Gear Whore Confessions: The Sandle Swap

I have way too many friends on Facebook. That’s more of an observation than a confession, but that bit of reality becomes more clear to me every time someone with whom I am well acquainted online but have never met in person happily greets me in the real world. That happened at least three times at the Open-Air Demo during the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. And in the process I did something I’m not terribly proud of. And my bad behavior has revealed a truly dark side of my nature I thought I was above. Turns out I’m a gear whore.

Free gear is a major form of transactional currency in the outdoor industry. Favors both personal and professional are traded in free sunglasses, hats, t-shirts and in this case a pair of sandals. The general expectation is that return you might think more kindly toward a specific brand or in my case as a journalist write something favorable in a magazine article or blog post. There’s no real expectation of action, it’s not necessarily a quid pro quo, but this form of exchange has greases the wheels of commerce and public relations since cave people traded wheat for shiny rocks.

This little barter system can get nasty though when in the exchange one person or the other, typically the recipient compromises his or her moral principles. It’s at that moment when the trade turns from a friendly passing of gifts to something lurid. The recipient suddenly becomes an illicit solicitor of goods for services, a whore.

Has this ever happened to you? You’re walking down the street, or in this case a sandy lakeside beach, and someone looks at you. Even through their sunglasses you can see they recognize you. And at that moment in slow motion their head tilts to the side and then they say the last thing you want to hear: your own name.

“James?” asks this familiar stranger as she sticks out her hand. “ Lisa Conover from Verde PR. Are you coming to our event today?”

I’m using Lisa’s name in this little story and I mention the agency she works for because following this confession will come an apology. So stay with me. If you indeed know me you’ll also know why Lisa couldn’t see the blood immediately drain from my face in a rush of embarrassment.

“Hey…yeah…right… yeah I’ll total be there,” I totally lied. “When is it again?”

“At 11.” She said smiling.

I looked at my watch. It was 10:45.
I had a vague recollection of what Lisa was talking about. But when she cornered me I was heading up to my car to grab my iPhone, which holds my schedule of appointments through the week. A stand-up paddle event was slotted for 11:00 AM. And as soon as I read the display I would have immediately gone to meet Lisa at the appointed place to enthusiastically participate, which I did.

With 30 more exhibitors than last year at the demo the event was packed. Stand Up Paddle or SUP boards are the latest hot trend in water sports and every manufacture had several boards for retailers and journalists to try out.  It was absolute smorgasbord of the latest gear and some was to be given away. After I was done paddling Lisa gave me bag of little items from her client, a cool company called Ocean Minded, a maker of sustainably produced active lifestyle clothing and footwear. In the bag was a pair of sandals.

Ocean Minded is a socially responsible company that does great things on behalf of the environment. Sure they make clothes but they also work to clean up beaches and protect wildlife areas for people to enjoy while preserving native plant and animals species. The sandals I received were among the many items they make with minimal impact on both the people make them and the natural world. These are values that are important to me and ideals I share.

But all that didn’t seem to make any difference when an opportunity arose. I put the sandals on, dropped a pair of shoes I was wearing off at the car and started making the rounds of the booths at the demo. I soon came across the Birkenstock booth and I was enticed by a sign that offered to exchange to the shoes on your feet for a new pair of sandals. Birkenstock, an outstanding brand with a long tradition of social activism, planned to donate the shoes they received to charity and hopefully give people like me at the demo a chance to try out their products. I wanted a pair.

Happened next is all a blur and I can tell you I didn’t give it much thought. I swapped the sandals I’d been given less than an hour before for a new pair of sandals worth $80. The equity calculus at a mercenary level was pretty clear to me and I made the swap with little regard for the moral implications of an act that’s worse even than re-gifting.

With a new pair of Birkenstocks on my feet I headed back out through the demo and with each step the reality of what just transpired started to sink in. A moment later I ran into my friend and fellow journalist Burne Brody and I told her what I did.

“You’re right,” she said grinning. “You’re a total gear whore.”

So now I have a new pair of Birkenstocks and guilty conscience. To Lisa and her colleagues at Verde PR and to Ocean Minded, I am truly sorry. You folks do great work and I’m happy to tell people about your brands and your efforts to make the world a better place through responsible commerce and the creation of products that help all of us lead a more active lifestyle. In retrospect with this sincere confession I suppose those sandals fulfilled their intended purpose after all.

The Joy Trip Project blog and photo array are brought you this week thanks to the support of The Outdoor Retailer Summer Market.

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Author:James

I'm a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.

One Response to “Gear Whore Confessions: The Sandle Swap”

  1. Jeff
    August 28, 2010 at 7:47 am #

    I’ve read some good stuff here. Definitely worth bookmarking for revisiting.

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