an Outdoor Afro collaboration hiking apparel collection displayed in a DC REI store
(Photo/Rebecca Ross)

Why Style and Function Matter in the Black Outdoor Community

The collaboration between Outdoor Afro and REI results in stylish, yet functional, apparel designed for the Black community.

The new inclusive product line was launched in Washington, D.C., a location rich in Black history.

“Black people need to feel comfortable to enjoy the outdoors, and that means wearing something they like. And fashion is so important to the black community,” said Ray Smith, our D.C. kayaking tour guide and leader for Outdoor Afro.

Ray’s voice was one of many who felt that, with the new Outdoor Afro-designed line of products at REI, the Black community finally has options in outdoor apparel that meet their needs — both in style and in function.

Going straight to the source, we met Rue Mapp, founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, along with other members of her organization and REI staff, for the collection’s launch in its Washington, D.C., flagship store. We got to hear about the inspiration behind the product line and other testimonials as to why this collaboration is welcome in the Black community.

Outdoor Afro Brings Style and Utility

The usual neutral tan and green colors, common in other brands, are nonexistent in this hiking apparel. Rather than blend into nature, these styles are designed to stand out. The bright orange, yellow, and teal colors are all choices that flatter darker skin tones. As Outdoor Afro CEO Rue Mapp said in the official launch video, finding “Black joy in nature” was one of her main goals.

While a lot of the collection resembles elements of REI’s existing clothing line, the two brands actually tailored many thoughtful features for the Black community. Since style is an important aspect of Outdoor Afro’s own designs, some features are meant to harken back to iconic fashions.

Noticeable examples of this approach stood out to several members at the REI launch party in D.C. Tags on the zippers drew comment for their similarity to the tags on Alpha Industries bomber jackets worn by celebrities such as Ye (Kanye West).

Outdoor Afro x REI bomber jacket style

Another standout feature was the silk hooded lining in the Outdoor Afro + REI Co-op Shell Jacket — a considerate addition to hoods that protects black hair from damage caused by otherwise abrasive material.

And the REI Flash hiking boot design also garnered praise because of its nod to the original and enormously popular Air Jordan 11. These small yet noticeable features were well received at the D.C. launch.

rei x outdoor afro collection flash shoes
(Photos/Fela Raymond, Joshua Kissi for REI)

Other details, including soft, durable material and deep pockets with sturdy zippers, add functionality to the apparel. Additional elements of the collection included conscious sizing in the apparel, to fit both plus-size body types and petite body types with shorter torsos.

REI Brings Its Gear Expertise

rei outdoor afro
(Photo/Joshua Kissi)

REI is widely known for its expertise in making solid outdoor gear and apparel. Though merchandise wasn’t available for testing, based on initial impressions, the Outdoor Afro collection displays that same standard of quality and utility. The collection’s gear includes tights, hiking pants, shorts, pullover fleeces, technical jackets, backpacks, fanny packs, bandanas, and more — available now through REI nationwide.

“This [product line] is a multiyear collab — and there’s more to come,” said REI’s Courtney Gearhart.

This means that fans of the collection can expect to see new additions in the future. It also means that Outdoor Afro and REI are committed to not just a collaboration, but to encouraging the Black community’s participation outdoors.

As for me, I’ll be on the lookout for climbing-specific technical apparel with Outdoor Afro’s signature colors that stand out.

outdoor afro rei co-op hiking
Outdoor Afro and REI Launch Collab Hiking Apparel Line
The companies' partnership led to an array of outdoor clothing, bags, and accessories. The focus: ‘celebrating Black joy in nature.’ Read more…

Rebecca Ross
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Rebecca Ross is a staff writer at GearJunkie. She has been writing about backpacking, hiking, mountaineering, and travel for over three years. Prior to GearJunkie, Rebecca was a freelance photographer and writer for Climbing Magazine, Decathlon, 57Hours, and ExplorersWeb. Based in Washington state, Rebecca has extensive training and experience in climbing of all sorts: trad, sport, bouldering, ice, alpine, and her favorite, mountaineering. She also enjoys running, backpacking, photography, swimming, cooking, reading, and crocheting.