Why Chaco Fights for Bears Ears and Other National Monuments

Utah Bears Ears National Monument
The two buttes of Utah's Bears Ears National Monument.
AP Images

Defending the status and preservation of Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument is something the outdoor industry has rallied behind, and one brand in the forefront of the fight is Chaco.

The Rockford, Mich.-based label launched a collection of footwear and apparel in May, featuring a limited-edition iteration of its acclaimed Z/Sandal, with 100 percent net proceeds being given to a pair of non-profits that fight to protect the monument. The success of the initial launch prompted Chaco to produce more pairs to be sold at Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City, with proceeds again going to Friends of Cedar Mesa and Utah Diné Bikéyah.

With the twice-annual expo here, Joshua Weichhand, brand manager at Chaco, spoke with Footwear News about the brand’s Bears Ears-related efforts and what’s next in the brand’s fight to protect public lands.

How important is National Monument protection to Chaco? And why is it important to the brand?

It’s extremely important for a variety of reasons. One, Chaco makes products to be enjoyed in the outdoors and one of the greatest things about America is that we’ve dedicated public lands in the form of National Parks and monuments and other protected spaces for people to get outside and recreate. A lot of people take for granted that these public lands will always be there; it’s something that existed before them and they sort of assume it will be on and on forever. But really, there’s not a legal precedent barring people from rescinding them or diminishing them or removing them completely. Meanwhile, we’ve got the Real Estate Developer in Chief in the oval office [President Donald Trump] and I wouldn’t put anything past him at this point. And our founder, Mark Paigen, he used to wear test the first iterations of Chaco Z/Sandals right there in what’s now Bears Ears National Monument, so we have roots as a brand in this area that was very important in formulating our product to get it to where it is today. And our consumers are extremely passionate about this stuff, too. The people that buy Chaco and make it a part of their life, they spend their time outdoors and are engaged in activism and political issues that affect the things they care about.

Chaco Bears Ears Utah An image from Chaco’s campaign to raise funds to protect Bears Ears. Chaco

Why is the brand putting so much effort behind defending Bears Ears specifically?

It was one of the last designations that President [Barack] Obama made before he left office, and because it was the most recent it was probably top of the list for politicians in Utah. There was so much support for this monument, it was approved, went into effect, and right away a repeal effort comes up. We were looking at that and saying, “This one is the most important monuments being affected in the public lands debate and the organizations fighting back need the most support right now.” This was bound to be the rallying point for the industry. And if you look at everything happening around Outdoor Retailer and the shift away from Salt Lake City, and the way the industry has responded to the public land situation, you can trace everything back to Bears Ears.

How successful has the brand’s Bears Ears campaign been?

We sold out [of the sandals] within a month. It was so successful that we made the decision to make another 400 pairs to sell at the show from Chaco’s booth. And again, all net proceeds will go to Friends of Cedar Mesa and Utah Diné Bikéyah. With the amount of noise around public lands, the fact that we were able to break through to our consumers so meaningfully and for us to move all that product so quickly at a premium price point, it was an absolute success.

Chaco Z Sandal Bears Ears National Monument Chaco’s limited-edition Z sandal, inspired by Bears Ears National Monument. Chaco

Where does the campaign go from here? Is there more to come?

Once we do the finally tally at OR, we will calculate the final proceeds and deliver our donation to Friends of Cedar Mesa and Utah Diné Bikéyah. From there we’ll make a big announcement to keep our community and consumers in the loop and show how the effort they put in is being realized. And we’ll continue to stay in touch with these organizations, lending support where we can. From here, this program will likely wrap and our continued support of public lands will manifest itself through our partnership with the National Parks Foundation as we work closely with their team to identify areas that need support.

How could policy that impacts public lands adversely injure the outdoor industry?

The recreation economy is absolutely massive — nearly $900 billion — and now that the outdoor industry is being measured as part of our overall GDP, the economic impact is the first thing to be felt. People’s jobs are at stake when you don’t have access to public lands, they get auctioned off, or they become unusable or undesirable. Also, you can’t ignore that spiritually, this industry was founded on wildness and the importance of being outside. We’re in a position where we can use these political battles to highlight recreation and access as being important for our future generations to make our industry economically sustainable, and highlight the importance of the local communities that pop up around these destinations. People build their livelihoods around being located near a National Park. They created a business, or they run a coffee shop, or a diner or something like that. This is all our livelihood and if we don’t protect it, no one else will.