Time to step up the support for women in mountain adventures

Today, there are almost as many women as men in outdoor sports. We wanted to find out to what extent outdoor brands highlight women and support their efforts in mountain adventures. Sponsorships are important for the individuals but also send a message to the customers. Here we present results from our investigation of websites for brands that produce clothes and equipment for outdoor enthusiasts.

If you want to become very good at a mountain sport and perhaps turn it into a full-time lifestyle, you often benefit a lot from getting sponsorships. It makes life easier if you get free equipment and clothes, or at least a significant discount when you buy them. For some individuals, the support is necessary for getting enough time to improve and become a professional. Sponsorships may be the key factor for being able to go on with your lifestyle. For others, being promoted by a brand means that their athlete career gets an extra push, which may generate additional recognition and sponsorships.

Many gear and apparel manufacturers highlight the enthusiasts they sponsor on their websites. They are labelled as ‘ambassadors’, ‘athletes’, ‘team members’, ‘test pilots’ or something similar, and they symbolize the values and profile of the respective brand. In this text we label them all ambassadors for simplification. Manufacturers are primarily using this system of ambassadors because they want to attract more customers. It is also a way for them to illustrate that they care about these individuals or take a social responsibility.

Figure 1: The approximate proportion of women (red) and men (blue) globally; among outdoor customers [1, 2] ; among ambassadors highlighted on 20 outdoor websites analysed and; the proportion of these 20 outdoor brands (orange) for which women make up more than a third of the number of ambassadors.
Photo: Jonas Tufvesson

Women customers behind growth

There are many female enthusiasts in mountain sports [1], and women represent a significant portion of the existing or potential new customers in the outdoor sector. Martin Nordin, who is CEO for an international company group with 10 outdoor brands, stated already in 2012 that the growth in the outdoor sector was driven to a large extent by women. He said that the portion of women customers had increased from 10% to about 40% and that the outdoor sector got increasingly interesting for risk capitalists [2].

We asked ourselves, are women properly represented among ambassadors for outdoor brands? What kind of signal do the brands send to their customers? And are women who want to make a living out of outdoor sports getting the same chance as their male equivalents to do so from a sponsorship perspective?

“Responsible” outdoor brands

We don’t have all answers yet, but we have some first results to share with you from our digging on Internet. First a couple of words about our digging method though. We wanted to analyse established brands with some type of value concerning corporate responsibility. To do so, we focused one specific network of brands – the European Outdoor Group (EOG).

EOG is an association with 112 members from all around the world that have agreed to ensure sustainable and responsible industry behaviour and to contribute to a mutual market research program [3]. The association was founded in 2003 by 19 of the world’s largest outdoor companies. We have identified 32 brands that we define as ‘apparel manufacturers’ plus five brands that we categorize as ‘equipment manufacturers’. These brands are either making outdoor clothes (apparel) or are well-known for the gear (equipment) they produce, and which commonly are essential in mountain adventures [4].

Figure 2: The number of women and men ambassadors on each website for 20 apparel manufacturers. The brands are sorted from left to right based on the amount of women ambassadors they highlight. Total number of ambassadors for each gender in parentheses.

Signals to women customers

We analysed the presence of action photos of women on the brand websites, that is, photos where women seem to take an active role in outdoor activities. In our opinion, action photos send a message to the customer. For example – this is what we as a brand think that you as a customer might want to do when you wear our clothes or use our equipment.

Out of the 32 apparel manufacturers we studied, 29 websites had pictures of women and 27 of the brands had photos with women in action. Two of the brands stands out in a negative way, though. On one apparel-brand website there are plenty of snowboard action photos, but only with male snowboarders. The women highlighted on their website are either indoors or in a garden [5]. One of the equipment manufacturers has no photos of women in action although three of their ambassadors are women. Neither could we find a blog post written by or about any of these three women in their blog roll.

Despite these two outliers, most of the brands seem to aim for reaching women customers who live an active outdoor life. So, to next question – do they support women to the same degree as they support men in such lifestyle?

Figure 3: The number of women and men ambassadors on each website for five equipment manufacturers. The brands are sorted from left to right based on the amount of women ambassadors they highlight. Total number of ambassadors for each gender in parentheses.

Proportion of women ambassadors

By investigating each respective brand website, we found that 20 out of the 32 brands that we identified as ‘apparel manufacturers’ and all five ‘equipment manufacturers’ highlight ambassadors (Figure 2 and 3). The average number of ambassadors (men plus women) is more than double among equipment manufacturers compared to apparel manufacturers. For both categories, less than a third of the ambassadors are women (27% in both categories; Figure 3 and 4).

Figure 4: The percentage of women ambassadors for the 20 apparel manufacturers. Six of the brands (left) highlight >33% women on their website.

Out of the 20 apparel manufacturers with ambassadors, six top-scouring brands have between 33-67% women ambassadors (Figure 4). The lowest-scoring apparel brand has 0% women out of 26 ambassadors. At the website of the top-scouring equipment manufacturer, 27 out of 80 ambassadors are women (34%) while the lowest-scoring brand has two women out of 21 ambassadors (10%; Figure 5).

Figure 5: The percentage of women ambassadors for the five equipment manufacturers. Only one of the brands highlight as much as 33% women on their website.

Room for improvement

To summarize, out of the 25 brand websites with ambassadors that we have analysed only seven brands seem to have 33% or more women ambassadors that they support in one way or the other (Figure 1). The result indicates that almost 3/4 of the established apparel and equipment manufacturers invest considerably more resources and marketing support on male outdoor enthusiasts than on female equivalents.

We hope to get an explanation from the individual brands and from EOG to why they choose this marketing strategy. Moreover, we ask them to reflect upon what impact they believe this strategy might have on women in mountain sports. If you are one of these ambassadors – man or woman – we look very much forward to hear your view and experiences in the matter.

What signal do the brands send to their future customers – the kids – when it comes to continued support to their ambassadors entering parenthood?
Photo: Jonas Tufvesson

Our next step will be to analyse the situation for ambassadors becoming parents – men and women – because we believe that both gender benefit from continued support during this tricky stage in life. What could be better from a brand perspective than to connect with future customers like the ambassadors’ kids at an early stage?! Moreover, we will analyse the brands’ sustainability efforts. So, more to come…

Further reading

[1] For example, the federation for French alpine and mountaineering clubs (FFCAM) have almost 90 000 individual members, of which 40% are women, read further here.

[2] Interview published at this website

[3] For information about members and what they sign up to, see the EOG website

Compilation of results

Following brands were identified from the EOG members in February 2020. They are presented with the brand name although several of them belong to company groups. Camp (+ Cassin) presented the ambassadors at a website that is mutual for these two brands. The other brands, for which information about ambassadors was presented, presented this type of information on the brand-specific website.

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