Thursday, September 17, 2015

If You Don't Like It, Leave

Dear Steve Tofan, 

You seem to be rather unfamiliar with the cycling industry. Or rather, your company's behavior seems ignorant of the developments and trends within the cycling industry, something that a former outdoor industry rep's company should never be. But. It seems as though you are fairly uninformed about the issues within cycling, which is why I'm writing this letter. 

Steve, the problem here is that your company, Save Our Soles, made socks for the cycling industry's annual North American show, Interbike. As such, you chose to represent that show. And you made a terrible choice by putting an objectifying image on socks. It's okay. We all make terrible choices. But your company did one even better: when members of that industry voiced their concern and dissatisfaction, you told us that if we didn't like it, we didn't have to keep the socks. Steve, that's not how this works. 




Whether a tradeshow is in Vegas or on the moon, making socks for any industry that represent the seediest, saltiest qualities of Vegas is simply inappropriate, but especially in an industry where half of the population is actively working to rid their market of sexist, objectifying material. I know of plenty conferences and trade shows that will be in Las Vegas this year, including a computer technology one and a human resources conference. Will you make them ass socks as well, then blame it on the location? Steve, let's be honest: it's a bike show IN Vegas, not ABOUT Vegas. Those socks are no more closely related to cycling than cats in wizard hats are. And yet, you chose those socks to bear the name of an industry show. Strange. 

Steve, the issue here isn't the socks. It really isn't. It's the fact that your company, based in Denver and fairly close to the cycling community, was so ignorant to the issue that you thought those socks were a good idea. Even  more of a problem? Your company issuing a statement reeking of #sorrynotsorry. You should be sorry, Steve. Because we won't keep your socks; not even Interbike, the company you probably paid, wants those socks. That's a preeeeetty bad sign. 

My point in all of this, Steve? Women in the cycling industry matter. We're spending, growing and developing faster than any other market segment, and your brand has failed to notice any of that. According to Havard Business Review (https://hbr.org/2009/09/the-female-economy), the global economy has shifted -- the long and short of it? Their prediction is that women will control a vast amount of global wealth within the next decade. Between more employed women than men, more wealth inheritance to women than men and more involvement in spending, one would think that not dismissing and objectifying your ideal market is an important part of owning a sock company.

But. There are still men in the industry, although those men often know and love other riders who happen to be female. They respect women. They have wives and daughters and sometimes (gasp!), girl friends, female friends, and all sorts of vaginally-inclined members of their inner circles. What I find, Steve, is that this leaves you and Save Our Soles with a very small portion of the market that is uninfluenced by women. Of that portion, few are mysogynist or sexist enough to buy socks from a company that doesn't give a damn. There are other sock companies out there, Steve. They are GOOD sock companies. Companies who have built their brands on catering to customers who like bikes, beer, unicorns, going fast, insulting friends, sriracha, traveling and even leprechauns... But none of those companies are built around selling sex and especially not on objectifying the very customers they are targeting. 

Steve, socks matter. Most of us (the non-crazies) wear them every ride. I love fresh socks. Nothing quite like a brand new pair, either. And to a cyclist, what we wear on our feet is as clear an indication of who we are as the components we have underneath us. Some of us advertise only black, others their preferred brands. This is why they're such strong promotional material -- WE LOVE SOCKS. And even if we hate a particular pair of socks, they'll go into a collection and when all the others are sitting in a filthy, stinking pile next to the washer, we'll pull those socks we hate out and we'll rock them like there is no tomorrow. And it's free advertising. But your socks? Your unapologetically sexist socks? Not even my hardcore buddies wanted those socks. Not even my wealthy, unmarried, cad-of-a-beautiful man pal Jared (who makes jokes about my gender and pokes fun at my feminism) wanted your socks. If even Jared doesn't want your socks, you have a problem. 

Regardless of your personal feeling about socks (which I'm assuming is positive; you do own a sock company, after all), you also have to look at the big picture: thousands of buyers from all corners of North America received these bags. These bags represent the bike industry in no small way -- they are handed out to everyone, from the most clueless of Walmart buyer and that guy from Target to the specialty shop owner and the multi-sport big box stores. A small joke to you about the seedier qualities of Las Vegas makes the bike industry look like a bunch of drooling, sex-frothed monkeys with nothing better to put on our socks than SEX! in bright neon letters. And that's not what we sell, Steve. We like sex, but we're in the business of selling bikes here, and that's what we should be adorning our ankles with -- the things we love. 

Steve, think about the concepts of cycling: challenge, endurance, performance, adaptation and FUN. How is any of that represented by a few ass cheeks spread naughtily across the tops of socks? 

Perhaps you're under the impression that bad publicity is good publicity; I'll tell you right now (from personal experience) that it isn't. And from here on out, you now have a massive purchasing group that is hell bent on never buying your socks... And I'm going to help that along. I'm going to do my personal best to make sure that your company, Save Our Soles, never is brought up in conversation without this story attached. And frankly? I don't care if your socks are the best. Why? 

Because your practices aren't. 

And we won't tolerate that here, not in the bike industry. If you don't like it, leave. 

See that? It works both ways. 

Best, 

A. 

 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Do You Even Adventure, Bro?

With the advent of 'adventure lifestyle marketing', my Facebook home page has gone from humdrum updates about babies and sandwiches to a 24-hour hardcore adrenaline video feed. Blame it on GoPro making the smallest wearable high definition cameras on the planet (or on our constant need for validation and attention), but I've been left with a nagging poke at the back of my mind for the last few years: is the new 'adventuring' like a tree in the forest? Can you actually say you had an epic adventure without documenting, editing and uploading it to the internet? In order to successfully, social-media-style 'adventure', are we required to prove that we are another marketable unicorn, the one-person reincarnated mashup of Gisele/Paul Bunyan/Bear Grylls?

This question comes after a day spent at the bike park with fun friends pulling hot laps, shouting laughter and advising on elbow-stitching, where we decided to take a photo stop during one run that, in my opinion, interrupted the fun. I've always felt that true adventurers are too busy adventuring to worry about batteries running low on a camera -- in a life or death situation (or one where I'm genuinely worried about getting eaten/electrocuted or am shaking in fear), I don't think I've ever paused and asked "Is it on?!" into a glass lense.

And maybe that's the kicker for me: adventures that I label as 'adventures' generally border on complete chaos. These are the experiences that I reflect on with a 'WHEW!' and a grin about that choice that wasn't too brilliant... You couldn't plan these if you had a crystal ball and magic glasses. Like last weekend with my little brother where we decided that overshooting jumps in a massive meadow on downhill bikes during a crazy windstorm was a great idea. The giddy high fives and relieved hugs that ensued (and his gleeful "I thought you were gonna die!!!") after the sketchiest run in recent memory quantified it as more than an adventure: it truly could have gone sideways rapidly.

Maybe adventures stem from conditions beyond our control (weather, wildlife) and maybe they appear out of thin air with the incredibly stupid choices we make (sure, I can totally make that river gap), but to me, the word 'adventure' refers to the unplanned. Sure, I'll stop to 'take a picture' if we have time (while using it as a guise to cover up me greedily sucking in oxygen) or film a really cool section someone has never ridden before, but for the most part... I don't stop. Why?

Because if I have a camera strapped to my chest and we're heading out 'into the wild', it feels a bit more like a 'mission' than an adventure. I suppose that's why I'm so jaded about these planned, over-hyped edits from everyone looking to make a buck or two to fund their 'adventure lifestyle'... It feels staged. It really looks and feels as though it's part of a crazy reality show designed to elicit the most shocked response from a targeted audience. It doesn't feel like an adventure. If we're stopping and redoing a shot a million times over to get a certain 'look', I like to call that 'work'. And maybe it's my compartmentalized thought patterns demanding to be satiated, but I've never been in the middle of some rowdy fun and decided "yeah, we should TOTALLY snag this and try to sell it!" Despite the oft-explained narcissism of my writing, I don't feel like humans are the end all be all of the planet. I don't feel like the world revolves around us. The world keeps moving, things are dying, reborn, growing. Trees really do make a sound, even if no one has a POV camera to record it. Now, I'm not denying the practical uses: I have definitely filmed DH practice runs before a race to figure out what I'm doing wrong (or right) and how to eliminate what went wrong and repeat what went right. I'm also not saying that cameras are always bad to have around (ie, my recent Instagram video post about the mid-trail conversation that was filmed in Whistler -- hilarious). They're great and fun and a little ridiculous with how much they can capture and what we can show each other about the cool parts of our lives. But how much is too much? Are we over-editing our lives because of social pressure or does social pressure exist because we're editing even our adventures?

I've really been trying to live more in the moment and enjoy the little stuff; presentness, I've been told, leads to more happiness. I've had this goal of just be here, now, and 'don't worry' for a few years... But I feel like I still stress out a lot. Like, A LOT. But maybe my goal of being able to live in the moment isn't really a worthy goal because I'm already doing that by avoiding stopping to film it all. Maybe I live so much in the moment that I know that of all the photos I keep and look back on fondly are the ones that don't really turn out. They're blurry or foggy or full of chaos because the horses ran off in the middle of the posed shot (THAT was funny as hell) and everyone freaked out.

And guess what? All we have are the memories of that. A blurry photo and ridiculous stories from every person's true point-of-view because not one person had a GoPro. And all I have of my windy bike run with my brother are memories. But they're enough -- because whenever I miss him or wish I were riding bikes, I pull those out of the back of my mind and, in the sparkly hue that memories take on as our minds edit them, I'll flip through it. I'll flip through that one time we hiked a 14,000 foot peak in the biggest lightning storm I've ever seen and had to hunker down in a low tree line where we were eaten by mosquitos. I'll scan that camping trip where my friend fell into the lake backwards while fighting off moths, turn up the one where I shouted at a cluster of rattlesnakes in sheer terror and laugh over the time I almost burnt my parents' back yard down with a flaming container of gasoline. And though all of it would probably have made me famous for being a total idiot that I could have cashed in on harder than 'Jackass' did, I'm glad no one has that footage, despite sometimes wondering how high those flames really went (my brothers said it was to the top of the shed and that I screamed like a stuck pig)... I don't need to have my fun quantified.

In my opinion, my main issue with the proliferation of POV highlight reels is the projected perfection of these videos. They make 'adventure lifestyling' (whatever the hell that even means) into something that's unflawed, finely tuned, and perfectly edited. It seems like it gives the viewer a false sense of outdoor ease or that 'adventuring' is simple. It never is. That's the point of adventuring -- it's total chaos. The best moments are those that are unscripted, unedited and unrefined. It's getting to Moab in the middle of the night with a new boyfriend and having such explosive diarrhea that you end up sleeping in the dirt to avoid getting out of the tent every 20 minutes. Not only do you have to burn your jeans before you leave camp, but , for the next five years that you're together and the three after that, said man jokes about it on every bike trip and desert campout. Adventure is just about as perfect as choosing ceviche at a roadside Mexican food cart in a landlocked state happens to be. It's not. And it's amazing and overwhelming and so wild and so beautiful that you don't even think about messing around with a camera. And that's what adventure is. It's not always an adrenaline-fueled GoPro promo video with hugging lions, skydiving and fireworks shows, and it isn't about proving that I'm living the best life or marketing my lifestyle or editing it into a sweet YouTube video for millions of views.

And I plan on leaving it that way, because I like living the adventure, not watching it through a tiny screen.