Earlier this year, the Outdoor Industry Association announced that the outdoor recreation economy currently employs 7.6 million Americans and is set to demand more jobs in the coming years. This growth, coupled with swelling cultural interest in getting outdoors, will require a new generation of passionate outdoor enthusiasts jumping into the industry. While working to inspire this next generation is key, it’s also essential to make sure they’re equipped with sound advice and guidance to help them along the way, so we spoke to the people who have inspired RANGE and built some of our most beloved brands. They opened up about the long and winding roads of their career, shared the challenges they’ve faced, and gave advice on how to build a meaningful career in today’s outdoor industry.
We spoke with Ben O’Meara, Head of Brand Partnerships for Huckberry; Kelsey Kobasick, Social Media and Content Production for Topo Designs; Linda Brunzell, Vice President of Corporate Strategy for Wolverine Worldwide; Michael Jager, Chief Creative Officer for Solidarity of Unbridled Labour; and Julie Atherton, Founder of JAM Collective.
What is your most important piece of advice for young people starting out in the industry?
Kelsey Kobasick: Just show up. Don’t rely on things to fall into your lap. You need to insert yourself into the community. You won’t get anywhere unless you are present and willing to get out of your comfort zone.
Ben O’Meara: The most vital aspect that has gotten me where I am today is networking and relationship building. Really putting in that time to have those conversations with people in positions you respect is so valuable. Pick their brains on how they got to where they are and build those strong relationships early. After five years, I really noticed those relationships were so key in the long term.
Linda Brunzell: Figure out what drives you and what you want to do. No one is going to help you get there if you don’t know what you want to do. Check in with yourself throughout certain points in your career. Question if you’re on the right path. Think about it and point yourself in the direction that you want to see yourself in the following years. Conduct check-ins every five to 10 years and then reassess.
Michael Jager: My biggest message, and the thing that I’ve been working to fight for, is be advocates for curiosity because curiosity is where empathy unlocks insight and that’s where brilliant ideas happen.
Julie Atherton: Build your support team and keep them close. I was a part of a group of women who all owned our own businesses and would meet once a month. We’d get together, have an agenda and ask questions, and even though our businesses were all different, we all had the same needs. We had each other to really draw on and get advice.
How did you know when you were on the right path?
KK: The first Outdoor Retailer show I attended, I walked around with my mouth open. It was amazing to finally meet so many people in person that I had worked with via email and social media. For me, that was the moment where I stepped back and said, “Wow, these are my people!” It was the moment when I realized this is where I need to be.
LB: It was when I made the leap of faith to join Merrell and move to West Michigan. It was my first Outdoor Retailer and I walked inside and realized I actually work as part of a great industry for women to join and make an impact.
MJ: So much of this is about the people you meet and the interactions you have. John Schweizer, one of the founders of Merrell, is one of the most curious individuals in a truly genuine way. He was really influential in instilling in me the importance of curiosity and to embrace curiosity deeply.
What are some challenges you faced in your career?
MJ: One day, after years of going from studio to studio and project to project, it became really evident when flying back across the country and thinking, “Huh? Is this really gonna be the next 10-15 years of the life that I’ve designed?” I was able to work with a close-knit group of people and just rethink and reshape what the possibilities are for design. That course correction and reality check was the realization we could design the future we want to be a part of.
LB: Not all opportunities are going to be what you expect. After working for a few years in a marketing position at Merrell, I was offered an international leadership position, but at the time, I wasn’t interested in making that move. Then someone said, “This is going to be a really good step for you. Trust us.” Now I look back and see how it changed my perspective, and allowed me to look at the bigger picture and beyond the traditional U.S. market.
What advice would you give to people for advancing their career once they’re established?
KK: Be creative because the world is so noisy right now, especially with email and social media. Being creative with the way you reach out to people is super important because it helps you stand out. A simple “Hi!” goes so far right now.
BO: Have a growth mindset and that means being really excited about the work you are doing currently, but always thinking bigger picture, asking questions, doing a little bit more than what is asked in your job responsibilities, taking that extra step, and really being proactive.
JA: Find a mentor or a boss who wants to help you grow in a new way. Have them work with you on the areas you would like to grow within, identify different strengths, or develop a new skill set.
Throughout all five interviews, one underlining career driver emerged: an unadulterated passion for being outdoors. For a new grad getting ready to kick off their career, it will be key to channel your passion, know yourself, know what you want and make your future happen. As the industry grows, this will become increasingly important— according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outdoor leisure and hospitality sector is projected to add over 15 million new jobs over the 2014–24 decade.
VP of Corporate Strategy, Wolverine Worldwide
After a recruitment call from Merrell, Linda Brunzell found herself moving from working at Pepsico in Chicago to West Michigan, and kicked off her outdoor adventure with Merrell. Today, Brunzell is Vice President of Corporate Strategy at Merrell’s parent company, Wolverine Worldwide, and is a passionate advocate for preserving the outdoors and inspiring people to get outside.
Social Media and Content Production, Topo Designs
Kelsey Kobasick studied both business and apparel merchandising at the School of Design and Merchandising at Colorado State. Post-graduation, Kobasick quickly found herself moving from the Topo Designs retail floor to the back office—literally. The office was behind the store. Today you’ll find her producing the latest social content, product shots and top-notch outdoor lifestyle campaigns.
Chief Creative Officer for Solidarity of Unbridled Labour
Industry veteran Michael Jager has directed creative outputs with brand icons like Patagonia, Woolrich and Burton throughout his career. As a founder of Solidarity of Unbridled Labour, Jager continues to harness curiosity and design to guide and create culture and positive change.
Founder, JAM Collective
Julie Atherton is the founder of JAM Collective, a boutique public relations shop with an impressive roster of innovative and creative clients. Atherton started her love affair with the outdoors as a child and made it her career when she started working for The North Face. She has built a long career across the fields of brand development, marketing and PR.
Head of Brand Partnerships, Huckberry
Growing up on a farm on the coast of Maine inspired Ben O’Meara’s passion for the outdoors. After starting his career in marketing in Boston, Ben made the jump to California and joined online retailer Huckberry with a mission of inspiring and supplying people getting outdoors.
xx Aarika Hernandez
This article was originally published in RANGE Magazine Issue Eight.