This past week, Outdoor Afro founder Rue Mapp launched her latest venture, Outdoor Afro, Inc., a new for-profit business. This new venture was a long time coming for the founder who launched Outdoor Afro, as a not-for-profit organization, in 2009 to reconnect Black people to nature and the great outdoors. To celebrate her launch, Mapp kicked things off with a Black history kayaking tour on Washington, DC’s Potomac River. 

Along with Outdoor Afro volunteer leaders and REI Co-op staff, Mapp lead a group of Black journalists and influencers on a 2-hour kayaking trip through the nation’s capitol. The event also served as the official public unveiling of Outdoor Afro, Inc.’s new 22-piece gear and apparel collection in collaboration with REI— an unprecedented launch for the outdoor retail giant.

Outdoor Afro x REI kayaking event. Image: Deanna Taylor.

While wearing pieces from the new line, including the graphic t-shirt that pays homage to US beaches and recreational destinations that are important to Black history, Mapp and the group set out in single person kayaks as they took in the surrounding scenery and area monuments from the water. 

“These graphic t-shirts are important because they call out just a sample of the places of importance for Black people who founded recreational areas at the height of Jim Crow for people to find rest and peace from rampant and violent racial discrimination,” Mapp told Ebony from her kayak while on the Potomac. “In these places, there were outfitters, guides, and innkeepers. There was an outdoor economy that Black people created and contributed to, and this collection stands on the shoulders of those contributions and places of purpose— but only a sample of them.”

Outdoor Afro volunteers wearing the new REI collection and graphic t-shirt. Image: Deanna Taylor.

As with her messaging with the non-profit, Mapp wants people to be reminded that Black people enjoying nature isn’t anything new. Our contributions to the outdoor economy and entrepreneurship, as well as the joy we seek and find in nature, has long been a part of our lineage. The outdoors— especially rivers— have always been a place where we could lay our burdens down. 

“The notion of ‘we don’t do the outdoors’, is not true. We do and we always have. It’s just that the story has always been one-side, because it has only been about our peril and our pain, and not about how we have also triumphed and mastered these skills. Black people were diving and expert swimmers not only in Africa, but even right here in the United States. We’re talking experts like the watermen who were in these same waters that we’re kayaking in now. Outdoor Afro has very much been about not denying our past, where we know that bodies hung from trees or signs said we couldn’t recreate in places. We know about that. But what we don't know about is the new narrative that Outdoor Afro is lifting up, and that is what empowers us and where we turn for healing.”

Outdoor Afro x REI collection. Image: Deanna Taylor.

Mapp hopes that the new collection— the first of many to come in partnership with REI over the next few years— will meet the needs of Black outdoor enthusiasts who have long felt excluded when it came to outdoor apparel and gear. From the bright colors and patterns, extended sizing for all body types, as well as larger hoods and select fabrics on the jackets to better compliment textured hair— the line is truly an expression and reflection of the joy we feel when reconnected with nature.