As social distancing continues into the summer, it’s clear that it’s going to torpedo our vacation plans. Instead of hopping on planes or trains, many of us will be spending the time closer to home. REI and West Elm are here to help.
The two brands have joined forces on a collection designed to encourage you to spend more of the summer outdoors, whether that’s on your stoop or fire escape, in your backyard, or at a nearby campsite. Each brand brought its own expertise. REI focused on designing durable pieces that can survive the elements (and any banging around in the trunk of your car). West Elm, meanwhile, brought its mastery of an appealing, mid-century modern aesthetic.
While West Elm is known for its frequent collaborations, this is the first time REI has partnered with another brand. Paul Calandrella, general merchandising manager for camp products at REI, who led this partnership, says he spent a lot of time talking to REI’s members about what products they were looking for. He discovered that while the company is adept at designing for heavy-duty campers, it wasn’t reaching people who had less expertise. “We’re very good at addressing the lower order human needs, like safety and shelter, but we have less expertise at addressing things like stylish outdoor cushions,” says Calendrella. “We want the concept of ‘camp’ to include not just five-day hiking trips, but also a trip to a local park.”
Catering to the nonexpert informed many parts of the design process. Calendrella says that one of the most popular chairs that REI sells is the Flexlite camp chair, which is lightweight and comfortable, but looks intimidating and messy when you take it out of its bag. REI wanted to create the exact opposite with this new line-up. “The chair takes two seconds to unfold and comes with backpack straps, so you can carry it or take it on the subway,” he says. “We envisaged this for the urban customer who might bring it to a rooftop deck or a park on the other side of town.”
The typical REI customer is likely already planning exciting outdoor adventures this summer. So in many ways, this collaboration is perfect for someone like me, who’s not particularly well-versed in the great outdoors. “You’re our target customer,” says Dru Ortega, the head of partnerships at West Elm. “Our goal was to bring the comforts of home outdoors.”
I’ll be honest: I’ve never been camping, nor had a strong desire to do so. Bugs and a lack of outdoor plumbing freak me out. But my daughter has recently been taken with the notion of camping, so I promised we’d go “glamping” at a new outdoorsy resort in 2020. Unfortunately, the coronavirus put a wrench in those plans, so now I need to to get creative.
This collaboration is giving me ideas. I can imagine driving to an empty field in the Berkshires or perhaps to a drive-in movie on Cape Cod. At this point, I’m desperate to leave the house and remember that there’s a world beyond it. It’s nice to know REI and West Elm have my back. “We want to enlarge our tent,” Calendrella says.
He means this metaphorically, of course, but I’m imagining a tent that’s idiotproof enough even someone like me could set it up.