Amplify Outdoors was established to elevate and encourage diversity in outdoor spaces. Founder Kristen Berkeley is creating awareness, changing narratives and fostering a space where everyone feels safe and like they belong.
Kristen Berkeley grew up in Toronto, Ontario, without a lot of access to nature as a child. “I didn’t even think it was a space for me,” she says. “I knew friends that went camping, but it didn’t seem appealing—even when I would hear about going to cottages. I never realized that was an area I could belong in.”
When Kristen was offered a job in the Northwest Territories as a reporter, she slowly started immersing herself in outdoor culture, going hiking and camping. "The people you’re around has an impact," she says. "As I started settling in more and making new friends, they started taking me out."
“It was so healing for me," she continues. "I truly think there’s a very peaceful connection to nature that is so important for your mental health. Especially as people of colour and in the Black community, we’ve been told to kind of pretend it’s not an issue. Even going on a walk and getting in touch with that natural element is really good for your mental health and mindfulness. It’s been very awakening for me.”
Unfortunately, not everyone was always welcoming in the outdoor community. Kristen found herself at an event where she was the only Black person in attendance. Because of the lack of diversity, there was also a lack of inclusion—and rather than feeling welcome, no one really approached her to say hello.
Kristen decided to create a simple guide showing how to be more inclusive to BIPOC in the outdoors. “It’s a lot for us to go outside,” she says. “We already feel othered. . . we just want to be treated with respect and acknowledged.”
While hiking and camping, Black adventurers face racism, sexism and stereotyping. ““There are people who have come up to [Black] hikers and been like, ‘why are you here?’
“I’ve had people say to me, ‘I don’t believe you like the outdoors.’ They look at me either as a woman or a woman of colour and they think the outdoors is for men or white women, so there’s already a narrative of what outdoors culture should look like and who is outdoorsy. I want to break those narratives and challenge those stereotypes,” she says.
Kristen started Amplify Outdoors in the summer of 2020 shortly after the murder of George Floyd and being fed up with how Black people are treated and excluded in outdoor spaces. She wanted to promote outdoor culture while elevating and amplifying representation and diversity in all outdoor spaces. Amplify Outdoors officially launched in December 2020.
“When Ahmaud Arbery was shot while jogging, it really hit me hard—he was running; I like to run. Running is linked to mental health and releasing stress. I imagine the fear he felt, and how people often criminalize Black bodies. The whole situation was really scary and upsetting. I started to have conversations about it and made a sign in support of Arbery and his family. It was the only voice I felt I had living so far away.
“As people of colour, we’re constantly excluded. That’s why I released the Trailblazer Man and Trailblazer Woman collection, because I wanted people to visibly see a person of colour on a t-shirt spending time outdoors. I look at it like the Barbie doll: it doesn’t mean you can’t play with a white doll, but you should be able to play with dolls that are Black, Asian, Indian and various cultures and ethnicities.” You should be able to see yourself when you are outdoors too.
Kristen explains that Amplify Outdoors is for all adventurers and newbies that want to spend time outdoors. “I love seeing allies and supporters wear it. It’s for everyone—I think we need to work together to create change.”
Right now, ten per cent of proceeds go towards Empowerment Squared, a non-profit organization in Ontario. It will be used to help support their sport and recreation programming. Kristen aims to give back and looks at Amplify Outdoors as a 'business with heart.' "We're about community, conversation and change," she says.
Amplify Outdoors (wearing the Trailblazer t-shirt)
As for the outdoor industry—it needs to change, Kristen says. “We’re not acknowledged in advertising, and some companies are trying to change that—but why did it take so long?” Kristen asks. “We are outdoors doing things, but they act as if we don’t exist. It continues to make us feel more excluded, and think that maybe we don’t belong in this space. Imagery is so important. When you’re not showing enough diversity and representation, you make people feel like, ‘well, maybe this space isn’t really for me.’”
Kristen isn’t afraid to call out the outdoor industry for performative behaviour. “Sometimes you see this overexposure suddenly. [Companies] need to be authentic in their approach to being inclusive. When you’re working with Black talent, treat them well—and pay them. Give them the same opportunities. Hire a diverse staff and an equity and inclusion specialist or strategist. Don’t just hire one person as a token—that one person should not be burdened with all the issues. Be genuine and have real conversations. Think outside of the box. And be prepared that people of colour are going to keep you accountable.”
What’s next for Amplify Outdoors?
New designs are launching soon, including journals and camping mugs!
Kristen is planning to host outdoor events in the Northwest Territories, offer diversity, equity and inclusion consultation services, and launch a podcast about outliers, risk takers, explorers and people that are creating change.
Want to work with Kristen?
“If we’re going to do anything that’s sponsored, I want to make sure it’s in line with our values. I want to know that you’re actually interested in creating change. I think it’s so important to have these conversations and make sure the discussion doesn’t end,” Kristen says. “I know it’s heavy, emotional, exhausting work. But it’s still a part of my life—so I’m going to talk about race and about my experiences. When it comes to partnerships, I want to know [the company/brand] will target people of colour to get them outdoors experiencing things. This is a space that we want them to feel safe and that they belong.”
How can you connect with Kristen?