The year was 2014. Friends Keith Eshelman and Sevag Kazanci were working at the popular shoe brand TOMS at the time and decided to join a volunteer day in their backyard: the Santa Monica Mountains.
What started with the two swinging pickaxes and restoring trails with the Santa Monica Trail Council quickly turned into a realization. Public lands were experiencing a severe lack of engagement from young people like Eshelman and Kazanci.
Most of the conservation and restoration work that happens in parklands today is done by volunteers – they create a vital baseline of support for the outdoor places we love to play in.
That realization turned into Parks Project in 2015. Eshelman and Kazanci built on the “business for good” model of their shared former employer, TOMS, and founded a company that actively gives back. They started by printing t-shirts in their garage. Not your average “My Friend Went to Yellowstone and All I Got Was This Stupid T-Shirt” tchotchkes but thoughtful products people would actually want to wear. They harnessed their social media savvy to create a community of like-minded people devoted to giving back to the parks. They hope to be the voice for the next generation, inspiring young people to fall in love with parks and conserve them actively.
Unlike other companies that give back, Parks Project doesn’t just write a check and donate a portion of their proceeds. Each item they create helps to fund a project with a different organization supporting the parks. In Yellowstone, they fund trail restoration with Yellowstone Forever. In Sequoia, they fund the Rangers in the Classroom program to support outdoor learning for grades K-12. In Grand Teton, they support the Wildlife Brigade Volunteers. They currently work with more than 40 conservancies around the U.S. and Canada.
Not only does Parks Project fund important projects in the parks, they also back up their talk by getting their community’s hands dirty through volunteer days. (www.parksproject.us/blogs/volunteer-days)
“It’s so satisfying to roll up your sleeves and make an impact,” says Eshelman. “It helps foster a deeper connection to the parks and is the most effective way to energize more people to get involved in conservation.”
It’s inspiring to see the results of Parks Project’s work—2,822 native species planted in Muir Moods; 20,647 kids funded to visit a national park through the National Park Foundation; 58,800 meters of trail restored in Yosemite. Their goal is to fund 100 projects and log 100,000 volunteer hours in the next decade. Read more at www.parksproject.us/pages/our-contribution.
One of the most inspiring projects Kazanci has been a part of is working with the Joshua Tree National Park Association to propagate Joshua trees in a plant nursery.
“Joshua Tree was the first place I camped and one of the first places that fueled my love for the outdoors,” he shares. “You don’t realize how much work goes on behind the scenes to take care of our parks. Joshua trees grow one inch per year. It’s mind-blowing how dedicated these volunteers are to maintaining the species.”
Recently, Parks Project has been working on ways to make its products more sustainable. As a society, we’re changing our approach to life and consumption and Parks Project is working to expand that change. Every Thursday, staff does a drop of carefully curated vintage apparel. The response has been overwhelming, and they’re looking to add more frequent drops in the future.
They’re always experimenting with upcycling materials to create their products. A fanny pack made from old park ranger pants sold out in no time and they just released a new line of totes made from upcycled down jackets.
“It’s bigger than us,” says Eshelman. “These projects have a ripple effect. We want to leave a lasting impact and foster that outdoor connection. I want my seven-year-old daughter to be able to experience these places, too.”
Learn more about Parks Project at www.parksproject.us.