, as the likely choice for Unlikely Hikers. Blending the feel of a sneaker with the function of a hiking boot, the design offers fresh styling with an ungendered colourway so often absent from the traditional hiker snapshot and with more versatility in terms of sizing and widths to cater to the reality of unlikely hikers’ unique and diverse needs.
While the Zion Mid Waterproof x Unlikely Hikers shoe might have yet to make it to these shores, it’s the sentiment that counts. For Unlikely Hikers, it’s a burgeoning collective effort to dismantle the rigid norms in the outdoors world – to deconstruct what it looks like and means to be an “outdoorsy” person as a part of exploring and building community at their intersections. And of the trail ahead for Merrell? To build an inclusive and sustainable outside environment for future generations to enjoy. Here’s to that. “Whether you’re climbing mountains or exploring your neighbourhood, your adventure is valid,” adds Bruso. “Your trail is what you create. Where will your body take you?”