Are We Expecting Too Much From Brands?

I posted a “Dear Kuiu” article recently and it sparked a bit of a conversation on Instagram. While some understood the point I was making, others did not. Among all the comments was a thread regarding expectations of brands and if we should just let them do what they do (make money) and not worry too much about how they do it or what comes of them in the end.

This article isn’t meant to answer the question of if we’re expecting too much from the brands we buy from, but more so to explore the question. What I find interesting is that I land on both sides of the fence here. There is a part of me that wants to let them do what they do and move on, but there’s another part of me, a deeper part that says to hold their feet to the fire. Be it conservation, mission, or whatever else, I find the idea of expecting certain things of a brand to be particularly strange and even conflicting.

If you haven’t already read though my article on KUIU, you can find it here. In short, I basically offer my thoughts on how they seem to have strayed from what I thought their original mission was. They’re now putting efforts into making lifestyle apparel and strange merchandise alongside mountain hunting gear, and I’m not a huge fan of it. Not because I don’t like their styles (I actually do), but because it’s a departure from the mission to make the best ultralight mountain hunting gear you can find (this morning I awoke to an email from them regarding a sale that was full of things like a KUIU money clip, tumbler, and other strange non-hunting artifacts).

One person commented that we shouldn’t expect too much out of brands. Another offered thoughts of me making a big deal whining about a few select items that were meant for the city and not the mountain. I’m glad these comments came through because I wanted people to offer their opinions and thoughts on the matter. The one that really stuck with me though, was this idea of not expecting too much out of the brands we buy from. I’m conflicted on this.

Is it true that I’m personally expecting too much from brands? I take my integrity very seriously and there have been times that I’m told I hold others to too high of a standard. It appears that I also hold select brands to those same standards, but I’m not convinced that’s such a terrible thing after-all. They have bills to pay and a job to do, just like me, so what’s the difference? They’re interested in the same things I’m interested in so where’s the “do not cross” line on expecting too much from them?

Let’s say my best friend in the whole entire world who I look up to, admire, and love starts an outdoor gear company. I’m assuming that his or her company would be built on the values of my friend (insert your value structure here for this example). If that’s not the case, then wouldn’t that seem a little strange to you? A company being built on a completely different ethical, moral, or overall intentional mission than the one who created it? In an extreme case, wouldn’t it feel weird if the pastor of the local church just so happened to own the local strip club? But in the case of setting improper expectations of brands, you couldn’t really hold the pastors feet to the fire on this because one is a business and one is not. Or can you?

It’s messy and I know that. Businesses need money to survive and they have to scratch and claw to acquire it. Behind every brand are employees to pay and mouths to feed so it makes sense to me that brands are in survival mode on a daily basis. But…I too am in survival mode on a daily basis and my personal values and overall mission remain the same, right? So where’s the line at? Where does my moral obligation or intention to not stray from my belief system start and theirs stop? Is there actually a real line in the sand between individuals and brands when it comes to this kind of thing? And in the case of a brand straying from its original intent, what happens then? Are we expected to just accept the fact that brands naturally change course the moment their revenue flatlines and after they’ve earned our admiration?

For the record, I know I’m a bit of an idealist here, and I also know I’m not a business owner (yet), but I AM trying to build something here at By Land so this conversation is 100% relevant to my personal situation. There may come a day when those who have known me from the beginning write me a similar note telling me that they feel I’ve strayed from my original mission. I sincerely hope that won’t happen, but if it does, you can bet your ass I’ll engage with that person and put some serious thought into what I may have done to cause that person to feel that way.

If there is a line drawn somewhere between me and the brands I buy from that dictates what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to staying true to who we are, then I have a lot of thinking to do. Brands aren’t machines, they’re ran by people who have their individual value structures and I can’t seem to swallow the idea of there being a difference. In my book, doing the right thing trumps everything else. Do your absolute best to do right by people, remain true and honest, and if at some point your value structure changes, just say it. Clearly not everyone is perfect and we all make mistakes, but on a personal level, when someone close to me makes a mistake and fesses up to it right away, it makes me love them even more.

In the case of KUIU, no one has done anything wrong here. The examples listed above are extreme to help paint the picture of what I’m trying to say. They’re not flip flopping on any major issues, they’re not bad people who are trying to squeeze the most out of a customer, and there’s not a single doubt in my head that they have the best of intentions. All I was trying to do with that letter to Kuiu was to put my arm around them and tell them how it is and let them know that I think they should get back on track with solving real backcountry issues and not worry about how I’m going to carry a few spare bucks in my pocket (AKA branded money clip).

The reason I care is that I don’t want to see KUIU become another North Face.

What do you think?

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