For Earth Day last week, Bozeman, Mont.-based Oboz Footwear doubled down on its promise to plant a tree for every shoe sold with a new initiative called the Tabora Forest Garden project in Tanzania.
The project, conducted in partnership with Trees for the Future, doubles as an extension of the outdoor brand’s focus on connecting to its nature-loving community while supporting its commitment to give back and nurture the environment.
“[Trees for the Future] have planted about 200 million trees and our goal is to plant half a billion trees by 2025,” Oboz Footwear director of marketing Rich Hohne told Sourcing Journal. “And that will affect about 125,000 communities or families, which is about a million people directly affected by these forest gardens.”
Oboz says the Tabora Forest Garden Project is a four-year initiative that will be executed in three stages. In the first couple of years, farmers will learn to protect and stabilize their fields by growing a “living fence” that will act to fertilize the land.
Next, farmers can begin diversifying their forest gardens with a variety of vegetable and fruit trees that will help a families and communities meet nutritional and productivity needs. Eventually, these communities will be given information on how to protect and conserve their farms with advanced forest garden management techniques.
Hohne said Oboz chose this method of giving back due to its emphasis on change from the bottom up.
The project gives small farmers the tools to fight back against the growing influence of corporate agribusiness and the practice of monocropping—or the act of planting a single, more valuable crop again and again without regard to the long-term health of the land.
“If you have trees, the roots will grab hold of the water so you can grow these things even in really arid parts of the world,” Hohne said. “If there’s nothing growing, the topsoil gets really bad and [crops] just blow away.”
The project, he added, exemplifies Oboz’s commitment to making connections with individual consumers through bespoke services and activations.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Oboz would regularly send its outdoor footwear experts to retail partners to ensure that end consumers enjoy the personalized fit its footwear offers.
“In-store, we’re really built on fit,” Hohne said, noting the pair of Oboz vans that traverse the country conducting in-store clinics. “These guys are unreal. They will go into a store and they will talk to customers, they’ll talk to the staff, they’ll sit and sell shoes.”
The benefit of this consumer interaction, Hohne said, is to forge the authentic connection outdoor apparel consumers expect. Oboz experts will even go so far as to occasionally recommend a rival brand if it better fits a consumer’s needs, he added.
The brand plans to expand this program with another traveling expert in June. However, like most businesses at the moment, Oboz is reckoning with the reality that the pandemic may change the way it connects with its customer base.
Though Oboz operates solely through wholesale channels, it will eventually sell its footwear direct to consumers through its own e-commerce channel, a goal that Hohne described as “imperative.” In the meantime, the footwear maker is working to support its retail partners and maintain whatever business is possible while a large number of stores remain closed.
Oboz has worked to drive more consumers to its retail partners’ online channels, Hohne said, by partnering closely with specialty stores and implementing a platform on its website that will help consumers find local Oboz retailers offering contactless curbside pickup.
“Our whole notion is you’re better off going to a specialty retailer, getting on a branded device, figuring out the shape and arch length, the whole biomechanics of your foot and getting in the right shoe,” Hohne said. “You’ll have a better experience, you’ll spend more time outdoors and you’ll come back to our brand.”
But even more important, he added, “you’ll protect what you enjoy.”
To replace the expert knowledge of its traveling salesmen, the Oboz field team is now also creating and posting videos that educate consumers on how to determine their own foot map and key measurements. From there, customers can send that data to a partner retailer and purchase footwear whose fit matches their needs.
“I’ve had people that work in our sales organization say ‘Maybe we need to go away from what we’ve been doing,'” Hohne said. “I’m like, ‘no, you don’t go away from your roots,’ no pun intended. You double down on them and make them stronger, I say.”