Opt Outside: One Alternative to Black Friday Shopping

The sheer irony of excusing yourself from Thanksgiving dinner to go on a shopping spree has always struck me as a bit funny. Go sit around a table and stuff your face, all the while expressing your gratefulness, only to button your pants back up after the second piece of pie and go out fighting for cheaply priced items. This is America.

My mother has always been against Black Friday shopping, so we never went. In fact, it horrifies her. But she is also allergic to shopping malls, so to each their own. One year, with the help of my cousin, I finally experienced the chaos. We slipped out the door somewhere around midnight and it was snowing, which might have given me rose colored, nostalgic glasses attached to the memory. Kohl’s was jam packed and articles of clothing were strewn about. We got doughnuts after the whole thing was said and done. But to my knowledge, my life was relatively unchanged. I bought a few pieces of clothing and I own none of them now.

Black Friday shopping has become a tradition for many. It’s something people don’t see a problem with because everybody does it. Despite the big risk, in 2015, outdoor gear company REI stepped outside the norm with their #OptOutside campaign: they closed all their locations and paid their employees to spend the day outside. They were the first large retailer to do this.

The stakes were high, but the response was incredible. Fast Company says their social media impressions increased 7,000 percent with 2.7 billion media impressions in 24 hours, and totaled at 6.7 billion in the first year. Better yet, they got more than 1.4 billion people to spend Black Friday outdoors, and more than 150 other companies followed suit.

“REI was founded by 23 climbing friends in shadow of Mount Rainier in 1938. They came together, imagined new ways to get outside and changed the way people access the outdoors forever,” REI said on their website. “More than seven decades later, that same passion for a life outdoors is at the core of everything REI does.”

The trend has continued every year since. In 2017, REI launched a search engine to accompany their #OptOutside trend, where users could share their outdoor experiences. Today, REI says more than 700 organizations and 7 million people have chosen to #OptOutside instead of Black Friday shopping. 

This year, they’re doing things a bit differently. Yes, their employees are still being paid to go outside. Yes, they’re still shutting down on Black Friday. But this time, instead of just #OptOutside, they’re encouraging employees and participants to partake in one of their nationwide cleanups. If you don’t live near any of the cleanups they’re hosting, REI is encouraging you to pick up trash along your hike. They also have a 52-week Opt to Act plan you can download to your device, encouraging weekly habits that will overall reduce your environmental footprint.

“Once again, this Black Friday, we’ll be closed and we’ll be paying employees to go outside with friends and family,” REI CEO Eric Artz said. “We’re still going to go outside and play — but this time we’re bringing our work gloves. 

“And we’re inviting you to join us.”

An example that everyone should follow, REI is attempting to exemplify what it means to truly love the outdoors: practicing environmentally friendly habits, reducing waste when possible, picking up after yourself and reducing your carbon footprint overall.

This Black Friday, I am hoping to avoid the sales (they’re just a ploy to get you to buy more stuff, anyway) and #OptOutside for a hike at Bernheim Forest. What are you going to do to not only give back to the environment, but give back to yourself?